Going the Distance
July 1, 2013
Athletic seasons are marked by schedules that resemble a marathon, demanding steady, long-range results. Starting fast doesn’t necessarily translate into a successful campaign and, of course, neither does a fading finish. However, those athletes and teams that are able to avoid prolonged slumps and play at a high level throughout the year find themselves playing into the postseason.
Such was the case for several teams and athletes during the 2012-13 athletic campaign at The Master’s College, who met this challenge to shine on the national stage.
Topping things off, 37 of the 150-plus athletes performing for the glory of God took home either national or conference honors for their performances on and off the various venues of play, including 22 scholar-athletes. Plus, three of the athletic department’s coaches earned conference honors.
Even before the first ball was booted in the fall, men’s soccer coach Jim Rickard knew it wasn’t going to be an easy season. He had lost 11 players, including seven starters, and three of the top four scorers from the previous year. So, it came as no surprise that the 2012 squad had problems scoring and stopping opponents at other times, resulting in the program’s first losing season (8-10-1) since 2006 and only the fifth in Rickard’s 22 years at the helm.
Although the rollercoaster season, consisting of just one three-game winning streak, didn’t end with a thrilling finish, it couldn’t overshadow the exploits of a pair of Mustangs, senior goalie Andrew Bussell Bakersfield, CA) and sophomore midfielder Taylor Shahi (Santa Rosa, CA) (nine goals, two assists, 20 points), who both earned All-GSAC honors.
Meanwhile, it was a tale of two seasons for the women’s soccer team which raced out of the gate, en route to a 9-1-2 start, before struggling over the final eight matches to finish 12-6-2. The Mustangs won their first four GSAC matches, part of an overall six-game winning streak, but dropped four of their final six to finish fourth in the conference. Sixth-year head coach Curtis Lewis’ team posted one win in the GSAC Tournament but bowed out in a semi-final loss to regular-season and tournament champion Vanguard.
Sophomore Shea Richards (Palmdale, CA) spearheaded the conference’s third-best offense, scoring a career-high 30 points (13 goals, four assists) on the way to All-GSAC honors. Joining her on the postseason team was her sister, senior defender Kristyn Richards (Lancaster, CA), and goalie Ilyssa Espiritu (Bakersfield, CA), who recorded six shutouts.
One team that maintained excellence from start to finish was Lady Mustang volleyball that reached its first-ever NAIA National Tournament under third-year head coach Bobby Blanken. Sparked by four winning streaks of at least five matches, the Mustangs finished 27-8 overall and 10-4 in the GSAC where they finished in third place.
Blanken was named GSAC Coach of the Year, while junior outside hitter Sam Dougherty (Madera, CA) was named a second-team NAIA All-American. Aubrey Bekendam (Orland, CA) earned the 2012 AVCA NAIA Freshmen of the Year award, which bodes well for the Mustangs in 2013 as they parted ways with three standout seniors.
And while the majority of the fall programs enjoyed a large portion of success, it was senior harrier John Gilbertson (Saugus, CA) who gained the most attention. Gilbertson completed the 2012 cross country season undefeated, winning each of the seven races he entered, including the UC Irvine Invitational, the Stanford Invitational, and the Bronco Invitational at Santa Clara University. All of this led to a first-place, NAIA All-American earning, finish at the 2012 NAIA Cross Country National Championships. Anthony Pizzo (Canyon Country, CA) complemented Gilbertson in the national championship race, finishing 15th overall, and nabbing NAIA All-American honors, too.
The Gilbertson-Pizzo duo paced the men’s team to its third straight Golden State Athletic Conference title and an eighth-place finish at the NAIA championships.
The Lady Mustang cross country squad laid the framework for what looks to be a strong future. While the complete women's team was not granted an at-large bid to compete together at the national championships, Hannah Kellerman (Sartell, MN), Katrina Graham (Riverside, CA), and freshman standout Karis Frankian (Saugus, CA) ran a strong race and represented The Master’s College extremely well. Both Kellerman and Frankian earned NAIA All-American honors and are expected to lead the Lady Mustangs track team for what is being projected as the strongest squad in program history for 2013.
Typically, the men’s basketball team has had little trouble getting off to good starts. It’s the second half of the schedule that has given it fits over the past couple of years. That pattern held true this past year when the Mustangs bolted to an 11-3 start, highlighted by a six-game winning streak in December, before faltering over the final two months to finish 16-14.
The club was led by a pair of senior guards, Devin Dyer (Temecula, CA) and Leif Karlberg (Anchorage, AK), and high-flying junior wing Jason Logan (Spartanburg, SC).
