Top 10 Mustang Moments of 2017

Editor's note: This is the 10th in a series of 10 stories highlighting moments TMU's Sports Information Staff felt defined 2017.

1) A fast-paced turnaround

After winning just four games the previous season, the Mustangs reversed field dramatically in 2016-17, improving their win total by 23 games, earning the GSAC Tournament title for the first time in program history and returning to the NAIA national tournament for the first time since 2000. 

The team’s five losses equaled the fewest in school annals. Win No. 26 might have been the most important, and the most epic. 

TMU beat Hope International 79-74 in double overtime in Fullerton on March 7, claiming the school's first GSAC tournament crown before a raucous Mustang cheering section. 

Reid Shackelford led Master's with 24 points for the game. Lawrence Russell followed with 21. For both players, the night was part of a standout season that led to postseason awards. 

Russell, a junior transfer, made a smooth transition to Mustang basketball and quickly developed into the club’s best all-around performer.

He showcased unstoppable offensive moves and defensive prowess that earned him All-GSAC and GSAC Defensive Player of the Year honors, and honorable mention All-American kudos.

Shackelford, an All-GSAC selection and a second-team All-American, was the consummate sharpshooter, striking fear in opponents’ hearts beyond the arc.  He led the squad in scoring and drained a school-record 10 3-pointers in a 51-point effort in early November.   

   2)  TMU baseball enjoys a healthy habit

Habits – good, bad or otherwise – have always been a staple of baseball. Whether it be the seventh-inning stretch, pregame pepper or hurdling over the third baseline on the way to the mound.   

The Master’s University has been cultivating many good habits over the past two decades, and the fruit has been especially sweet recently. 

Last spring, the Mustangs turned around a below-average season (they were 15-17 on March 24) by winning 26 of their final 32 games and earning a second straight GSAC Tournament championship, an NAIA Opening Round sweep and a second consecutive appearance in the association’s World Series.

The Mustangs, who have qualified for the World Series three times in the past five years, finished fifth at the event and ended the year with a 41-23 overall record.

Leading the way was junior All-American catcher Jonah Jarrard, who produced eye-popping numbers.  He hit a GSAC-best .406 and set a single-season program record with 86 hits en route to All-GSAC honors and second-team All-American accolades.

“Jonah had a fabulous year with us,” said coach Monte Brooks.  “He was influential in guiding our pitching staff as well as solidifying the middle of the lineup.  He was our catalyst, a model of consistency throughout the year.”  

 

3) Women's XC
 runs away with a program first

If the TMU women’s cross country team’s season was a breakthrough, it was accomplished with something like sledgehammer force.

The Mustangs won the first conference title in progrcm history in early November behind a one, two, three punch-out. 

Master’s runners Abigail Frankian, Mikala Fairchild and Rachelle Nelson finished one after the other in Rocklin, California, to lift the Mustangs to the most dominant victory, men’s or women’s, in program history (24-47 over Westmont) and to a championship years in the making.

“They’ve been working for this win for a long time,” said coach Zach Schroeder.  

Frankian was the GSAC’s individual champion, the first Mustang to accomplish the feat since her older sister, Karis, did it in 2014.

Fairchild followed up a second-place finish at conference with a team-best 24th-place finish at nationals, good for All-American honors. Frankian finished 29th, rounding out a program-record-tying two All-American’s in one season for the women, who took 12th as a team at nationals.

4) Eighth straight title means moment No. 4

When Zach Schroeder came to The Master’s University as a volunteer assistant in 2005, he didn’t envision one day becoming the head coach and building a nationally recognized NAIA program. He just wanted to help move the program forward.  

Twelve years later, Schroeder has led the Mustangs to eight consecutive Golden State Athletic Conference titles, the last of which earning No. 4 on our list of the year’s top moments.

The Mustangs outpaced Westmont College 37-38 in the GSAC Championship race on Nov. 4, a rainy day in Rocklin, California.

Stephen Pacheco finished first for the Mustangs, second overall in 24 minutes, 50.2 seconds. Skyler Mikesell – who went on to finish 26th at nationals and earn All-American honors – was next to finish at conference. He was third, about 13 seconds behind Pacheco, who led the way for the Mustangs for the first and only time this season on one of its biggest days.

Josh Nunez (ninth, 25:29.5) and freshman Wes Methum (10th, 25:35.0) were the other Mustangs to finish in the top 10.

It was Alec Franco, though, who, in basketball terms, found the ball in his hands, down two, with only seconds to shoot.

Franco edged Westmont’s fifth runner, Michael Conant, for 13th place by less than four seconds to lift Master’s to victory and, subsequently, Schroeder to his eighth straight GSAC Coach of the Year honor.

5) A high-five for women's basketball

The No. 5 spot on this list only seemed appropriate for women’s basketball, a team that made its fifth straight trip to the NAIA national tournament last March.  

The squad beat Our Lady of the Lake (Texas) in the first round, 85-83, on the strength of Bianca Cubello’s 28-point, 19-rebound performance before completing a 23-9 season and finishing No. 17 in the NAIA’s final Top 25 poll.

“It’s always tough to see the season come to an end,” said coach Dan Waldeck.  “I loved coaching this group and am so proud of their accomplishments.  Our group of seniors leaves an outstanding example of how to carry the torch forward.  More great days lie ahead.”

Two of those then-seniors, Cubello and Megan Lindsley, left their mark as two of the finest players in program history.  Both members of the prolific inside-outside tandem were named All-Americans for the third time.

The Mustangs have built on last year’s strong finish by starting this season 9-2 behind the strong play of a stellar sophomore group.  

A sixth straight trip to nationals seems a strong possibility. 

6) Golf grabs another conference title

Joey Downey and Josh Delo composed a formidable one-two punch in 2017 that helped TMU win another conference championship and produce its best showing on the national level.

