The year just ending has been one for the college sports record books and many kudos are due to the Bobcat athletes and their coaches.
UC Merced men’s and women’s outdoor track swept the California Pacific (Cal Pac) Conference Championships in their inaugural seasons. Women’s soccer beat 14th-ranked Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the Cal Pac Tournament Championship game and got to hoist their first trophy in front of Bobcat Nation on Bobcat Field.
The Bobcats men’s and women’s soccer programs each earned automatic berths to the NAIA National Championships and won an opening round game.
In the first national tournament game for the women’s program, junior forward Trinidad Quiroz scored a goal in the 76 th minute to lead the Bobcats to a 1-0 victory over Midland University. She also earned NAIA Third Team All-American honors and became the first Bobcat in UC Merced history to be named to the CSC First Team Academic All-American Team. Additionally, Quiroz scored a Cal Pac single-season record 23 goals on her way to countless accolades and was named the Cal Pac Player of the Year.
Head coach Albert Martins and the men’s soccer team took on WVU Tech in their West Coast-leading seventh consecutive opening round and scored a national tournament program record five goals to beat the Golden Bears 5-1. Luis Villegas and Merced native Roberto Ceja each scored two goals.
UC Merced men’s and women’s soccer combined to go 29-7-3 overall, including 19-3-1 in Cal Pac play and a perfect 15-0 at home, making Bobcat Field the perfect place to be over the past few months.
Other Bobcats to represent UC Merced on the national stage included Jonathan Chavez, Brennan Taylor, Renato Santome-Guembes and Sharvin Manjrekar.
Chavez became Cal Pac’s first back-to-back men’s cross-country champion and did so while clocking a conference championship record time of 24:18. With this result, he became the Bobcats’ first four-time NAIA National Championship qualifier and finished off his impressive campaign with All-American honors.
Taylor, on the men’s volleyball team, became the first CSC At-Large Academic All-American selection in UC Merced history, while Santome-Guembes, a member of UC Merced’s inaugural men’s water polo team, was named an Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports winner.
Manjrekar became the first Bobcat in UC Merced history to race at the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships, competing in the 1500m event.
Manjrekar also competed in the NAIA Cross Country National Championships alongside Chavez, Elizette Ysais and Jaydah Aguilar. UC Merced men’s cross-country team was nationally ranked and their No. 23 ranking was tied for the best in program history.
On the hardwood, UC Merced men’s basketball earned their first 20-win season and finished with 21 wins overall after beating 20th-ranked University of Antelope Valley in the Cal Pac Conference Championship semifinals. That win sent the Bobcats to their fourth Cal Pac Tournament Championship game.
Following the postseason tournament, head coach Kevin Pham was named the Asian Coaches Association Men’s Coach of the Year during the NCAA Men’s Final Four weekend in Houston. Pham also won his 100 th career game earlier in the season.
Other individual notables include seven gold medals at the Cal Pac Track Championships:
Chavez (800m, 1500m, 5000m)
Naseem Hassaan (200m)
Derrick Pickrel (3000m Steeplechase)
The Bobcats men’s and women’s 4X800 relay teams also took first place. Fernando Oliveras, Alberto Alves, Manjrekar and Chavez made up the men’s 4X800 relay team. Sinthya Duran, Brieanna Anderson, Aguilar and Alexandra Lopez made up the women’s 4X800 relay team. The men’s 4X400 relay team (Hassaan, Manjrekar, Favour Nnaji and Chavez) also took gold. Head coach Vicente Velarde was named the Cal Pac Men’s and Women’s Track Coach of the Year, taking home two more trophies. Chavez was named Male Athlete of the Year; Ysais became Female Athlete of the Year.
Another major milestone was men’s cross country and outdoor track’s Corbin Farias being selected as the recipient of the Dr. Jim Davies Award as the Male Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Kingsley Obiorah and Damilola Sule were voted the Cal Pac Men’s and Women’s Basketball Defensive Players of the Year, respectively, and, along with Mason Westlake, broke multiple UC Merced single-season records. Sule also set the Cal Pac single-season record, averaging 15.8 rebounds per game. Westlake and women’s soccer player Bella Spiva became the all-time games-played leaders in their sports.
Women’s soccer’s Jadyn Gong broke the Cal Pac single-season record with 12 shutouts and finished with 16 wins for the year.
Women’s volleyball’s Destiny Lei Ramilo set a new program record with 543 digs and Alexa Ultreras became the first player in program history with 300-plus kills and 300-plus digs in a campaign. Men’s volleyball’s Chris Morikawa finished his decorated UC Merced career.
Matthew Lloyd made 20 saves in the cage to help men’s water polo earn their first win over a four-year varsity program, beating Fresno Pacific University. In women’s water polo, Merced native Hope Stokes was named the Bobcats’ NAIA Finals Team MVP and two weeks later helped lead her team to a first-place finish in the CWPA Sierra Pacific “B” Division Championship.
Women’s basketball’s Paloma Ramirez was named the Cal Pac Freshman of the Year, while men’s soccer’s Daniel Borges was named the Cal Pac Newcomer of the Year.
While the Bobcats continue to record countless triumphs in the Cal Pac, the California Collegiate Athletic Association accepted UC Merced into its conference in mid-November. The CCAA is home to the most National Championships (155) of any NCAA Division II conference. UC Merced will begin its application process for NCAA Division II membership with the goal of competing on CCAA schedules beginning in fall 2025.
In addition to the NCAA Division II application process, there is a lot to look forward to at the beginning of 2024.
UC Merced men’s basketball will carry a 4-0 conference record into the new year while outscoring their opponents by 16 PPG and allowing a nation-low 50.5 points per game, and UC Merced women’s basketball will carry a two-game conference win streak into the new calendar year. UC Merced men’s volleyball and women’s water polo both have their schedules and are set to begin play toward the end of January, and outdoor track will look to repeat as Cal Pac Champions.
Keep up with the Bobcats throughout the year at ucmercedbobcats.com.