At the Top of Their Games
Stellar season for Lumberjacks
HUMBOLDT STATE ATHLETES capped an impressive year with several visits to national championships. A wide range of talented players—both new and experienced—took to their respective fields, water, courts and diamonds to propel Lumberjacks teams to historic seasons.
In the spotlight was the football team, which charged into the postseason for the first time since 1968, winning its first NCAA Division II playoff game against Augustana in Redwood Bowl before being defeated at Northwestern Missouri.
WE HAVE TO BE LUCKY as well as good,” says Coach Rob Smith. But with much of an outstanding offense coming back to the field this fall, there’s hope for another solid season. “Our players know how to prepare and they have high expectations,” he says.
HSU football can’t be mentioned without acknowledging Ja’Quan Gardner, the sophomore running back who set a number of Great Northwest Athletic Conference records and led the NCAA Division II in total rushing yards, rushing yards per game, and rushing touchdowns.
Gardner was selected as an All-American by several organizations and was a runner up for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is awarded to the NCAA Division II’s most outstanding player.
Gardner was back at his Ceres, Calif., home for a summer training regimen, and he wasn’t dwelling on his success—or the team’s post-season loss—from last year. “I’m not worried about having to do better,” he says. “I just want to go out and play the game.”
That being said, he’s looking forward to another go at a trophy. “That’s the only goal I have for myself: just help the team win championships.”
HSU SOFTBALL PLAYERS are feeling similarly. The team made it to the championships for the second time in four years, getting within one win of the national title before being defeated by the University of North Alabama in May.
The championship run capped a remarkable season for pitcher Katie Obbema, who helped the team to the California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament all four years of her career. Obbema, who graduated in spring, was named the CCAA Female Athlete of the Year. She played 22 complete games, earned 24 victories, and pitched 160 strikeouts with a season ERA of 1.84.
Softball head coach Shelli Sarchett—who earned a regional coaching staff of the year award for this season at Humboldt State—says her team played a long, difficult season in pursuit of a championship. “We’re disappointed that we didn’t win it all,” Sarchett says, “but we left on the biggest stage.”
From her place on the pitcher’s mound, Obbema says, she always thought about the team. “I’ve always been a big supporter of the people who stand behind me and back me up throughout the game,” she says. “It was important to remember and remind each other that we’re all there for one reason: to support each other.”
Despite some roster changes that saw some seasoned players graduate, Sarchett says this year’s team is eager for another chance at the championship.
GREAT SEASONS for longtime underdogs like the football team and winning programs like softball “will long be remembered,” says Associate Director of Athletics Tom Trepiak.
“Success in the field and the classroom brings the community and alumni out,” he says. “Football games last year brought crowds of 6,000 to 7,000 to Redwood Bowl. People want to become more involved when there’s more success.”
Student athletes have multifaceted connections: they connect with their coaches, with their teachers, and with their community, Trepiak says. “It’s a secondary support system.”
What should fans expect this year? A successful football team, for one, with a strong group of returning players who’ve built camaraderie in the last year. Softball and basketball should be exciting programs to watch, Trepiak says, and “there’s always a surprise team with breakout success.”
More 2015-16 Highlights
ROWING: Women’s rowing made it to the National Championships for the third straight year, taking fourth place in the Varsity Eights boat race. The season earned two of the crew national honors for seniors: Mariah Smither (named to the Division II Pocock All-America First Team) and Samantha Morford (named to the Second Team). Smither, a 4.0 Biology student, earned her second consecutive Elite 90, an award given by the NCAA for carrying the highest cumulative grade-point average to the rowing finals.
BASKETBALL: The men’s basketball team beat nationally ranked UC San Diego in March for the CCAA tournament title, marking the Lumberjacks’ first championship win since the 2011-2012 season. The team lost its first game in the NCAA West Regional conference to No. 1-seeded Western Oregon, but the season earned senior forward Rakim Brown All-West Region honors. Brown averaged 19.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game this season and was named the CCAA tournament MVP.
For schedules, rosters, and more updates, go to hsujacks.com