College of the Canyons baseball coach Chris Cota had just returned from coaching in the Dominican Republic, but he was asked Wednesday about a much more convenient trip – the one The Master’s University baseball team has made several times each fall since at least 1997 from its campus in Newhall to COC’s field in Valencia. “We only get to play so many fall games,” Cota said, “and so do they. It was very convenient being so close.” For the Mustangs, who yield TMU’s baseball/soccer field to the soccer teams in the fall, it’s a chance to play high-quality opponents without leaving the SCV. “We love playing them,” said TMU coach Monte Brooks. “They’re always talented. It’s always been beneficial for us. They’re well coached. They have a lot of athleticism. Obviously, they are close. It’s been an absolute blessing to play them at their beautiful facility.” This fall was no different as the teams met for four games. From there, the squads might have gone their separate ways in the spring, but their paths, in terms of success, didn’t diverge all that much. COC went on to win the program’s first conference title since 2009. The Mustangs got hot at the right time, won the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament and advanced to the NAIA World Series for the third time since 2013. It was all part of another successful year at the Santa Clarita Valley’s colleges. COC’s shiniest moment might have come from Diani Ellis, who earned the second individual state title in Cougar women’s track and field history. She won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 11 minutes, 15.61 seconds. The Cougars’ women’s soccer and men’s golf teams know a thing or two about chasing and securing titles. Soccer won its sixth straight conference title, while golf won its eighth straight conference title and then went on to capture the program’s eighth state title. TMU men’s golf won its third straight GSAC title, topped, of course, by the school’s men’s cross country team, which won its seventh straight conference crown. The Mustangs’ men’s hoops team was constantly on the run, racking up points at a prodigious level and winning 23 more games than it had the previous season. TMU made it to the second round of the national tournament. So, too, did the school’s women’s basketball team. It was the Mustangs’ fifth straight national tournament appearance. COC football didn’t make the postseason, but players like receiver Marquise Brown and defensive end Dorian Gerald were fun to watch. The same could be said of COC softball, a crew that slugged its way to a California Community College Athletic Association Super Regional. The Cougars’ softball field isn’t far from the baseball facility, where COC and TMU plan to lock horns four more times this fall. “I treasure playing those guys every year,” Brooks said.
Five most memorable
TeamsTMU baseball The Mustangs came alive in the second half of the season, winning the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament and advancing to the program’s fourth NAIA World Series. TMU men’s hoops The Mustangs’ first season under coach Kelvin Starr was a rousing success. TMU won 27 games (23 more than last year) and made the NAIA tournament for the first time since 2000. TMU women’s hoops The Mustangs will miss the combo of Bianca Cubello and Megan Lindsley, who led the team to a fifth straight NAIA title berth in 2017. COC women’s soccer There aren’t many SCV programs that have been as consistently successful of late as this one. The Cougars won their sixth straight conference title. COC softball One of the most fearsome lineups around, the Cougars averaged more than eight and a half runs a game on their way to a super regional.
Male athletesMarquise Brown In his one season at COC before transferring to Oklahoma, the freshman speedster racked up 1,341 all-purpose yards on the gridiron. Ben Campbell The COC golfer shared the Western State Conference individual title, helping the Cougars to their eighth straight conference crown and eighth state title in program history. Cole Kleszcz Breakout season is an understatement. Kleszcz hit .410 with a state-leading 18 home runs and 20 doubles for COC baseball. Jonah Jarrard The catcher came off injury to have a stellar offensive season for the Mustangs. He hit .406 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs. He was never shy with reporters, either. Lawrence Russell The do-it-all wing was arguably Mustang men’s hoops most valuable offensive and defensive player this season. He averaged 15 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
Female athletesMelanie Abzun Cougars softball could flat out hit, and Abzun was at the center of the action. She hit .426 on the year, with nine homers, 40 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. Bianca Cubello Over her career at TMU, the women’s hoops forward blossomed into one of the program’s all-time greats. As a senior, she averaged 13.3 points and 8.6 rebounds. Diani Ellis Ellis won the second individual state title in COC women’s track and field history, finishing first in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. She also took 24th at the cross country state finals. Abigail Frankian Frankian finished 13th at NAIA cross country nationals and placed 11th in the 5,000 at NAIA Women’s Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. Jessica Ruiz The COC runner finished eighth overall at the CCCAA cross country state meet and then was eighth in the 1,500 and 5,000 races at state track.
COCBaseball Canyons won its first conference title since 2009 before falling in a best-of-three series to Santa Ana in the CCCAA SoCal Regionals. Men’s cross country COC took 21st at the CCCAA State Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno. Garrett Noltemeyer was the first Cougar to finish, coming in 86th. Women’s cross country The Cougars finished sixth as a team at the 2016 CCCAA State Championships, with Jessica Ruiz leading the way in eighth place individually. Football The Cougars started the year 2-0 but lost six of their last nine to finish 5-6 overall. The season ended in a 27-3 loss to Mt. San Antonio of Walnut in the Golden State Bowl at Covina District Field. Men’s golf COC won the CCCAA State Championship for the eighth time in program history this spring. Jae Kim and Michael Lindgren each shot a team-best 151 at finals. Women’s soccer The Cougars won their sixth straight conference title and then lost 1-0 to Santa Barbara in the first round of a SoCal Regional. Softball The WSC, East’s second-place team beat Southwestern in a CCCAA SoCal Regional before falling to Cypress and Santiago Canyon in a super regional. Men’s swimming The Cougars placed 29th at the CCCAA State Championships after taking sixth at the Western State Conference Finals earlier in the year. Women’s swimming COC finished eighth at the Western State Conference Finals before taking 29th at the CCCAA State Championships. Men’s track and field COC came in 33rd at the CCCAA Track and Field Championships at American River College in Sacramento. Women’s track and field The Cougars finished sixth as a team at the CCCAA State Championships, which featured 37 schools. Women’s volleyball Canyons went 6-2 in the WSC, South, good for second place, and then lost in three sets to Cypress in the first round of the SoCal Regional Playoffs.
TMUBaseball The Mustangs won the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament. Then they advanced to the NAIA World Series for the third time since 2013, finishing fifth place this time. Men’s basketball The Mustangs won the GSAC tournament for the first time in program history and earned a berth to the NAIA national tournament for the first time since 2000. Women’s basketball TMU earned a bid to the NAIA national tournament for the fifth straight season, losing this year to Freed-Hardeman of Tennessee in the second round. Men’s cross country TMU won its seventh straight GSAC title and finished fifth at the NAIA National Championships. Women’s cross country The Mustangs placed 10th as a team at the 2016 NAIA National Championships. Men’s golf The Mustangs won their third straight GSAC title and finished 11th at the NAIA National Championship. Men’s track and field TMU finished 61st at the 66th annual Men’s Outdoor Track and Field National Championships in Alabama.