Just days before walking across the graduation stage to receive associate degrees, two Allan Hancock College student-athletes, who defied the odds, celebrated the opportunities they earned to transfer to four-year universities. Men's basketball star Shane Carney signed with Arizona Christian University, which competes at the NAIA level. Hancock fullback Kevin Stark signed with University of La Verne. The latest wave of signings brings the total of Hancock student-athletes who have committed to four-year institutions this academic year to at least 16, with more expected in the coming weeks.
"These are the most meaningful moments for us in the athletics department and what we work for year round – to see student-athletes succeed and earn opportunities to move on and succeed at the next level," said Kim Ensing, Hancock's associate dean and athletic director.
Carney led the men's basketball team to its deepest postseason run in 44 years with a spot in the Elite Eight of the State Tournament. The guard averaged 17.5 points and 5.2 assists per game for the Bulldogs earning a spot on the All-Western State Conference First Team. He also became the first Bulldog named to the All-State Team in seven seasons. Carney set program records this season for most 3-pointers made in a single-season with 102 and most career 3-pointers made with 160. He shined on the court barely a year after suffering serious injuries in a car accident that resulted in an emergency bypass surgery.
"When I describe my time here at Hancock – the word that comes to mind is growth," said Carney, who underwent emergency bypass surgery in December 2016 after surviving a car accident. "When I got here I was 17. Now, I'm 20. But I've grown so much mentally and physically. Hancock, everyone at the college and Santa Maria will always be a part of me."
Carney broke the 3-point records of Matt Willkomm, who transferred from Hancock to Arizona Christian after the 2015-16 season. During the 2017-18 season, Arizona Christian finished 15-13 overall and 3-11 in Golden State Athletic Conference action. Willkomm, who was named an NAIA Scholar-Athlete, led the Firestorm last season in several offensive categories including: scoring at 16.5 points per game; .887 free-throw percentage; 75 total 3-pointers made; and a .434 3-point shooting percentage.
"I visited the campus and really enjoyed the city, the campus and the coaches," said Carney, who plans to major psychology at Arizona Christian. "I am really excited for the next step and to be their starting point guard."
Carney is the 22nd Hancock men's basketball player to earn an opportunity to play at a four-year institution since Tyson Aye became the program's head coach in 2013. That number will rise in the coming weeks when Santa Maria native Shemarr Parker, as well as guard Devin Davis and forward Spirit Ricks make their college decisions.
Stark joins a Division III program lead by Head Coach Christopher Krich, who enters his eighth season with the Leopards. During the 2015 season, he guided La Verne to the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) title and first NCAA Football Championship Playoffs appearance since 1994. Last year, the Leopards went 3-5 overall and 2-4 in conference action. The Leopards open the 2018 season at Whitworth on September 1.
"What won me over was when they invited me and my father to a campus visit on my dad's birthday. They let us sit in on film sessions, gave us a tour and really made us feel at home," said Stark, who plans to major in communications studies at La Verne. "Coach Krich is just like my coaches at Hancock and stresses making education my top priority."
With Hancock, Stark missed four games with an injury in 2017. A key component in the offense operated by Head Coach Kris Dutra and Offensive Coordinator Seth Damron, Stark finished with 94 rushing yards on 13 carries and 12 receptions for 114 yards and one touchdown. He completed his Hancock career with 28 catches for 278 yards and 120 yards on the ground.
"It's crazy to think how I got to this point," said Stark, who took two years off from football after high school. "I moved to Santa Maria from Arizona to stay with my aunt and uncle. I contacted Coach Dutra, told him I wanted to play football, but didn't have game film and hadn't played in two years. He said he would give me a shot. So, I took advantage of it. I showed up to practices early, stayed late and put in the extra time and effort every day. It paid off with an opportunity to play four years of college football at Hancock and La Verne."
Stark earned a spot on the 2017 Southern California Football Association's Scholar-Athlete Team. He will participate in Hancock's Commencement on Friday and graduate with a cumulative 3.5 grade point average.
"Coach Dutra and Coach Damron turned a boy into a man," said Stark. "They stressed the importance of doing well in the classroom and putting 100 percent into everything if I wanted to keep playing at a four-year university."
Nearly one dozen of Stark's teammates from the 2017 league champion team have already signed with four-year institutions, including offensive lineman Jamil Viaud, who signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Kent State University at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS-Division I) level.
Ensing also applauded the baseball program, Head Coach Chris Stevens and his assistant coaches. All 14 sophomores will be in college next fall, 13 at four-year universities with the 14th returning to Hancock to prepare to transfer to a four-year university after switching majors. Of the 13 moving to four-year institutions next year, five are recruited walk-ons to baseball programs, six will be on baseball scholarships, and two others are transferring to Chico State for academics.
Infielder Cordell Bowie signed with San Diego Christian, a NAIA program. Bowie hit .331 with 10 doubles, one home run and 28 RBI to earn all-conference honors. He drew a team-best 27 walks to finish with a .450 on-base percentage. San Diego Christian went 16-33-1 in 2018. The Hawks enjoyed success recently, winning 27 games in 2016 and capturing the Golden State Athletic Conference title and advancing to the NAIA World Series in 2014.
Relief pitcher Phil Almanza signed with Valley City State University, an NAIA program in North Dakota. The Vikings went 15-30 in 2018 and compete in the North Star Athletic Conference. Almanza appeared in 18 games for Hancock this spring, finishing 2-0 with 18 strikeouts over 30 2/3 innings. The Pioneer Valley High School graduate had two saves and fanned 19 in 27 2/3 innings as a freshman for the Bulldogs in 2017.
Pitcher Nik Cardinal just committed to Fresno State University, a Division I program.
Sophomore infielders Quinntin Perez and Chad Jones, as well as outfielder Brendan Gomez, a Santa Ynez High School product, and outfielder/infielder Daniel Curiel, a Righetti High School graduate, have received offers from four-year universities. The four, who each received all-conference honors this spring, have yet to select an institution. Perez, a St. Joseph High School graduate, who hit .367 with three home runs and scored 35 runs, has fielded offers from Division I programs like University of Oregon and San Diego State University.
The recruited walk-ons include: infielder Josh Harmonay (University of Nevada, Las Vegas); Phillip Martin (Chico State); Brian Dowell (Chico State); Jeff Fernandes (Sonoma State); and Josh Tonascia (California State University, Monterey Bay).
The college plans to honor student-athletes from the softball, men's basketball, men's soccer and football programs in the coming weeks once they reach their decisions.