Cal Poly men's basketball vs Texas Southern during the first round of the NCAA tournament. Mar. 19, 2014. Photo by Ian Billings

The goal of any good athletic team is to win as many games/matches/events as possible. To be successful on any respective field of play, this type of attitude is almost necessary. But my belief is that the best moments in sports occur in the time spent outside the lines. Fortunately, the world of college athletics has a bountiful supply of both.

My first year with Mustang News was not so much a good year for Cal Poly athletics as much as it was momentous. In 2014, men’s basketball miraculously made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history while the baseball team went on to record its best record in program history. For an eager economics student looking to expand his horizons by becoming a part-time sports reporter, this was just the start.

Armed with a press pass from the athletics department, going to games was never the same. Over the last few years, the ability to experience any one of Cal Poly’s 20 NCAA-approved sports from the sidelines (or in a press box with complimentary pizza) made moments that I will be forever grateful for. As the end of the school year brings with it the likely end to my collegiate journalism career, here are a few assignments that stick out in my mind:

After the historic 2013-14 basketball squad’s season unexpectedly lasted through the madness of March, it was hard to imagine that things could get better for a mid-size, yet consistently competitive Cal Poly sports program. But as the spring season lingered on, another team on campus had a historic season in the works. By late April, the Mustangs’ baseball team achieved the first No. 1 national ranking since the 1985 volleyball team.

The baseball team, which went on to go 47-12, was led by a slew of players with MLB talent. Eventual Cleveland Indians prospect Mark Mathias was the most enjoyable to watch that year, a first-rate leadoff man that flirted with batting .400 for much of the season. Right fielder Nick Torres was on a torrid pace at the plate (.322) in a year that would prove his last in San Luis Obispo. Mathias and Torres (San Diego Padres) were two of seven starting-position players that season to go on to a big-league club.

Perhaps the standout surprise of that year was the play of catcher Chris Hoo. Graduate of St. Francis High School, the senior had a stellar defensive season behind the plate and posted a batting average (.301) that seemed to soar higher when the game was on the line. A walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning in a late-season matchup against rival UC Santa Barbara ended up being the inspiration behind the first feature story that came my way.

Covering different sports teams seemed like the natural progression after constant coverage of the baseball team that spring. After stumbling upon an Atlético Madrid match during a stint spent studying abroad in Spain, soccer became a source of continuous fascination. When I settled back into San Luis Obispo, the opportunity arose to cover a soccer team that is quickly on the rise.

With the hire of world-renowned head coach Steve Sampson, the bar was raised for a men’s program that had shown great promise in years past. Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament was the expectation and after a 2015 season in which the Mustangs went undefeated at home, the goal was achieved. A reliable cast of upperclassmen that included leading goal-scorer Chase Minter and steady goalkeeper Wade Hamilton was the reason why Cal Poly achieved an 11-5-5 record for the year.

But the most interesting anecdote from that year comes from a player named Bjorn Sandberg. The Swedish transfer student was the subject of a profile piece we had been working on for a couple of weeks in October. Sandberg does not play a position conducive to goal-scoring (defender) and was a part-time player for the Mustangs at the time. But the night the story was supposed to hit stands, Bjorn scored his first (and only) goal of the season in a match against Sacramento State. Couldn’t have asked for better timing.

As this year’s spring season came around my attention became focused on an unlikely place — golf. With an editor at Mustang News that was just as infatuated with the sport, I was encouraged to cover an athletic team that isn’t often in the spotlight. Turns out the team had one of its best seasons to date in 2016. While an NCAA tournament appearance eluded them, the Mustangs brought home two tournament titles this year, their first two in almost three years.

The best moment covering the golf team came when filming a video project earlier this year. The idea was my editor and I each paired up with a player on the team for a friendly match, believing we could get some unique footage. After only nine holes, we had captured many good shots from the guys on the team, but we had also recorded just as many shanks and mis-hits from us two. It was an experience that was as much fun as it was humbling.

Even if every project didn’t go according to plan, I am grateful for every opportunity afforded to me by Mustang News. Whether it was seeing sports from the sidelines or speaking with student-athletes for stories, this part-time job was truly a pleasure for this sports fan.

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