UCSB will celebrate two sports that have carried the Gaucho banner across the nation during next week’s sixth annual All Gaucho Reunion, a multifaceted homecoming event that has made great strides toward reconnecting alumni with the university.
Alumni returning to the campus will include players from the glory years of Gaucho women’s basketball and the very first soccer team to represent UCSB. There will be two intriguing exhibitions on Saturday, April 28 — an alumni basketball game that will feature such stars as Stacy Clinesmith and Kayte Christensen at 10 a.m. at the Thunderdome and a soccer game pitting Gaucho men from the 1960s against the current women’s club team at 4:30 p.m. at Harder Stadium.
The basketball beauties will be converging to honor Mark French, who coached them for 21 years, during which they made the NCAA tournament 12 times. French will be inducted into the UCSB Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday evening.
“All the people coming back are a testament to what Coach French has done, and how much we respect him and love him,” said Barb Beainy, the Big West Player of the Year on French’s first championship team in 1992. That Beainy could say those words — she and French were known for their sarcastic verbal sparring — is testament in itself.
Christensen played in the WNBA for six years and is building a career in sports media. She is the social media reporter for the Phoenix Suns and has worked as an ESPN commentator at women’s college games. “I’ve known plenty of players that weren’t fond of their college coaches,” Christensen said. “I’m more grateful every year for [French] and realize how exceptionally rare he is. It’s amazing to think I made such a good decision to come to be a Gaucho when I was 16 years old.”
Cori Close played for French’s NCAA teams in 1992 and ’93 and later became his top assistant coach. She just completed her rookie year as head coach at UCLA. Her Gaucho career got off to a painful start when she tore an Achilles tendon. “I came to a game in a wheelchair, and Coach French made a space for me,” she said. “He kept me sane when I was so sad. Being coached by him changed the course of my life.”
Among the former Gauchos expected to attend the reunion are Kristi Rohr, Brandy Richardson, Jenna Green, Jessica Wilson, Sha’Rae Gibbons, Autumn Nichols, Lauren Pedersen, and Karena Bonds. Not all will be playing in the alumni game. Lindsay Taylor, the 6′8″ center who is UCSB’s all-time leading scorer, said she’ll be a spectator because she’s going to try out for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm the very next day. Taylor has lit up the nets in Turkey and China the past several years.
Beainy, an organizer of the event, said French and Carlene Mitchell will coach one of the alumni teams. Mitchell coached the Gaucho women to their 14th Big West Tournament title this year. “This will bridge the past and future of the Gauchos,” Beainy said. Close and Tony Newnan, another former Gaucho assistant, will coach the other team. Admission will be charged to the game and an exclusive chalk talk with French to raise money for the women’s program.
Others going into the Hall of Fame are former baseball coach Al Ferrer, the women’s tennis doubles team of Amelia White and Kelly Spencer, men’s volleyball star Mike Gorman, and wide receiver Amahl Thomas, who scored the last touchdown in UCSB football history in 1991. The public will be able to meet them at a 5 p.m. reception at the Phil Womble Hall of Champions in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building.
UCSB has put together a streak of 10 consecutive appearances in the NCAA men’s soccer tournament — including the 2006 championship — under Coach Tim Vom Steeg. It all started in 1964, when several students who learned soccer in a PE class formed a club team, sponsored by the UCSB Recreation Department. They weren’t all new to the sport. Jimmy McLeod, a Goleta engineer who had played semi-pro soccer in Scotland, took a class so he could join the team.
In their second year, the Gauchos were undefeated, capping their 7-0-1 season with a 3-2 victory over UC Berkeley for the state championship. Bob Kelley, the club’s advisor, was inducted into the UCSB Recreation Hall of Fame (another feature of the All Gaucho Reunion) in 2010, and he came up with the idea of bringing back the soccer pioneers for the April 28 game against the women, who have won five national club soccer championships.
They are the oldest of old-timers, in their sixties and seventies, but many of them intend to show their skill, albeit in slow motion. Look for Steve Arnold, who was a player/coach, Carlos Ortiz, and Mike Nickoloff. Admission is free, although donations are being sought for a UCSB Recreation endowment fund.
For information about the All Gaucho Reunion, visit ucsbalum.com/agr.
For more sports, including a weekly highlight schedule, see independent.com/sports.