Last Friday, Gary Blate and the Yosemite High Lady Badgers wrapped up the NSL title with an 56-31 blowout of Kerman. The Badgers have won outright or have been league co-champs 11 consecutive seasons, along with four CIF division championships along the way.
Gary Blate, along with Tom Parrish of Hanford, is the best girl's basketball coach in the Valley. Blate wins in rebuilding years. He wins by getting the best from his players, especially at the end of the season. Yosemite has won six straight and nine of their last 10 games.
Because of their success, Blate and the Badgers play in the Central Section D-II playoffs. Other than Garces, the Badgers will play schools with much larger student populations. It has never detoured Blate. A couple of years ago Yosemite went to Bakersfield and beat No. 2 seed Garces. Still, it would be fun to see Yosemite play in a division akin to their student population, D-IV.
In my opinion, in this section, you are punished for your success. Unless you are a De La Salle or a private school, great years are cyclical. Yosemite football had a dominant run in D-III in the 2000's, but got moved up to D-II playing schools much larger. It happened this year to Kingsburg. The Vikings titles in D-III and got moved up to D-II and were bounced in the first round.
The Badgers will give it their all and will be well led. All the best to a great and proud group.
Mustangs get top seed
Coach Paul Varner and the Minarets Mustangs boy's basketball team got the No. 1 seed in the Central Section D-V playoffs. They were used to it. Minarets was also the Fresno Bee's No. 1 D-V team for much of the year. The team gets two byes this week with an 11-day rest before the first playoff game at 7 p.m. at home Feb. 27 against Laton (9-17).
The Mustangs are not a deep team, but the starting five has played well together, especially toward the end when it matters. A win against Laton would put them in the championship game at 4 p.m. March 1 at Selland Arena.
Last Friday, Minarets defeated Riverdale 82-56. It was the highest scoring output of the year.
The Mustangs are tough inside with forwards Conly Biglione and Sam Millar and have two good defenders down low in Craig Talbot and freshman Mason Ellis.
Varner moved Bo Campbell to two-guard when Albert Ellis went down earlier in the season with an injury. It paid off as Campbell is now a threat inside and out. But the Mustangs run on the talents of point guard Austin Pimentel. He is the best point guard in D-V averaging more than 22 a game. This is his first and last season with Minarets and he wants to make it count.
Don't forget it isn't the first trip to the play-offs for the Mustangs. Last year the team experienced a head coaching change and just missed a last second 3-point shot to defeat Riverdale Christian in round one of the playoffs.
No dogs down
More than 1,500 fans enjoyed a gorgeous day at Bulldog Stadium last Saturday to honor former legendary Fresno State football coach Jim Sweeney. Sweeney who passed away Feb. 8 at 83, would have loved it. I was honored to attend.
James Joseph "Jim" Sweeney coached the Dogs for 19 seasons after coaching at Montana State and Washington State. He retired after the the 1996 season. He left Fresno State for two years to coach with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Oakland Raiders.
He finished his 32-year college coaching career with 200 wins. His record at Fresno State was 144-75-3.
He coached the Bulldogs to eight league titles and five bowl victories, including the huge 24-7 win over USC in the 1992 Freedom Bowl.
During Sweeney's time at Fresno State, the school had 35 players selected in the NFL Draft.
It was Sweeney who coined the phase "Bulldog born, Bulldog bred, gonna be a Bulldog till the day I'm dead."
You would need volumes to write the impact Sweeney had on so many former players and coaches. Former quarterback Trent Dilfer, now an ESPN analyst, was there and spoke so passionately at the service, calling Sweeney the best coach he ever had. This from a guy who played for numerous NFL teams and has a Super Bowl ring.
How about Dennis Erickson who won two national titles at Miami? Joe Tiller of Purdue who tutored a guy named Drew Brees? Mike Martz, creator of the "Greatest Show on Turf" St Louis Rams, winners of the 1999 Super Bowl? Jeff Tedford, who took Cal to its greatest heights in the modern era and found a quarterback from Pleasant Valley High/Butte College in Chico and helped turn him into the best in the game?
Google Bill Moos the AD at Oregon and Sam Jankovich former AD at Miami and GM for the 'Pats. Sweeney impacted all of them. They were all in Fresno to honor the former coach. Even a frail Jerry Tarkanian made it. Tark got a standing O from everyone in the crowd. It was a great moment.
Perhaps the ultimate compliment came from Bill Walsh in 1992. Walsh is perhaps the NFL's greatest modern day football coach and an offensive genius. He was a friend and colleague of Sweeney and respected his offensive acumen. So much so, Walsh took his entire Stanford staff to visit Sweeney at Fresno State in 1992. It was the staff's only trip that year.
One of the speakers was his son, former record-breaking Bulldog quarterback Kevin Sweeney, who presented Jim's widow June Sweeney, with a football -- "The game of Life" football at the end of the memorial service. Kevin's wife, Karen (maiden name Stern), was a graduate of Yosemite High School and Fresno State cheerleader.
Like most coaches, Sweeney lived and breathed football. The stories told at the memorial had you laughing more than crying. Former Yosemite High football coach Aaron Eames grew up the son of a great coach, Barney Eames. Barney and Sweeney knew each other. Aaron attended a summer camp his dad and Sweeney were at and remembers them and other coaches throwing down some beers while writing up plays on napkins. 'They loved football, no matter what time of year it was," Aaron said.
Sweeney was funny, always positive and he loved the Red Wave fans. He put Fresno on the football map. I think the football Gods blessed the Central Valley with Jim Sweeney.
Thanks for making us all proud to be Bulldog football supporters. You were the foundation of Fresno State football. We will miss you coach.