Who's been sending out good October vibes better than the Yavapai College volleyball team? No one, that's who.
The Roughriders had a spectacular week last week. Though sitting last in the tight four-team Division 1, they beat upper-tier Central Arizona twice in two nights on their own home floor. They even got help along the way, when D-2 new BFF Glendale knocked off a ranked D-1 Western team on Thursday. Everything went Yavapai's way. (Not to mention back-to-back conference Player of the Week honors).
Other than explosive talcum powder, something's happening over there.
Four Div. 1 volleyball teams getting after it like that is like the old days in the ACCAC. Arizona's JUCO league was once a force to be reckoned with nationally.
Today there are 99 Division 1 women's volleyball teams nationwide, and Arizona was once queen of the NJCAA women's volleyball field. Arizona schools won six of the first 12 NJCAA championships dating back to 1974, including a run of five straight in the '80s.
But an Arizona school has won only one national title since, and that was 21 years ago. What's up with that?
Arizona national champions include Mesa (1977), Scottsdale (1981), Scottsdale (1982), Central Arizona (1983), Scottsdale (1984), Scottsdale (1985). Three different Eastern Arizona volleyball coaches are in the NJCAA Hall of Fame.
That's some serious cred.
You saw a couple weeks back when the Arizona Amateur Softball Association's season drew to a close. Airtronics of San Jose won the two-day ASA men's 60+ fastpitch tournament in Prescott which yielded a national title.
Okay, maybe you didn't see it. Are people into amateur softball these days? Let's look.
Arizona's ASA in 2011 sponsored championship tournaments in 19 different divisions throughout the state, from youth girls fastpitch to adult coed slowpitch. Today more than 40 million people enjoy playing it each summer, making softball the No. 1 team participant sport in the U.S., according to the ASA.
"As far as number of participants, really the men's slowpitch is taking over," said Prescott's Mike Davidson, the Arizona ASA state player representative. "It's getting more of a family thing. The husbands and the wives are playing, and go out on the same night and play."
ASA's main threat isn't the advent of other organizational amateur softball bodies, like Premier Fastpitch out of California. Premier has been running its own national tournament in Huntington Beach the past few years, and will host 15 national qualifying tournaments in 2012, including an Arizona Qualifier 12U Tournament played in Peoria. Arizona teams from Phoenix and Tucson are playing in other Premier tournaments that draw dozens of teams from, in the 16U division at least, 19 states.
But that competition isn't ASA's real threat. Not according to the man who has defined amateur softball in Arizona for the last quarter century. Mike Candrea is way more worried about the sport's lack of exposure to young people as a result its Olympic shun. The International Olympic Committee voted to remove baseball and softball from the program starting with this summer's London Games.
"Right now we're kind of in a changing of the guard where we need some new faces in the game," Candrea said last month. Candrea has won eight NCAA championships at Arizona, and he led Team USA to a third consecutive gold medal at the Athens Games plus two consecutive World Cup championships. He's been around amateur softball, particularly in Arizona, his whole career, including hosting past summer camps in Prescott.
"The Jennie Finches are now retiring and Lisa Fernandezes and people like that that were so visible around the country and around the world. Now because of the lack of the Olympic Games we need to be able to get exposure that swimming and track & field are getting from the (London) Olympics."
The IOC in 2013 will vote again on softball and baseball's Olympic status, though the idea of the IOC reversing its decision and reinstating softball into the Games doesn't leave Candrea too optimistic.
"Not very," he admitted. "I have no idea what's on the table and what their thought process is. But I think it's going to be very challenging for us to get back on the program. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we do."
HOOPS COMING (AND NOT)
NBA teams opened training camp last week. Charles Barkley is already saying LeBron can pass Michael. Rasheed Wallace is coming out of retirement after spending the last two years on his porch in North Carolina.
If D-Rose and his knee can co-exist like before, we've got a basketball season on our hands.
Sadly, for a second straight year, Yavapai College goes hoops-less. Basketball is as foundational as anything on that campus. From 1970-2011, the men's and women's programs sent 240 student-athletes to Div. 1 and 2 schools, recruited 47 All-Americans, gave the opportunity for almost 40 players to continue playing overseas, and - for the men at least - achieved 33 playoff appearances and five NBA draftees.
That's a lot of good ball and good people - on the floor and in the stands - in winters past.