SUMMER 2008
FEATURES
 
  Walter Capps’ Vietnam War Class Still Making an Impact
By Vic Cox ‘64
  More Than 1,000 Gauchos Returned to Campus for the All Gaucho Reunion
  Retired Women’s Basketball Coach Mark French Shares His Greatest Moments
By John Zant ‘68
  Alumni Awards Spotlight Service and Work of Jim Barber, Mark French, Elizabeth Gabler, Petra Van Koppen, and Arthur Rupe
 
DEPARTMENTS
  Editor’s Column:
Gateway to Learning
  Research Roundup:
Microscopic Black Holes Pose Little Threat
  Sports Roundup:
Gaucho Key to MLB All-Star Gamee
  Around Storke Tower:
News & Notes From the Campus
  Alumni Authors:
Books for Body, Mind and Soul
  Milestones:
’40s to the Present
   
COVER
  Swimmer Jason Lezak ’99 will be making his third
Olympic appearance in Beijing this month.
Cover photo by Getty Images.
 
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Mark French Remembers His 21 Seasons of Courting Success
By John Zant ’68

Mark French’s life at UCSB has entered its third phase. In the first, he was a student and athlete (baseball and basketball), graduating in 1973. In the second, he was head coach of the Gaucho women’s basketball team from the 1987-88 through the 2007-08 season. In May, he retired from coaching but not from the university. He recently began working for the Alumni Association as director of scholarships and outreach.

As basketball coach, French made a huge impact on the university and the community. He took over a downtrodden team and elevated it to national prominence. UCSB’s record in his 21 seasons was 438 wins and 200 losses. At the annual team banquet, he would list his top 10 experiences of the just completed season. Asked to list a top 10 for his entire career, French came up with 21 great moments, and who are we to dismiss any of them?

Here they are, in descending order.

1. The 1996 Women’s NIT at Amarillo, Texas: The invitation to the WNIT was a letdown for the Gaucho women after they were upset in the Big West Tournament and snubbed by the NCAA selection committee. Then a tragedy put their situation into perspective: Jeff Rio, the boyfriend of junior guard Erin Alexander, was killed in a car accident. French’s team bonded together and won two of three games in Amarillo. “I’ll always remember sitting in the back of the locker room,” French said. “They were all crying and hugging each other. I felt the power of intercollegiate athletics. It was a goosebumpy feeling.”

2. The retirement reunion in June 2008: French expected to spend a Friday evening with a few members of the Fast Breakers (the team’s booster club) at a home in Montecito. Upon his arrival, he was surprised by two-dozen former players and coaches representing every team of the last 18 years. The reunion lasted the entire weekend.

3. UCSB’s first Big West victory over Long Beach State in 1992: There was a gulf between the teams when French started coaching the Gauchos – Long Beach beat them 105-25 in 1987 – and when his team topped the 49ers by an 84-77 score on the road, it was the springboard to their first of 12 conference championships.

4. Hugging April McDivitt after she fouled out of the Sweet 16 game against Connecticut in 2004: McDivitt transferred from Tennessee so she could be coached by French, whom she called “Big Daddy.” In the final game of her college career, her scoring (20 points) and assists kept the Gauchos close. She gave French a tearful hug as she left the floor in the final minute, and UConn held on to win 63-55. McDivitt stayed at UCSB as an assistant coach.

5. Finishing with four players against Stanford in the 1992 NCAA tournament: You would not have known from the final score – Stanford 82, UCSB 73 – that the Gauchos had to play one player down in the final minutes after the officials fouled out half their roster in Palo Alto. Stanford won the national championship.

6. The triple overtime game at Louisiana State in 2003: LSU was ranked No. 4 in the nation when UCSB visited on a muggy afternoon in February. The Tigers led all the way until the Gauchos tied it at the final buzzer, and it took 15 more minutes of drama before the home team prevailed 94-90 in the most exciting game of the women’s college season.

