Empire's banner year

By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

If you were a woman who played a team sport for Santa Rosa Junior College in 2011, chances are you had a pretty good year. The Bear Cubs went on an astounding run, bringing home state championships in soccer and basketball, and finishing second at the state volleyball championships.

The soccer team garnered national attention, with the Bear Cubs ranked No. 2 in the nation by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Earlier in the year, a basketball team led by Empire prep products Mia Greco (Petaluma), Jen Tsurumoto (Analy) and Ashley Morgan (Maria Carrillo) beat City College of San Francisco for a state title, bouncing back from a rocky 5-4 start to the season.

Not to be overlooked, SRJC’s volleyball team’s gritty postseason ended with a championship-game loss in Redding. The Bear Cubs came into the game just 30 minutes after a grueling, five-set semifinal win over El Camino and fell to L.A. Pierce.

Following are the major local stories of 2011, as picked by The Press Democrat sports staff. You can vote for your favorite in a poll at pdpreps.com.

1. DOMINANCE OF SRJC WOMEN
The Bear Cubs’ thrilling 4-3 win over Santiago Canyon in the state soccer championship capped an impressive year for the SRJC women. Cara Curtin, the Maria Carrillo grad who scored all four Bear Cubs goals in the state title game, was named national player of the year. Her sister, Lauren, assisted on the championship-winning goal and joined Cara in receiving All-American honors.

2. WINDSOR’S UNDEFEATED FOOTBALL SEASON
The Jaguars, under the guidance of first-year coach Rob Gatrell, captured their first North Coast Section title with a dramatic 28-20 come-from-behind win over Concord in the Div. 2 championship. Darrian Roman, the Sonoma County League’s player of the year, scored three touchdowns, rushed for 173 yards on 20 carries and was all over the field on defense. Though Concord’s Olito Thompson racked up 285 yards on a staggering 54 carries and beat Jahvid Best’s single-season Nor Cal rushing record, the Jaguars’ stout defense held when it mattered most. Thompson’s lone score came from 35 yards out.

3. MAYA DiRADO’S GOLD
Pac-10 freshman swimmer of the year Maya DiRado, who competes for Stanford and graduated from Maria Carrillo, put herself in strong contention for a spot on the 2012 Olympic team with her first international gold medal. DiRado’s time of 4:40.79 was good enough to win the 400-meter individual medley at August’s World University Games in Shenzhen, China, but it wasn’t even a personal best for the talented young swimmer.

4. SARA HALL’S GOLD
Also making a case for a spot on an Olympic team was Montgomery High graduate Sara Hall, formerly Sara Bei. Hall won the 3,000-meter steeplechase at October’s Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was the first medal ever for an American woman competing in a steeplechase event at a major international competition.

5. SSU BASEBALL’S SURPRISING RUN
The Seawolves, led by coach John Goelz, annually feature a competitive baseball team, but few could have predicted Sonoma State’s upset-filled run to the Div. II championships in Cary, N.C., last spring. Goelz’s squad made it to Cary with a 36-20 record after emerging as the lowest seed in the West region. The Seawolves didn’t win a championship but proved they could hang with the big boys when they snapped top-ranked Grand Valley State’s 32-game winning streak in the opening game. It was only the Lakers’ fourth loss of the season.

6. LEVI LEIPHEIMER’S SUCCESS
The cyclist, who calls Santa Rosa home, had a strong year professionally, winning the Tour of Switzerland, Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. In the same year, he finished second in the Tour of California and signed with a new pro team, Quick-Step. To top it all off, the third iteration of Leiphemier’s Sonoma County charity ride, the King Ridge GranFondo, drew 7,500 riders to Sonoma County and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

7. JULIE NACOUZI AT CROSS COUNTRY WORLDS
Though a leg strain kept her from competing in peak form, the Montgomery High track star finished fourth among Americans running at March’s cross country world championships in Italy. The appearance capped an amazing senior year for Nacouzi, who won the Foot Locker west regional cross country meet and took third in the prep national championship despite running unaffiliated with her school’s team.

8. KAYLA AGGIO’S DOMINANT WRESTLING
Rancho Cotate’s junior female phenom never lost en route to her second consecutive NCS title. She finished third at the state meet after a narrow 3-2 loss to the eventual champion and also took third at nationals, again losing to the eventual champion in the semifinals.

9. LUIS LUNA’S RUN OF EXCELLENCE
Piner’s star runner set numerous personal, school and meet records as a member of the track and cross country teams. A strong year culminated in a fifth-place finish at the state cross country meet, sixth place at the Foot Locker West regional meet and an appearance in November’s Foot Locker national race in San Diego. Luna isn’t done, however. He and many of his teammates from Piner's strong cross country team will run for the Prospectors’ track team this spring.

10. VIKINGS’ INSPIRATIONAL NCS BASKETBALL TITLE
The Montgomery boys basketball team faced adversity when forward Brian McCammon suffered severe injuries in a January car accident, but the Vikings didn’t show their worry on the court. With McCammon cheering from the stands, Montgomery beat Cardinal Newman on Feb.7 to clinch the NBL title. The Vikings kept rolling in the NCS playoffs, topping Las Lomas in the championship. Though the Nor Cal playoffs ended with an early exit, the Vikings’ story had a happy ending: McCammon is back on the court as a senior. Chris Mentch, a fellow student injured in the same accident, returned to the Vikings’ football team in the fall.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
Maria Carrillo girls basketball coach Steve Azevedo resigns amid allegations of bullying. … Egg Bowl football game between Casa Grande and Petaluma on hold. … SRJC swimmer Matt Stuhr (Maria Carrillo, 2009) a national champion in 200-meter butterfly, 50-meter freestyle and 500-meter freestyle. … SSU’s Keala Peterson (Analy, 2008) named NCAA Div. II Academic All-American of the Year for volleyball. … Cardinal Newman pitcher Jason Alexander makes Max Preps’ all-state medium schools team after pitching Cardinals to Div. 2 NCS semifinals. Alexander goes 10-3 with a 0.66 earned run average. … Montgomery grad Lani Nacol breaks inline skating records. … Maria Carrillo beats Montgomery for NCS Div. 1 girls soccer title after Katie Mohr scores three goals in 12 minutes. … St. Helena’s perfect regular season in football ends with playoff loss to Healdsburg. … Elsie Allen’s football team plays 2011 season as independent, snaps 31-game losing streak … Ursuline makes playoffs in softball, lacrosse before school shuts for good. … Santa Rosa native Brandon Hyde serves one game as interim manager for MLB’s Florida Marlins. … El Molino’s Nicole Lane and Santa Rosa’s Michael Tomasi win NCS cross country titles, Lane places sixth at state to qualify for regionals. … Healdsburg sends four wrestlers to state meet. … Santa Rosa High’s girls basketball team makes its first ever NorCal tournament after run to NCS semis. … Tomales wins NCS Div. 6 girls basketball title. … St. Vincent girls win NCS Div. 3 soccer title. … Petaluma wins Div. 2 NCS softball championship. … Anderson Valley wins Div. 6 NCS volleyball title.

Eric Wittmershaus is The Press Democrat’s online sports editor. You can reach him at 521-5433 or eric.wittmershaus [at] pressdemocrat [dot] com.