Chapman water polo Coach Rod Hormell doesn't hold back. He's the first to say the Panthers had "a miserable season" in 1993.
And after a few practices in 1994, Hormell had no reason to believe this team would be much better.
"I thought this was going to be another one of those years," Hormell said.
His assessment has changed. Last weekend, the Panthers beat UC Davis, then ranked 16th in the nation, 16-15, in the semifinals of the Pomona-Pitzer tournament. It was Chapman's first victory over a nationally ranked team and although the Panthers lost to Claremont-Mudd, 10-8, in the tournament final, they cracked the national rankings this week for the first time.
Chapman, ranked 19th, is an NCAA Division III program, but water polo rankings don't take divisions into account. Stanford is the top-ranked team in the same poll. Claremont is No. 17.
But Hormell says Chapman still has problems. For instance, because of injuries and other commitments, only five of the 13 players on the team were able to make practice Tuesday.
"I said, 'This is the 19th-ranked team in the country, are you kidding me?' " Hormell said.
Injuries and a lack of stamina also contributed to the Panthers' loss to Claremont Sunday. Chapman led much of the game, until the Stags took control in the fourth quarter. Tim Sylvester, a freshman from Los Alamitos and one of the Panthers' strongest players, injured his shoulder in the first half and left the game. Another player got into foul trouble.
"I don't want to say Claremont didn't play a good game," Hormell said. "But we played three good quarters, then due to injuries we had to start going down our bench."
Last season that would have been impossible--Chapman barely had reserves. But Hormell has brought in several players to go with his solid core of Chad Roberts, Miles Takahashi, Jason Gaw and Anthony Hustler.
Sylvester, Steve Wellington, another freshman, Juan Felsman, a transfer from Golden West College, and Pat Karayan, a transfer from Grossmont, give the Panthers more skill and depth.
The Panthers (5-3) have a good chance to make postseason play, the eight-team Western Water Polo Assn. tournament in November, but Hormell says they are no powerhouse.
"We're still a darkhorse," Hormell said. "We could be a spit in the pan--here today and gone tomorrow--if we keep having these injuries."
Coach 100: The Chapman women's volleyball team is also experiencing an impressive turnaround. The Panthers, 4-20 last year, are 14-3 this season.
Last Friday, they defeated UC Santa Cruz at the Menlo tournament and gave Coach Mary Cahill her 100th victory in six years at Chapman.
After Chapman swept through the tournament and after a five-game victory over The Master's Wednesday, Cahill is 105-77.
But Cahill is mostly celebrating the fact that Chapman is winning again.
"Let's just say I can take losses and put then into perspective because of last year," she said. "I can take ugly wins really good too."
Chapman, which has won seven consecutive matches, has been bolstered by three freshmen who start: middle blockers Addy Benard from Rosary High, Anne Hoffman from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Shanea Bishop from Placerville.
Lori Fuller, who played at Fullerton College and El Modena High, and sophomore Shawna Parkinson, are providing strong play at outside hitter. Fuller was named the most valuable player of the Menlo tournament; Parkinson was named to the all-tournament team.
Senior setter Christi Park rounds out the starting lineup and sophomore Cathy Thielen, who has recovered from knee surgery, is usually first off the bench.
Quarterback Curtis Robinson's separated shoulder is largely healed, and he will probably start Saturday's game at Redlands, Chapman football Coach Ken Visser said Wednesday.
That means Todd Gragnano, who started the Panthers' second game Saturday, will again be the backup. Gragnano completed six of 16 passes for 68 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the Panthers' 34-14 victory over Claremont-Mudd. But mostly he handed off to running back Darnell Morgan.
After the game, Gragnano said he was still rusty. He last played in 1991 at Nebraska in mop-up roles; he last started in 1989 for Los Alamitos High.
"I played all right but I know I can do better," he said. "I came here to play, and I'm not getting as much time as I thought but it doesn't bother me, because we are winning and I'm having a lot of fun."
Southern California College men's soccer player Brent Rogers was named the Golden State Athletic Conference player of the week. Rogers, a junior goalkeeper from Santa Maria shut out San Diego State and Hawaii Pacific, helping the Vanguards to a 2-1 record during the week. . . . SCC freshman Caren Anderson was named the conference cross-country runner of the week after finishing 15th at the Whittier Invitational and fifth at the Aztec Invitational this month. At the Aztec Invitational, Anderson, from Mission Viejo High, finished 5,000 meters in 20 minutes 39 seconds. . . . Concordia has had to change the course for the Eagle 5000 road race Saturday because of a mountain lion sighting at Mason Regional Park. The park has been closed, and the course, which used to go through the park, now goes around it. The Eagle 5000 includes five- and 10-kilometer races and is open to the public. Registration is 6:30 a.m. The 5K starts at 7:30 and the 10K at 8.