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National inline champ CSU Fullerton realizes season goal

 

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CSU Fullerton and UC Berkeley’s inline hockey teams both made statements for the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) at the 2019 National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) Championships April 10-14 in Rochester, N.Y.

Fullerton won the Division II national championship while the Cal Bears came home with a second-place trophy in Division III.

The national championship title is the third for Fullerton in six years after the Titans previously won championships in 2014 and 2017.

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Fullerton coach Matt Han, who played on Fullerton’s 2014 national championship team and has been coaching the Titans since 2016, termed the program’s latest national championship quest “an interesting journey.”

“Since the beginning of the season, it was our goal to bring home a national title,” Han said. “Three of our returning players were on the team that won in 2017 – Ron Best, Troy Yano and James Lovberg. Four of our players had started on the ‘B’ team and worked their way onto the Division II team through ambition, hard work and consistency. The remaining four players all began to play for CSUF within the last year.

“During the regular season, we traded wins with the best teams in the WCRHL. We had a strong regular season and ended with a nine-game winning streak. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo would end up with the best regular season record, and they also went on to beat us in the West Coast regional final 7-1.”

“The tough loss helped our team realize that we needed to do more if we wanted a shot at winning the national title. I encouraged the team to up their cardio by riding bicycles and to spend more time at the rink aside from practice. That preparation fueled our confidence heading into Rochester.”

Fullerton’s only loss in seven games in Rochester was 6-1 to Grand Valley State in the opening game of pool play. The Titans were perfect from there on, finishing 2-1 in pool play and cementing their national championship with three elimination-game victories before topping Grand Valley State 5-2 in a championship rematch to enact a measure of revenge.

“Heading into the single-game elimination playoffs, I knew that any of the 16 teams could walk away with the title,” Han explained. “Our team had solid depth and good experience in big tournaments. Not taking any team for granted, it was time for every one of us to elevate our game.

“Roller hockey is typically a high-scoring affair, especially in college when the games are three 12-minute stop-clock periods. To win the title, we would have to rely on a heavy forecheck and have to focus on the defensive side of the game.”

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A shining example of that was Fullerton’s clutch 2-1 overtime win over Kennesaw State in the semifinals in which the Titans trailed 1-0 until James Maloney sent the game into overtime on a one-time shot off a pass from teammate Ethan Flores with 2:31 to play in regulation.

Yano won the game at 2:07 of overtime on an unassisted power-play goal.

Fullerton shut out defending national champion Rochester Institute of Technology 2-0 in the quarterfinals.

Flores, Matthew Bodge and Andrew Wong (shorthanded) each scored to stake Fullerton to a 3-0 lead in the championship game against Grand Valley State, which had eliminated Cal Poly 5-3 in the semifinals. Grand Valley State scored a pair of power-play goals to make it 3-2 with eight minutes left in regulation but Dylan Kammer secured the victory with a pair of empty-net goals in the final 35 seconds.

“We killed off a 4-on-2 power play which really gave us some momentum,” Han explained. “Our goaltender Ron Best really took over in the championship game to help us win the tournament. He made some amazing saves and stopped three breakaways.”

Ultimately, it was a team effort.

“What I think separated us from the other teams was our depth,” Han said.

Yano, who netted five goals and an assist in the NCRHA tournament, earned Division II Most Valuable Player honors while Best, who posted a .902 save percentage in seven games, earned recognition as the division’s Most Valuable Goaltender.

Both Kammer and Cal Poly’s Daniel Kumata were named to the Second Team. Division II All-Tournament Team honorable mentions included San Jose State’s Jacob Hickey and Cal Poly’s Nic Leacox and Alex Waddel.

UC Berkeley finished with a 4-3 record in Division III, winning three consecutive elimination games before coming up short 5-3 in the championship game to Endicott College.

Cal’s Delfino Varela collected 13 goals and 12 assists to earn the Division III Playmaker Award.

Berkeley’s Darien Oliver earned a First Team All-Tournament selection while teammates Cal McCleery and Conner Taherian were both Second Team picks.

Semifinalist Cal Poly Pomona had three All-Tournament Team selections: Ian Duffy (Second Team) and honorable mentions Jacob Oberschelp and Derick Rosas.

Photos/WCRHL

— Phillip Brents

(May 28, 2019)