Men’s Coach of the Year: Marty Davis
By Matt Connolly
Though he has won the Big West Coach of the Year Award for men’s tennis four seasons running, this year’s honor might have been the most vindicating for Head Coach Marty Davis. An unfortunate season-ending injury to junior star Phillip Therp saw the Gauchos lose one of their top singles and doubles competitors. In the face of adversity, Davis charged forward with the players that remained knowing the high expectations for his team, having won three straight conference championships coming into 2009.
For the first time in several years, Davis found his team up against the wall with a disappointing 4-8 record midway through the season. However, he was ultimately able to lead a talented squad to a respectable 11-12 record by season’s end. Their final three wins encompassed an unexpected fourth straight championship.
Going into the Big West Tournament, the #4-seeded Gauchos were by no means the favorite to win yet another title, but after toppling UC Davis, Pacific and top-seeded UC Irvine, the underdogs came out of the pack with a bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Though the Gauchos bowed out of the national tourney in the first round after falling to #8 USC, it would be foolish to discount the efforts of both Head Coach Davis and his gritty group of hardcourt swingers, a group Davis has described as one of the best he has ever coached.
Whatever they lacked in talent this year was made up for with a team chemistry that kept tensions to a minimum both in practice and competition despite underperforming early.
Davis’ motivating personality and ability to help his players improve their skill-set, including Co-Big West Player of the Year Alex Konigsfeldt, over the course of the season certainly grants him this esteemed accolade.
Women’s Coach of the Year: Lindsay Gottlieb
By John Greely
Mustachioed legend Mark French, who dominated the Big West in his 21 seasons as UCSB women’s basketball’s head coach, certainly left a lot of expectations for his successor to fulfill. Lindsay Gottlieb stepped into his massive shoes without missing a beat.
Gottlieb, in her first season ever as a head coach, demolished conference foes en route to a 17-1 Big West record. Gottlieb’s Gauchos earned the conference crown in both the regular season and the Big West Tournament before losing to eventual national semi-finalist Stanford in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
However, it was hardly easy for the former Berkeley assistant coach in the early going of her tenure. After losing senior point guard Sha’Rae Gibbons in the preseason, Gottlieb was forced to play true freshman Emilie Johnson in her place.
While Johnson covered nicely, her inexperience at the point coupled with an entirely new coaching scheme resulted in a string of early season losses. The Gauchos dropped three games in a row in December and fell to 3-6, and the season looked like it was headed downhill. But come Christmas time, the Gauchos gave their coach the best possible gift: a winning streak.
After a Dec. 21 loss to Kentucky, UCSB reeled off 10 straight wins (including seven to start off conference play) before falling to Bakersfield by two on the road. From there, the Gauchos finished strong, only losing to Pacific and Pac-10 foe Oregon State to round out their regular season.
But getting to the NCAAs was the real trick. In the Big West Final against Cal Poly, the Gauchos went down 29-13 and appeared destined for defeat. But Gottlieb’s squad still had a few tricks up its sleeve, and ended up roaring back to defeat the Mustangs and make the Big Dance.
While she certainly benefited from a stellar senior class, Gottlieb’s continuation of her predecessor’s dominance in a competitive Big West Conference earns her the top spot this year.
Women’s Athlete of the Year: Katy Freeman
By Ravi Bhatia
We last talked to Nexus Athlete of the Year Katy Freeman after the Big West Championships in February after she clinched first in the 200-breastroke.
“It all really started [for her] with those conference championships,” head swimming coach Gregg Wilson said. “Since then she’s been on a continuous tear.”
At the NCAA Championships in March, Freeman beat hear previous best 200 time by .62 seconds, earning All-American honors for finishing with the third best time in the country.
“I’m one of those swimmers who swim better at night with my team behind me,” Freeman said. “I just cut loose and [had] fun with it.”
Freeman’s accolades have accumulated outside the pool as well. She was selected for the Teach for America program, and at the Gaucho Athlete Awards banquet was honored with an Academic All- American as well as a plain old All-American, the Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete award, the Anne Louckes achievement award and Big West Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
“The banquet was the Katy Freeman show,” Wilson said. “With her scholarly endeavors, she’s on a roll.”
She has even earned a spot on the National University team, which will compete in Serbia in July at the world university games.
“It’s unexpected,” Freeman said. “But it’s fun. I can prolong being on the team.
“She can do anything she wants,” Wilson said. “That’s the kind of person she is.”
Men’s Athlete of the Year: Milos Golic
By Miles Yim
After being named the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Newcomer of the Year back in 2007, sophomore utility Milos Golic certainly lived up to his billing. Golic turned in one of the more impressive performances of 2008-09, leading the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with 82 goals, the most any Gaucho has scored since Pete Zamoyski struck 89 nearly 20 years ago in the 1990 season.
