Pride In A Strong, Successful PacWest

Where in the world am I in my frequent travels this week? If my GPS is correct, it must be Evansville, Ind., the site of the 2015 NCAA Division II Elite Eight Men’s Basketball National Championships. Yes, we’re in the land of Hoosiers.

For the first time since BYU-Hawaii made it to the Elite Eight in 2011, the PacWest will be sending a contender for the national crown to this year’s field. If that’s not enough, the conference also has a representative in the Elite Eight women’s basketball field in Sioux Falls, S.D. — our first-ever women’s hoop national contender. Azusa Pacific is our men’s team and California Baptist is our women’s team.

It’s the first time in conference history that we’ve had two West Region champions and two Elite Eight participants. (The national tournaments are played March 24-28.) As PacWest commissioner, I’m very proud of this accomplishment.

I hope you don’t mind a trip down memory lane, but we’ve come so far in the past several years. The conference only added women’s basketball as an official league sport in 2006. Since then, several of our teams have come on very strong. Hawaii Pacific won its second conference championship this year, setting a school record for victories. The Sharks, behind PacWest Player of the Year Morganne Comstock and PacWest Tournament MVP Kylie Huerta, also won the conference tournament title in Irvine, Calif., and went to the West Regionals as the fourth seed — the highest women’s basketball regional seed in conference history.

The Women’s West Regionals were held in Anchorage, Alaska, where the host school was ranked No. 1 in the nation. The UAA Seawolves have Hawaii ties and a great basketball lineage — their point guard, Kiki Robertson, is a Mid-Pacific graduate who also is distantly related to hoops Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.

A PacWest school, Point Loma out of San Diego, upset Anchorage in the regional quarterfinals; and then another conference school, Cal Baptist, knocked off both HPU and Point Loma before winning the West Region championship.

On the men’s side, BYU-Hawaii returned to the kind of dominance we saw when the team was a regional finalist for four straight years and a national runner-up in 2011. This year’s Seasider club, led by Pablo Coro and Scott Friel, was one of the nation’s top-scoring teams and blazed to impressive victories to win the PacWest Tournament title.

The PacWest was so deep this year that the conference secured the top four seeds in the West Regional tournament, topped by PacWest co-champion Azusa Pacific as the host school and No. 1 seed. APU then raced to three straight victories in the regionals to win the title in impressive fashion to earn the trip to the Elite Eight.

The athletic program at APU has several Hawaii ties. To name a couple of them, former Olympic gold medalist and decathlete Bryan Clay is an APU grad, and the Cougars’ head football coach, Victor Santa Cruz, was a linebacker for University of Hawaii in the early 1990s, including the Rainbow team that won the WAC title and the Holiday Bowl in 1992.

With 14 schools in Hawaii, California and Utah, the PacWest has grown into the largest NCAA Division II conference in the West region. And with the success of this year’s basketball programs, we now can argue that we quickly are becoming the strongest. That argument is best played out on the court and in the field — but don’t mind me if I feel a great sense of pride about where we’ve been and where we’re headed.

From my seat in Indiana, the future of the PacWest looks better than ever.