CVV News l November 2023
One of the nation’s top NCAA Division II conferences – the California Collegiate Athletic Association – will get that much stronger as its Board of Presidents has voted unanimously to admit the University of California, Merced.
“We are thrilled to invite UC Merced into the CCAA,” said Commissioner Allen Hardison, adding the move is pending the Bobcats’ acceptance into NCAA Division II. “In just 18 years, UC Merced has already established itself as one of the top academic institutions on the West Coast and it was obvious to us that their athletic department has the potential to thrive in the CCAA. This expansion only adds to our vision for the Conference moving forward.”
The CCAA, which is home to the most National Championships (155) of any NCAA Division II conference, is further enforced by the addition of this U.S. News & World Report top 60 academic institution. UC Merced will now begin its application process for NCAA Division II membership with the goal of competing on CCAA schedules beginning in the fall of 2025. UC Merced, which has over 9,000 enrolled students and currently competes in the NAIA’s Cal Pac Conference, will bring nine sports to the CCAA (four men’s and five women’s).
“This is a momentous occasion for UC Merced, not just for our athletic program, but the entire university,” said Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz, UC Merced’s chancellor. “We are excited to provide this opportunity for our student-athletes, as well as our supporters, as we transition to NCAA Division II and begin competing in the CCAA, one of the country’s most highly regarded Division II athletic conferences.”
Adding UC Merced brings the CCAA membership to 13 institutions throughout the Golden State. This includes current members Cal Poly Humboldt, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Dominguez Hills, Cal State East Bay, Cal State LA, Cal State Monterey Bay, Cal State San Bernardino, Cal State San Marcos, Chico State, San Francisco State, Sonoma State, and Stanislaus State. These members combine to make up the largest enrollment of any conference in NCAA Division II.
“UC Merced Athletics is thrilled to be invited to join NCAA Division II and to find a home in the California Collegiate Athletic Association,” said David Dunham, UC Merced’s director of athletics. “We thank the Cal Pac and the NAIA for all the memorable years. We believe this is the correct decision for our athletic department and our institution.”
UC Merced is expected to file its application with the NCAA by the February 1 deadline and then will officially begin its transition into the Conference. With the successful NCAA Division II membership application, UC Merced will enter a three-year transition period before earning NCAA active membership status. The 2024-25 season will be the Bobcats’ last in the NAIA.
During its second year of the candidacy period (2025-26), UC Merced athletic schedules will include CCAA members, but the Bobcats will not be eligible for NCAA Championships. In the third year of the transition, UC Merced will be granted provisional membership in NCAA Division II and will continue to play a CCAA conference schedule but will still not be able to compete in the NCAA Championships.
The Bobcats will gain NCAA Division II active member status in the fall of 2027 as long as all benchmarks are met during the transition process and are eligible to compete in the NCAA Championships during the 2027-28 academic year.
The UC Merced athletics program will bring nine CCAA-sponsored sports to the conference including men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s track and field, and women’s volleyball.
Hoops standout takes cross-country route to do life’s work at home
CVV News l June 30, 2022
Christie Bryant was fuming.
The Merced College women’s basketball team was facing Reedley College in a tough game back during the 2006 season. Bryant, a freshman forward, had just given some half-hearted effort, forcing Blue Devils’ head coach Allen Huddleston to yank his best all-around player out of the game.
“We’re cousins, and I was so hard on her,” Huddleston said. “I told her straight up, ‘Look, you’re not gonna be on the court because we’re related. You will play when you earn it.’”
Bryant’s effort was lacking that day, but she was still the team’s best option. Everyone in the stands was feeling big feelings while she sat there, irate.
One of the program’s biggest boosters came out of the stands and stomped across the court to confront Huddleston. Fans were yelling at Huddleston. Bryant’s parents were yelling at Huddleston. Huddleston’s wife was yelling at Huddleston.
“Christie was sitting at the end of the bench and refused to look at me,” the coach said, trying to suppress a chuckle 16 years later. “I just needed her to understand that every step she took for that team had to be with her best effort.”
Huddleston eventually put her back in, and Bryant showed up. She got super aggressive, diving at balls, ripping errant shots off the glass, harassing ball carriers and muscling up for points in the paint.
“I remember after a few minutes finally looking at Allen,” Bryant said, trying not to laugh at herself, “and I don’t know what I said. I think I puffed my jersey out with this look on my face like, ‘See, I’m here. I’m here. I got your message.’”
Bryant hasn’t let her aggressiveness wane at all since then.
Her drive keyed her basketball success at Merced College (A.A. General Education, Class of 2007) which earned her a full ride to Nicholls State in Louisiana (B.S. Allied Health Science, Class of 2009).
That scholarship had her traveling throughout the Eastern U.S., experiencing different people and places, which eventually made her an empathetic and outstanding student at Western University of Health Sciences (Physical Therapy, Class of 2014) in Pomona.
And her training finally allowed Bryant to do what she dreamed of doing since the fifth grade—become a Doctor of Physical Therapy and care for people in her own community.
“That’s what came out of me at Merced College,” she said.
Being willing to push out of her shell and seek other shores also led Bryant home.
“There are so many athletes from all over the country [at Merced College],” she said. “I was talking to one of the football players one day and he told me, ‘Hey, if you ever get the chance to go out of state, do it.’ I am close to my family, so I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know …,’ but [choosing Nicholls State] turned out to be the best decision I ever made.”
A two-time all-conference player at Merced College, Bryant then led Nicholls State in scoring (10.8 points per game), rebounding (5.5 per game) and grade-point average (3.23) while earning Southland Conference All-Academic Second Team honors as a senior.
“The culture was so different in Louisiana,” she said. “It taught me how to be an adult. It was all up to me to succeed or fail. … I could then come back here and bring back all of the experience I gained. I have so much insight to share, especially being a minority woman.”
Her aggressiveness still spurs her on. The 34-year-old is already the proud CEO and DPT of Bryant Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, with offices in Merced and Atwater, and the Recovery Spa in Merced, which offers services heavy on accessible sports recovery and preventative treatments.
Her physical therapy clinics provide rehabilitation from joint replacement and ACL surgeries as well as amputation. The staff also does pediatric and sports performance physical therapy, as well as massage therapy. At the beginning of June, the clinic welcomed a fourth physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor physical therapy, and a physical therapy assistant, to help handle the growth.
Soon, the Atwater location will feature an outdoor training facility where local athletes can get guidance on how to enhance their performance and to rehabilitate sports injuries.
Bryant also works with the nonprofit Students With Aspiring Goals (SWAG), providing financial support and lending out staff for their events. She also mentors physical therapy students and provides a scholarship to minorities seeking to join the field.
With such diverse clientele, it’s clear Bryant understands what diversity among staff can mean to patients.
“Something I’ve been pushing lately for myself and my colleagues is being more aware about how minority women are represented and treated in health care and sports medicine,” she said.
“It’s so hard to find someone who looks like you to treat you. We’re more aware of that now. I will make sure my company has opportunities for minorities.”