Dan Waldeck is a very confident man and coach. But, even he couldn’t have predicted the way in which his Lady Mustang basketball team performed last year. The squad had gone a disappointing 12-19 the prior season and it had been five years since the Mustangs had posted a 20-win campaign and qualified for the NAIA National Tournament, a victory total and destination they had become accustomed to earlier in the previous decade.
However, with a new attitude, a rejuvenated spirit, and one of the finest recruiting classes in recent memory, the Mustangs gave their fifth-year mentor a season to remember, posting 25 wins (25-6), the fourth-most in program history, finishing a strong third in the Golden State Athletic Conference, and returning to the NAIA National Tournament for the first time in five years.
A remarkable campaign is typically punctuated by outstanding performances and there were plenty of those, especially from senior guard Lena Rivera (Allen, TX) and junior forward Jacquelyn Marshall (San Clemente, CA). Rivera capped a stellar four-year career with the Lady Mustangs by earning her second consecutive All-GSAC honor and then adding an honorable mention NAIA All-America accolade. Marshall, a junior transfer, made a seamless transition to the Mustang frontcourt and joined Rivera on the All-GSAC squad before being named a second-team NAIA All-American.
Under the leadership of head coach Jason Semelsberger, men’s golf maintained a consistent level of competition throughout the year and finished ninth in the national polls. For the second consecutive year, Thane Ringler (Hutchinson, KS) earned NAIA All-American honors and was named to the 2012-13 NAIA Ping All-Region team on which teammate Michael Reitz (Denver, CO) joined him. And while the squad won an NAIA regional crown, it declined to compete in the national championship.
For nearly two decades, baseball at The Master’s College has had its share of success, ranging from conference tournament championships to national tournament berths, from strong regular-season finishes to Top 25 appearances, featuring a plethora of all-conference and All-American performers.
So, what happened in the spring of 2013 came as no surprise to those most closely linked to the program: the coaches, the players, and an ardent fan base. Still, not even these constituents could have predicted that the Mustangs would put together the finest season in program history, highlighted by the most wins in team annals (44-17), the highest Top 25 ranking ever (No. 5), the rare double of winning both the GSAC regular-season and tournament championships, qualifying for the NAIA World Series for the second time in school history, and raking in countless postseason honors.
When a team produces such remarkable accomplishments, there are many individuals who have played an integral part. Some of those put together outstanding campaigns and were recognized locally and nationally. Leading the way were sophomore outfielder Steve Karkenny (Chatsworth, CA), who was named the GSAC Player of the Year and a first-team NAIA All-American, and senior pitcher A. J. Work (Boise, ID), who was selected as the GSAC Pitcher of the Year and was an honorable mention All-American choice.
Joining Karkenny and Work on the all-conference squad were sophomore shortstop Jon Popadics (Boise, ID), senior starting pitcher Tyler Elrod (Modesto, CA), and junior closer Tommy Kister (Saugus, CA). In addition, Karkenny, Work, first baseman Spencer Downs (Kelso, WA), second baseman Sam Robison (San Juan Capistrano, CA), and third baseman Cody Harris (Lakewood, CA) were recognized for their work in the field, earning GSAC Gold Glove honors.
Picking up where he left off in the fall, Gilbertson maintained his elite status in the spring by winning the 5000-meter race at the 2013 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championship and finishing third in the 10,000-meters. Earning All-American honors in both races, the senior became the first Mustang track athlete to do so.
In one of his finest moments earlier in the spring, Gilbertson set a then world-leading time in the 10k on March 29 at the Stanford Invitational, finishing in 28:30.35. Less than a month later, Gilbertson won the same event at the 2013 GSAC Championships in a time of 31:34.23. Gilbertson’s dazzling collegiate career concluded June 20 in Des Moines, Iowa, where he finished 25th in the 10,000 meters at the 2013 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
The Lady Mustang squad had a break-out year as three athletes earned NAIA All-American honors, another accomplishment never before achieved by the program. Frankian and Kellerman doubled as track and field All-Americans, with Frankian earning the honor in the 10,000-meter NAIA final and Kellerman doing so in the 1500 meters. Ayla Draper (Visalia, CA) was the final competitor to win All-American status with her seventh-place finish in the 400 hurdles NAIA final.
With 2012-13 in the books, the many student-athletes of The Master's College will look to strive for even more excellence in 2013-14. The first athletic competition for the coming season will take place August 15 when the women's soccer team squares off against Grace College (IN) at 4:00 PM on Reese Field.
To learn more about The Master's College Athletic Department, click here.