UC Merced Sports

College notes: UC Merced basketball team ready to rock

Kevin Pham wasn’t prepared for his first Midnight Madness.

Two years ago the UC Merced women’s basketball coach experienced the annual season kickoff event for first time.

Pham wasn’t sure tiny UC Merced could match the kind of spirit he’d seen shown at numerous major-college programs across the country.

The student body proved Pham wrong.

“The doors open at 9:30 p.m. and the event doesn’t start until 11 p.m.,” Pham said. “When we open the doors, a wave of people come into the gym and pretty much fill up the stands right away.

“I was shocked by the atmosphere the first time. I didn’t even know UC Merced had that many students, but the place was filled to capacity and you could see kids outside looking through the windows because they couldn’t get in. It’s definitely one of the biggest events of the year for the campus.”

The 2014 version will be held tonight at Hostetler Court. The men’s and women’s basketball teams will each compete in 20-minute intrasquad scrimmages. In addition, the UC Merced cheer team, dance team and band will perform.

The first 100 fans will recieve T-shirts and prizes will be given away throughout the evening. It’s suggested that fans get there early with the gym’s 700-person capacity likely to fill fast.

“I think not just having the people in the stands, but the festivities that take place, also, give the kids a big-time venue to showcase their skills,” Pham said. “It’s ultimately their chance to go out and interact with the crowd. We encourage them to have fun and really show the fans what they can do.”

UC Merced soccer offers pleasant surprise – Megan Antoigue believed she’d recruited a strong offensive class.

The third-year UC Merced women’s soccer coach bolstered the Bobcats attack by bringing in depth at striker, the wings and in the center midfield. But for all the talent Antoigue added to the UCM roster, Ashley Bennett would probably have been one of the last picked to lead the team in goals through the first eight games.

Recruited out of Coronado High to be a defender, Bennett has found a home out on the wing. The opportunistic freshman leads the Bobcats (3-1 Cal Pac, 7-1 overall) with eight goals and is tied for 22nd in the nation with her one-goal-per-game average according to the NAIA official website.

Stevens has big-yard potential for Merced College – It’s been awhile since the Merced College football team had a 1,000-yard running back.

Curtis Snowden was the last to achieve the feat with 1,250 yards in 1998. The closest to reach the mark in recent history was Darius Roland, who racked up 873 yards in 2008.

Freshman running back Josh Stevens has an outside chance of ending the the 15-year drought, sitting just off the pace with 457 yards. Stevens’ biggest obstacle might be the team’s running-by-committee approach, forcing him to share touches with Stephon Cross and Robert Pew and quarterback Juwan Brown.

Still, the bulk of Stevens’ damage has come in two of the last three weeks thanks to a steady increase in workload and more consistent holes provided by an offensive line that’s beginning to gel. If he can maintain his current pace of 6.6 yards per carry, he should have a solid chance at joining the Blue Devils’ elite group.

Honors all around for Bobcats – California Pacific Conference honors are starting to regularly be bestowed upon UC Merced athletes in the school’s fourth year of varsity athletics.

A trio of Bobcats joined the list Monday, with Kelsey McLaurin named the Cal Pac women’s soccer Defensive Player of the Week and Rachael Schaefer earning the league’s Volleyball Player of the Week award.

Sofia Rios one-upped them, earning the Cal Pac Female Runner of the Month for September. Rios finished 36th at the Fresno State meet, 11th at the NorCal XC Challenge and 223rd out of 330 runners at the prominent Stanford Invitational.

Merced High alums meet on college stage – Two former Merced High football players will square off in a Division I game when UC Davis hosts Montana State for its homecoming on Saturday.

UC Davis defensive lineman and 2010 Merced High graduate Marques Barron (19 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles) and Montana State long snapper Rocky Hogue (Merced High 2013) never played together with the Bears, but there are many who will be pulling for them back home. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.

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