7. Walking with my daughter Tracy to the media room after the 2004 NCAA playoff victory over Houston: It was a poignant experience for French to have his 14-year-old daughter at his side after the triumph that sent the Gauchos into the Sweet 16. He was dripping wet after the players doused him with water.

8. The taxi ride to the hotel with Paula Rudolph after the overtime victory over Nevada at the 1998 Big West Tournament: Another emotionally satisfying moment — UCSB had staged a wild comeback from a 17-point deficit to win the semifinal game in Reno. As French and Rudolph, his significant other, were driven away from the arena, all was quiet and peaceful, with a fresh blanket of snow on the ground.

9. The team hug after winning the 1998 Big West Tournament championship: This endearing team was composed mostly of freshmen and sophomores (Erin Buescher, Stacy Clinesmith et al) who would win 83 games over a three-year span.

10. Cori Close’s shot versus Hawaii and the mustache shave at the 1993 Big West Tournament: UCSB upset top-seeded Hawaii 80-77 after Close made a clutch 3-pointer. French fulfilled a promise by putting a razor to his mustache immediately after the game.

11. Phil Womble presenting me with the Never Give Up Award in 2004: Gaucho superfan Womble surprised French by presenting him with the award usually given to the most inspiring player on the team.

12. Melissa Corpus’s mother speaking at Senior Night in 1999: She gave a heartfelt speech about how much the Gaucho basketball experience had meant to her daughter, a walk-on player.

13. 50th birthday activities at the Stockton Hilton in 2000: Here were the presents that awaited French when he and Rudolph returned to their room after a victory over Pacific on his birthday: “The light bulbs were unscrewed, there was shaving cream on the phone, and there was Saran wrap on the toilet seat . . . We got everything taken care of and went to get in the bed. It was short-sheeted.”

14. The first diversity training session in 2001: “I was worried when we started this program,” French said, “but after a two-hour session talking about some really tough issues like black-white relationships, you could tell it was really going well. Over the next eight years we went from a very white, very Christian team to a team that really embraced diversity. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of when it comes to developing ‘habits of excellence’ in our program.”

15. Brandy Richardson’s play in the 2005 Big West Tournament after injuring her ankle: Richardson, a three-time Hawaii player of the year, ended her college career in “a heroic effort.”

16. Tony Newnan’s swim and poetry reading in 1995: French and the Gauchos were with some visiting recruits early one morning on Campus Point when Newnan, an assistant coach, swam toward shore “like Triton, the god of the sea,” climbed up the cliff, removed a scroll from a capsule around his neck and read “What is a Gaucho?” – a poem extolling the UCSB athlete. “After that, there was no doubt in my mind we were going to sign those kids,” French said.

17. Frankie’s shot against Louisiana Tech at the 2002 NCAA tournament: Jess “Frankie” Hansen nailed a jumper with less than two seconds remaining to stun the favored Ragin’ Cajuns 57-56 at Austin, Texas.

18. The win at Cal Poly after “losing the locker room” in 2008: Unhappy with the Gauchos’ effort midway through last season, French denied them access to their locker room and their practice uniforms. “It was a risky move,” he said, but the team took the lesson to heart and played hard the rest of the season.

19. Handing out donuts to fans lined up to buy tickets in 2000: When UCSB was selected to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, people camped overnight outside the ticket booth at Harder Stadium. The Gaucho women provided them with some sustenance. All 5,800 tickets were sold.

20. “Crash” musical performance for Kristen Mann in 2000: Mann, a very high-profile recruit, was a fan of the Dave Matthews Band. To impress her, French performed the band’s classic song. “Every time I said ‘crash,’ I fell down,” he said. “Soon thereafter Kristen committed.”

21. Classy team behavior after losing the Big West Tournament championship in 2006: UC Riverside ended UCSB’s streak of nine consecutive championships. “The kids were hurting big time,” French said, “but they stayed out on the court for the trophy presentation. They were so good, so respectful. That’s what sports should be all about.”

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