One by one, team by team, several Cal Poly athletes stood and were applauded.
Then, all of them rose in unison to acknowledge two of their peers – Chad Mendes and Sharon Day – two whose achievements would stand out in any crowd.
Both were named Cal Poly’s 2007-08 Athletes of the Year at the annual Night of the Mustang banquet and awards ceremony Tuesday night at Embassy Suites.
Mendes, a wrestler, was 30-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country at 141 pounds before being upset 5-2 by Ohio State’s Jeff Jaggers on March 22 at the national championship in St. Louis.
“It’s a great achievement for me,” Mendes said. “There are so many talented people (at Cal Poly), to be picked out of all of them is a huge deal – something to remember and tell my kids about one day.”
Although his season-ending loss nullified what could have been a perfect season, Mendes’ head coach, John Azevedo, said it doesn’t quite feel that way.
“He took us on a great ride,” Azevedo said. “With the class he showed after that last match, I would propose it was the perfect season.”
An All-American and the seventh Mustang to reach a Division I title match, Mendes went on to be named the Pac-10 Conference Wrestler of the Year.
The senior from Hanford became Cal Poly’s first top-ranked grappler in more than 25 years.
“Overall, I think it was a great season,” Mendes said. “Coming to Cal Poly was probably the smartest move I ever could’ve made.”
Mendes said he’s signed a contract to pursue mixed martial arts, and will begin training soon after graduation at Ultimate Fitness in Sacramento for a career beginning in September.
Day, Cal Poly’s Female Athlete of the Year in 2005, reached the Olympic “A” standard in the women’s high jump Saturday at the Big West Conference Track and Field Championships at Cal State Northridge.
Her clearance of 6 feet, 4 _ inches set meet, stadium, school and conference records, but more importantly, made her one of just four women in the country to have achieved the standard for Beijing during the relevant time span.
“It’s the icing on the cake to an amazing Cal Poly career and season for me,” Day said. “It’s amazing.”
The senior from Costa Mesa, who also rewrote a conference record in claiming the Big West heptathlon with 5,642 points May 10, won the national title at the college level in 2005 with a 6-4 leap.
She’ll compete in the West Regionals on May 30-31, also at Cal State Northridge, and the national championships, June 11-14 in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Olympic trials will be held June 27-July 6 in Eugene, Ore., where she’ll need to place among the top three among those to have already achieved the “A” standard in order to compete in the 2008 Summer Games.
“I’m really excited,” Day said. “Having that Olympic standard out of the way takes pressure off – now I can just take it meet by meet, day by day.”
Her legacy at Cal Poly wasn’t confined to track, though.
After walking on to Cal Poly’s women’s soccer team, Day earned a permanent place by winning the Big West Freshman of the Year award in 2003.
But even Alex Crozier, the Mustangs’ women’s soccer head coach, said he’s found himself taken aback by Day’s more exclusive talents.
Crozier told of once being asked by his daughter at a Panda Express whether Day could jump over the building.
“I had to think about it,” Crozier said. “Then I said, ‘No, but maybe some day.’ ”
Cal Poly track and field director Terry Crawford, who called Day a “coach’s dream,” joked she’s told her star she “may want to make placemats” out of her seven All-American certificates – a total likely to soon become eight.
“She’s been a success story at Cal Poly in every way imaginable,” Crawford said. “Certainly, we’re going to see a lot more of Sharon Day in years to come.”