Legends Rising and Records Falling: Chico State Athletics off to Scorching Start
Another fantastic fall for the Chico State Department of Athletics is ending, culminating in two more California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) titles, several NCAA Championship berths, and excitement for what’s still to come. Records have fallen and legends have risen, and the year has only just begun!
Here are some of the highlights.
A throughline connects each of the Chico State Cross Country program’s 38 conference titles under Head Coach Gary Towne: belief among the student-athletes and coaches that they are the team most prepared to win. That faith and conviction comes with deep roots. Amongst the countless memories Towne has amassed over the years, one special moment in 1994 stands out.
He was a 27-year-old assistant coach for Jean Murphy Atkins when the men’s team surprised almost everyone by winning its first conference crown in 21 years. UC Davis was the perennial favorite. Humboldt State always seemed to win when UC Davis didn’t. And race host Cal State Stanislaus had its most talented roster ever. No one expected the Wildcats to win that race except the Wildcats themselves. As soon as Chris Myers crossed the finish line, he fetched a paper bag, ripped it open, and began tossing T-shirts to all his teammates that read:
Chico State Cross Country
1994 NCAC Champions
“I guess Chris felt pretty confident that we would win,” Towne said with a wide grin. “It was a lifetime memory.”
That same sense of belief was also on display nearly three decades later, on Nov. 5, prior to the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championships at Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area in Fremont. Following Towne’s final words to the team, junior Dylan White pulled his teammates aside for a quick word of encouragement.
“We’re built for this moment. Trust your fitness. Trust yourself. Trust your teammates,” White said. “We get into the second half, we tighten the screws. We’re better. We’re fitter. Believe in yourselves and bring it that second half.”
White’s words were prophetic. After what felt like an uncomfortably close first half of the race, White and the Wildcats broke away, eventually winning their 21st consecutive CCAA title (a conference record for any gender, any sport) in dominant fashion by grabbing the first four places and five of the top eight. White crossed the line first, followed by Mario Giannini, Daniel Hernandez, and Brayden McLaughlin.
That race was one of many highlights Chico State Athletics experienced this fall.
Following a two-year absence from the top of the podium, the women’s cross country team returned to the top of the CCAA standings, winning the title for the 17th time in the past 21 editions. And their streak of NCAA Championship continues thanks to a third-place finish at the West Regional Championships in Monmouth, Oregon, on Nov. 4. Sophomore twin sisters Della and Iresh Molina each earned All-CCAA and All-West Region accolades along the way. Fans can watch the Wildcats men’s and women’s cross country teams compete at the National Championships in Joplin, Missouri, on Saturday, Nov. 18. The women’s race will start at 8 a.m., Pacific time, and the men’s will follow at 9:15. Both teams have advanced to the Championships each year since 2000.
The men’s cross country team kept right on rolling following their conference title, claiming their seventh consecutive NCAA West Region win and 18th in the past 21 years. CCAA Runner of the Year Dylan White and CCAA Newcomer of the Year Mario Giannini join Daniel Hernandez, Brayden McLaughlin, and Joshua O’Neill in earning All-CCAA and All-West Region honors.
Brooke Ono of the Chico State volleyball team became just the third student-athlete in the history of that program to record 3,000 assists when she connected with Gwyneth Wentzel on a kill following the second serve of the night against Stanislaus State in front of the home fans at Acker Gym.
Ranked among the nation’s top 25 for much of the season, the men’s soccer team boasts a record of 11-1-7 ahead of Monday’s 4 p.m. NCAA Championship Selection Show. The Wildcats should hear their name called among the 40 teams that will compete for a national championship, a quest that could even begin with a home match this weekend. Four Wildcats were honored on the 2023 CCAA Men’s Soccer All-Conference Team: Goalkeeper of the Year Emanuel Padilla, Miles Rice, Preston Moll, and Adrian Fontanelli.
As always, get the latest information on Chico State Athletics at www.ChicoWildcats.com.
The Chico State women’s soccer team put together another fine season, finishing 11-7-1 and earning a CCAA Tournament berth behind the outstanding play of All-Conference performers Natalie Mendoza, Klayre Barres, Emma Hofmann, Brynn Howard, and sisters Avery and Hannah Pieri. The Wildcats are currently ranked No. 8 in the West Region but will likely be on the outside looking in when the NCAA Championship Tournament field is announced Monday afternoon as only six teams from the West Region will be selected.