The UC Riverside Celebration of Champions event was hosted on Wednesday, May 29 in downtown Riverside at City Hall’s Grier Pavilion. The event featured many of the student-athletes and coaches who were awarded Big West honors. In addition, the Mayor of Riverside, Rusty Bailey, was in attendance as well as UCR Chancellor, Kim WIlcox.
The event kicked off around 5:30 p.m. as the student-athletes and coaches mingled with each other. They stood around tables with appetizers on hand as they chatted with each other.
At around 6:00 p.m., Bailey took the podium to congratulate all of the student-athletes for their hard work and success throughout the season. He spoke about what it means to be a UCR Highlander and what it means to represent Riverside as a city.
“It was such an honor to have all the athletes here at this event,” Bailey said. “It’s always a pleasure to reflect on the accomplishments of our student athletes.”
The next person to take the stage was senior defender Dusan Keca of the men’s soccer team. Keca, a native of Serbia, spoke about his experience throughout the season and what winning the Big West Championship meant to him and his teammates.
Keca was a big part of the men’s soccer team that won the Big West Championship on Nov. 10, 2018. This was the first time in UCR program history that the men’s soccer team advanced to the NCAA tournament.
Up next to the microphone was junior thrower Natalie Mitchell from the women’s track team. She reflected on the successful season and the mindset they had to have in order to achieve success.
“In order to achieve success we needed to lift each other up and strive for greatness,” Mitchell said. “I feel like many of us have represented the track team very well this season. This season we came to the Big West Championship with the mindset just to compete. We were mentally prepared and fought for the podium.”
The evening concluded with the athletes posing for a few photos, and the remaining time was filled with food and conversations.
For baseball, five Highlanders were named to the Big West All-Conference teams. Junior designated hitter Connor Cannon and senior outfielder Dean Miller were named to the Big West first team. Cannon set many records on the season, including breaking the UCR program record for most home runs in a single-season with 18. He also became the first player in Big West history to win three consecutive Field Player of the Week awards. Although men’s baseball didn’t have quite the season they anticipated, they finished with a record of 20-36, Cannon was one of the bright spots for the team.
Senior first baseman Yeager Taylor and sophomore utility player Nathan Webb were named to the Big West second team. Taylor concluded the season with a total of 65 hits and four home runs. Webb was the only underclassman to receive Big West honors for baseball.
Junior outfielder Travis Bohall received recognition as he received a Big West honorable mention. Bohall finished the season with 16 stolen bases.
Women’s softball had seven players who received Big West honors. Junior outfielder Daniella Ortega was named to the first team in her first ever selection. Ortega was remarkable throughout the season as she ranked second on the team in runs scored with 32. Ortega also had an efficient time at the plate, batting a career-high .374.
“It meant a lot to me to make the Big West first team because I’ve been working towards this goal for three years now. My teammates put in so much time helping me get to where I wanted to be and it really means a lot,” Ortega said.
Senior infielder Brittney Garcia and junior infielder Emily Ramelot were named to the Big West second team. Garcia collected a career-best 52 hits on the season and Ramelot scored a career-best 37 runs.
Freshman outfielder Nadia Witt was named to the all-freshman team for her outstanding play. Witt was a starter in most of her games and amassed 20 runs scored.
Three Highlanders were named as Big West honorable mentions. Those players included junior pitcher Melanie Olmos, junior catcher Sarah Parten and senior infielder Amanda Lynch.
The captain of the tennis team, senior Kyle McCann, was named to the Big West second team for his singles play. McCann became the first Highlander since 2014 to do so. McCann is also the leader for wins in UCR program history.
Junior Gilbert Chung was named as an honorable mention with a remarkable singles record of 28-5. This is the first time Chung has been awarded for his singles play. Chung was previously honored in 2017 for his doubles play alongside partner Cooper Bridge.
For the first time since 2012, two women were named as honorable mentions for their singles play in tennis: sophomore Tia Elpusan and freshman Mahli Silpachai. Elpusan had many strong performances, posting a 7-7 record. Silpachai became the sixth freshman to eclipse the 10-win mark.
Sophomore Quinn Williams became a Big West Champion when he won the men’s 400-meter hurdle event in Santa Barbara. Williams placed first with a time of 51.34 seconds to secure his title.
Williams was joined by freshman John Ober III who became a Big West Champion for the javelin throwing event. Ober III threw the javelin a distance of 64.61 meters.
UC Riverside had many student-athletes receive Big West honors and this Conference of Champions event was a way to celebrate all of their accomplishments. All of the athletes dedicated many long hours to practicing and improving their craft and these honors reflected their hard work.