Mentored by 10th-year coach Jason Semelsberger, the Mustangs won their third straight conference tournament championship in April. 

“We praise God for the blessing of winning our conference tournament for the third straight year,” said Semelsberger.  “It certainly was not pretty, but I am proud of how our guys got the job done by grinding out every shot.”

Delo and Downey led a group of five Mustangs to the title, finishing third and fifth, individually, on the way to all-conference kudos for the first time.

That championship automatically qualified the Mustangs for the NAIA National Championships in May where they finished 11th.

“I told the guys before the tournament that I thought this team had an opportunity to have one of our best team finishes at the national championship because of who they are as men,” said Semelsberger. “We were blessed to finish as high as any other team that I’ve coached.  I’m pleased with how they did, and it’s a good end to our season.”

The Mustangs earned a No. 11 ranking in the NAIA’s postseason poll and Semelsberger was tabbed as the NAIA West Region Coach of the Year.

7) Parada and Tembo sweep GSAC's top honors

After leading their respective squads to successful campaigns on the field in the fall, juniors Benjamin Tembo and Jasmine Parada were named Golden State Athletic Conference players of the year, the second time in school history that Mustangs have earned the conference’s top honors in on both the men’s and women’s side. 

Parada, a second-team NAIA All-America choice, paced the GSAC with 16 goals and 37 points, the sixth-highest, single-season point total in program history, while Tembo, a third-team All-American, led the GSAC with 17 goals and 42 points.

“We’re super excited about Jazzy being honored,” said women’s coach Curtis Lewis.  “She has worked very hard and has allowed her work to be her worship this whole year.”

Enjoying a breakout campaign, Parada scored seven goals in an early-season, five-game stretch and then added five more scores in a three-match span in October as the Mustangs finished 15-6-1 and earned a trip to the NAIA national tournament for the second time in four years and a No. 17 postseason ranking.

Tembo’s sparkling season was highlighted by a four-match stretch in late September when he scored nine times, including back-to-back hat trick efforts. He led the Mustangs to a 12-win (12-6-2) campaign and a semifinal appearance in the GSAC Tournament.

“We are thrilled that Benji was recognized for a tremendous year,” said 27th-year head coach Jim Rickard.

8) Gama's goal gives Master's the go-ahead

It was a phrase befitting a bumper sticker, and its meaning drove the Mustangs all the way to Alabama for the first time since 2014.

“Birthday girl send us to ‘Bama,” said The Master’s University women’s soccer coach Curtis Lewis after Victoria Gama scored the game-winning goal in the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship Opening Round at TMU on Nov. 18, one day after the senior’s birthday. 

The drama, in actuality, began back on Nov. 8 when the No. 15 Mustangs fell to No. 9 Westmont College in the Golden State Athletic Conference semifinals and then sweated out selection Monday in hopes of an at-large berth to the national tournament.

The team gathered in its locker room to watch the selection show. The Master’s was picked, and pandemonium — or at least excitement — ensued.

The Mustangs had to hold their breath again in the opening round, as Olivet Nazarene University brought a physical style of play and a competitive spirit across the country from Illinois.

The game was scoreless till the 38th minute, when Laura English lifted a pass into the 18-yard box where Gama gathered it, booted it into the net and pumped her fists in celebration.

Keeper Kaylee Poffek (three saves) and the Mustangs held off the Tigers the rest of the way, and the team advanced to the NAIA’s final site competition for the first time since 2014.

The Mustangs lost their first game in Alabama, capping a 15-6-1 season that saw Jasmine Parada (second team), Kayla Peterson and Hailey Gomillion earn All-American honors.

9) Mikesell makes waves in the mid-distance

Over the years, there’s been no shortage of success for long-distance runners at The Master’s University, in both cross country and track. 

Be it John Gilbertson’s cross country national championship in 2012, or Karis Frankian’s national title in the 5,000 meters four years later, the Mustangs have regularly outpaced, or outlasted, the pack. 

But Skyler Mikesell proved in 2017 that the Mustangs are making noise in the middle-distance, too. 

Last spring, the then-junior became the first male in program history to earn All-American status in the 1,500 meters at the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships in Gulf Shores, Alabama. 

“The 1,500 is arguably the most-competitive event in track and field in the NIAA,” said coach Zach Schroeder, “so having an athlete finish in the top eight in the nation is very prestigious.”

Mikesell finished eighth in three minutes, 54.40 seconds. Teammate Alec Franco came in eighth in the 3,000 steeplechase (9:32.65), good for an All-American honor. 

On the women’s side, Morgan Pedrick won the GSAC championship in the 1,500, finishing the race in 4:43.98. She finished 12th at nationals; Abigail Frankian finished 11th in the 5,000; Rachael Ingoldsby was 12th in the 3,000 steeple. 

10) Koch keeps All-American streak cooking

Four years ago, after taking the reins as The Master’s University women’s volleyball coach, Allan Vince had an important phone call to make. 

Vince needed to know if Morgan Koch, one of the program’s top recruits, was still committed to stepping on campus. She left little doubt. 

“Her response was unchanging because Master’s was where she felt called to attend,” Vince said recently.

Fast forward to 2017, and Koch leaves TMU as a prolific presence in the middle, a blocker whose height and long arms made scoring on the Mustangs a tall task.

Koch finished third in the Golden State Athletic Conference in blocks and second in hitting percentage this year.

As a result, she earned All-American status, extending the program’s streak of producing an NAIA All-American to seven straight years – a fact that fits right in at No. 10 on the Top 10 Mustang Moments of 2017.

“Morgan encompasses all the character traits that I try to incorporate into my training each day,” Vince said. “It makes her a natural leader on and off the court.”

It fits then, that she lead off our list.