A pair of area women's basketball teams are in first place in their respective conferences, but perennial Golden State Athletic Conference title contender Vanguard is not one of them.
UC Irvine (11-4) is 3-0 in the Big West Conference, tied for first with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, heading into two crucial home games against third-place UC Santa Barbara (8-7, 2-1 in conference) on Thursday and Cal Poly (7-7, 3-0) on Saturday.
The Anteaters, off to the program's best start since the 1984-85 team opened 13-3, are still battling to earn respect after struggling in Coach Molly Goodenbour's first two seasons at the helm. UCI was 9-21 last season and 7-23 two seasons ago. They were a combined 10-22 in conference those two seasons.
UCI, led by junior forward Mikah Maly-Karros and senior point guard Jade Smith-Williams, who have captured the first two Big West Player of the Week accolades this season, could crack the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 when the poll is released today. UCI was not in the top 25 released Jan. 4, though the 'Eaters were among those who received votes.
That Jan. 4 poll included UC Davis (12-4, 2-2) at No. 10.
UCI was also slighted on the Big West website Monday, when a release announcing Maly-Karros as Player of the Week included a picture of junior Kiara Belen misidentified as Maly-Karros.
Goodenbour said late in December that UC Riverside and UC Davis were clear favorites to win the conference crown this season. But UCI won at UC Riverside, 53-46, to open conference play Dec. 31.
UCI, which is 7-0 at home this season, has won five straight and 11 of its last 12.
Orange Coast College (15-5, 2-0 in the Orange Empire Conference) is tied atop the seven-team conference with Riverside (12-7, 2-0), though Fullerton (16-2, 1-0) and Cypress (12-5, 1-0) are also programs to reckon with.
OCC is ranked No 10 in the state and No. 6 in Southern California.
Fullerton, ranked No. 2 in the state, plays host to Coach Mike Thornton's Pirates on Jan. 21.
Cypress, ranked No. 14 in the state and No. 7 in SoCal, visits OCC on Jan. 19.
Riverside is not ranked.
Meanwhile, Vanguard (8-4, 4-2), ranked No. 12 in the NAIA poll released Monday and having won seven of the last eight GSAC titles, sits in a four-way tie for third in the ultra-competitive 11-school GSAC.
Coach Russ Davis' Lions let one get away Saturday night, falling in overtime to Cal Baptist, 84-76. Vanguard held a six-point lead with 33 seconds left in regulation.
Cal Baptist (12-5, 5-1), which jumped 11 spots to No. 6 in the NAIA poll, is tied for first with No. 23-ranked The Master's (12-3, 5-1).
No. 7-ranked Biola (12-3), No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific (12-4), and unranked Concordia (9-3) are also 4-2 in conference.
Vanguard, at Hope International tonight, plays host to Azusa Pacific on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
The Master's visits Cal Baptist on Saturday.
UC Irvine senior Amani Walker, who helped the UCI men's soccer team win the Big West regular-season crown in 2010, is among those expected to be selected in the Major League Soccer draft on Thursday.
Walker, named to the Soccer America MVPs second team (the equivalent of the publication's All-American squad), shared Big West Offensive Player of the Year honors after producing 11 goals and two assists as a forward. He was also named All-West Region.
Walker participated in the MLS combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
One mock draft had Walker selected as high as No. 29.
With totals compiled from fall sports, OCC is ranked No. 7 in the standings for the honor of the top athletic program in the state, the California Community College Assn. announced Monday.
The Pirates have 56 combined points, topped by fourth-place finishes in the state (17 points each) in men's and women's cross country.
OCC also collected 13.5 points in women's water polo and 8.5 in women's volleyball.
Fresno City tops the list with 117 points, followed by Mt. San Antonio (103), Cerritos (91.5), American River (90), Santa Rosa (75) and Riverside (63).