Past and present: The composition of a championship gators team
Four teams in SF State history hold the honor of being the University’s most successful squads ever assembled. While each group had a unique approach to collecting championships, the teams share certain traits that contributed to their accomplishments. Based off data compiled from the SF State sports information department, see how this semester’s programs stack up against the best Gator teams of years past.
– ’69 Men’s Basketball
The men’s basketball team captured the regional title in 1969 that had eluded the program throughout its history, beating University of California, Irvine and University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the Region 8 Championships and earning a berth at the Division II National Tournament. Head coach Paul Rundell’s squad posted a 20-9 overall record and won the Far West Conference on its way to the national tournament, where the team lost a 75-80 match against American International in the first round.
– ’81 Women’s Basketball
The 1981 women’s basketball team returned to the Division III national quarterfinals for the second season in a row under returning Golden State Conference Coach of the Year Emily Manwaring. Unlike the year before, however, the 1981 squad added a GSC championship to their list of accomplishments, which included a 19-17 overall record. The team’s playoff run was ultimately halted in a close 71-78 contest by University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the same team that had trounced them 60-75 in the previous year’s tournament.
– ’97 Wrestling
SF State’s sole Division II national championship belongs to the 1997 wrestling team. Three Gator grapplers captured individual national titles en route to clinching the collective crown, and three more added top-eight finishes to bring the number of All-Americans on the roster to six. The team also went 12-5 in dual meets. The season was current wrestling coach Lars Jensen’s 14th with the Gators, and the team has enjoyed sustained success throughout his tenure.
– ’05 Softball
The dominant stretch of Kristin-Lansford-coached softball teams during the mid-2000’s reached its peak in 2005 when the Gators qualified for the Division II College World Series, placing them in the company of the nation’s best DII programs. In addition to a 43-21 record, the Gators won five of their six Division II West Regional Tournament games to finish first in the qualifying event. The team won two of four games at the College World Series, losing only to eventual champion Lynn University and runner-up Kennesaw State University.
Traits of the winning teams
– A Long-Standing or Award-Winning Coach
With the exception of three-time GSC Coach of the Year Emily Manwaring, who led her 1981 women’s basketball team to their second-straight national quarterfinals in just her second season, all of SF State’s most prolific programs boasted a coach who had headed their program for at least five years. They averaged seven and a half years at the helm between them before producing an all-time-great season. Manwaring’s early success was rewarded when she was designated her conference’s coach of the year, a title that Lars Jensen, Paul Rundell and Kristi Lansford have also earned.
“If I had the answer (on how to build a successful program) I’d be a gazillionaire,” said 2005 softball coach Kristi Lansford. “That team just came together piece by piece.”
– A Record-Setting or All-Conference Star
The best teams in Gators’ history have, unsurprisingly, also featured some of the University’s best athletes. These SF State hall of famers and current record holders anchored their units and provided a large portion of the framework for their teams’ accomplishments. For 1969 men’s basketball, it was Joe Callaghan, who posted the second most single-season points of any Gator ever. Patty Harmon enjoyed her first of two career GSC Player of the Year awards during the 1981 women’s basketball season. Perhaps the most dominant performance in SF State post-season history came from 2005 softball pitcher Sonja Garnett, who pitched every inning in all six of the Gators’ regional games that year.
– Veteran Presence
A skilled roster can only guarantee a certain measure of success without leaders to channel its talent, and the most acclaimed SF State squads were brimming with established fourth-year Gators that filled this role. According to an archived SF State Athletic Department brief on the 1981 women’s basketball season, “The Gators lost only one regular off of (last season’s) squad and now field a current team that combines experienced veterans –who have been instilled with the winning tradition –with talented newcomers.” The 1969 men’s basketball team featured only two underclassmen on its 15-player roster, and all four squads had at least two players in their fourth year with the Gators competing for them during their title seasons.
– Talented new acquisitions
Whether through home-grown recruiting or the addition of junior college transfers, the championship
programs of years past synthesize success by adding new parts that ultimately contributed to the triumph of the team as a whole. SF State Hall of Fame softball player Vanessa Rodrigue would go on to set University records in the two seasons following her teams’ championship run, and Contra Costa College transfer Carmen Yates was named to the All-GSC team in both the 1980 and 1981 seasons. According to wrestling coach Lars Jensen, his 1997 squad experienced an influx of accomplished junior college transfers before winning their national title.
“I believe the foundation to producing competitive teams on the field/court is recruiting impact student-athletes,” said second-year Athletic Director Charles Guthrie in an email. Guthrie’s commitment to strengthening SF State’s recruiting efforts has already paid dividends in his short career.