The Serbian native found the back of the net in at least once in 25 of the Gauchos 27 games, recording multiple goals in 22 of them. Golic turned in a pair of seven-goal performances to cement a new career high, tied for second on the team with 12 steals, lead UCSB with 21 assists and averaged a MPSF-high 3.04 goals per game.
As a sophomore, Golic’s 135 career goals place him 13th on the all-time scoring list, only 109 back of Larry Mouchawar’s school record of 244. With a repeat performance comparable to this year’s output, Golic could easily eclipse the mark set by Mouchawar.
After spearing the Gauchos to a fifth-place finish in the MPSF Tournament (the highest finish in Head Coach Wolf Wigo’s four-year tenure) and a #6 ranking, the sophomore garnered First-Team All-American and MPSF First Team nods. Golic joined some great company with his All-American nod, becoming the first UCSB player since John Anderson in 1985 to garner such an honor.
While it will be interesting to see if Golic can follow through on his promise to bring an NCAA crown to Santa Barbara during his final two years, if this past year is any indication, there is much more to come.
Freshman of the Year: Krista Cobb
By Miles Yim
If throwing the program’s first complete game wasn’t enough, freshman Krista Cobb capped off her inaugural 2009 campaign by becoming the winningest first-year Gaucho pitcher ever, going 18-9 in 33 appearances. This fact alone places Cobb in the elite softball company of Sandy Ortgies and Jennifer Davis (who are the only other players to reach 18 wins in a season), but the first-year hurler didn’t stop there.
Billed as a riseball pitcher by friend and foe alike, Cobb certainly brought the heat in 2009, striking out a team-high 115 batters while finishing with a ridiculous 1.93 ERA and 16 complete games. For her often superhuman efforts, Cobb earned a bevy of postseason conference decorations including Freshman Pitcher of the Year and being named to the All-Big West First Team.
The West Hills, California native also earned Big West Pitcher of the Week honors four times over the season, another school record. In what could have easily been the best overall athletic performance of the year, Krista Cobb’s record-breaking season has laid the groundwork for further Gaucho success at Campus Diamond.
Top Moment of the Year:
Nunnally’s Buzzer Beater
By John Greely
Here’s the scenario: The Gauchos are down 75-73 in their final regular season game. The home crowd, having witnessed victory seemingly slip from UCSB’s hands, is understandably shell-shocked. A win for Santa Barbara would give it fourth place in the conference and a first round Big West Tournament bye. A loss would send UCSB Bob Williams’ boys to eighth place: second to last in the conference.
With just six seconds left, Paul Roemer inbounds the ball to Will Brew. Brew, who had mistakenly committed an intentional foul just seconds earlier, sprints up court like his life depended on it. The freshman drives past mid-court as the clock ticks down and hands the ball off to fellow first-year James Nunnally. Nunnally takes a couple steps toward the three point line, leaves the ground and lets the shot fly.
The ball heads towards the rim as the buzzer goes off. The crowd holds its collective breath. Nunnally, walking backward away from the basket, never lowers his hand. And then the shot falls.
The crowd erupts in raucous celebration, and Nunnally goes from just another freshman to a Gaucho legend.
Comeback of the Year:
By Matt Connolly
Though doctors would diagnose Valaika with a redshirt year in 2009 after he was diagnosed with a torn labrum, the junior second baseman had other ideas. With his arm bound in a sling, the Santa Barbara middle infielder pushed himself harder than ever before and miraculously rebounded in time to earn back his starting job in time for the start of the season.
With the ghost of injuries past looming, the play of Valaika progressed through the season as his injury curse never came to fruition. Slowly but surely, the steady extra-base hitter crept his way up the UCSB batting order, eventually playing out the second half of the season as both the five hitter and the cleanup man.
At season’s end, Valaika would find himself with a .343 batting average to go with a .545 slugging percentage, leading the team in both statistical categories. His most important statistical success, however, lied in an often-overlooked category — games played. The 50 out of 52 in-game appearances to his credit paid testament to his first full-fledged season.
Transfer of the Year:
By Matt Connolly
To cap off a fantastic first campaign in Division 1, junior starting pitcher Joe Gardner was named to the All-Big West First Team. To put this in perspective, the Big West is perennially one of the strongest baseball conferences in the country, sending two teams ranked in the top-five nationally to the NCAA playoffs this season.
The right-hander immediately established himself as the ace of the Gauchos’ starting rotation after transferring from Ohlone College, maintaining a perfect 6-0 record until finally losing in May. For the season, Gardner notched seven wins and 69 strikeouts in 13 starts to compliment a 3.40 ERA, leading the team in all three categories.
The Fremont, Calif. native’s biggest win of the season came on April 24 against Cal Poly, overcoming the #12 team in the country in a gritty complete game effort. Just days later, he was named to the NCAA Pitcher of the Year watch list.
Though his stint with UCSB may be short lived with the MLB draft on the horizon, Gardner’s one-year stint with the ‘chos exceeded expectations, to say the least.