Faulkner: High drama of late

While covering sports in Newport-Mesa is usually always engaging, some stretches are more memorable than others. I had one dramatic seven-day run recently that will stick with me for a while.

It began on Nov. 23, when the Vanguard University women's soccer team used penalty kicks to advance past Columbia (Missouri) in the first round of the NAIA Tournament at Vanguard.

The next day, UC Irvine scored in the final two seconds to eliminate North Carolina, 1-0, in the second round of the NCAA men's soccer tournament at UCI.

Two days later, the Orange Coast College women's soccer squad tied the score with 40 seconds left in the second overtime, then prevailed in PKs against Los Angeles Pierce to advance to the third round of the Southern California Regional playoffs at OCC.

Finally, the Friday following Thanksgiving, I witnessed the UCI women's basketball team lead early, then rally late with a stirring finish to defeat host Loyola Marymount, 63-60.

There was great intensity and suspense in all four contests, all of which were capped by displays of spontaneous joy from local athletes, coaches and fans. You know, just another week at the office.

•Mamadou Ndiaye, a 7-foot-6 freshman center for the UCI men's basketball team, opened last week No. 1 in the nation in blocked shots. With 27 blocks, including games of 10 and nine, he had slipped to ninth in games through Dec. 1.

He'll get another chance to pad his total when the Anteaters play host to Pepperdine on Saturday at 7 p.m.

•Former UCI men's basketball assistant coach Todd Lee, who left Pat Douglass' staff to become head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan, is now in his first season as an associate head coach at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

The NCAA Division I school, coached by former NBA sharpshooter Dan Majerle, defeated Vanguard, 82-73, on Dec. 3 in Phoenix.

Lee left Kentucky Wesleyan of his own accord after eight seasons, including five trips to the NCAA Division II Tournament. His last six teams there were a combined 134-48 and his 2012-13 squad was ranked as high as No. 3 nationally.

•The NCAA Championship for men's volleyball, which UCI has won the last two seasons, will feature a different format the next two seasons. With the Conference of the Carolinas joining the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. and the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn., five teams will vie for spots in the Final Four, which will be played in 2014 in Chicago.

In the new format, champions from the two conferences with the highest conference Ratings Percentage Index will earn automatic berths. The champions from the other two conferences will play a play-in match, from, which the winner makes the Final Four.

The other spot will be filled by one at-large entry team, which has yet to be a team outside the MPSF.

There are 37 schools now competing in the sport at the Division I and Division II levels, which are combined to produce one national champion.

It is hoped that by 2016, there will be an eight-team championship format with the four conference champions and four at-large entries, but that needs legislative approval.

•The 2014 OCC baseball roster includes seven players who have already committed to Division I programs. This bodes well for Coach John Altobelli's Pirates, who had a similar collection of talent when it went to the four-team state tournament in 2012.

•Keegan Yuhl, the Orange Empire Conference Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore at OCC in 2012, has transferred from NAIA member Lee University to Concordia of Irvine.

Yuhl was 4-1 with a 2.78 earned-run average in 19 appearances, 10 starts, with Tennessee-based Lee. He earned a victory in the 10-team NAIA World Series, in which Lee finished third. He struck out 55 in 58 1/3 innings.

Yuhl reunites with former OCC teammate Bryan Garza, who hit .296 with seven homers and 35 RBIs for the Eagles as a junior last season. Concordia, picked to win the Golden State Athletic Conference (Vanguard was picked sixth among seven schools), will open the season ranked No. 9 in the NAIA.

•UCI men's water polo finished 13-15 this season, its first losing season since 2008. Coach Marc Hunt's Anteaters were 1-7 in regular-season conference games and 1-10 against MPSF foes including the conference tournament.

UCI went 0-8 in MPSF play in 2012 and failed to make the eight-team MPSF Tournament.

•On a more positive note from the pool, former Corona del Mar High star Chris Oeding, a two-time Olympian, won his third state championship in 14 seasons as coach at Long Beach City College.

Oeding was named Southern California Coach of the Year after the Vikings went 27-2.

On the Vikings' roster this season was freshman Blake Grove, a Newport Harbor High product who earned All-Southern California honors as a defender and made the state championships' all-tournament team.

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