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Pacific Coast Champs Fresno are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002, when they were bounced in their first game of the weekend by the Southside Irish. Only a handful of players from that season will boot up against Pasadena Saturday in Chula Vista, Calif., but don‘t expect Fresno to be deer in the headlights.

“I’m open of those four or five,” said Fresno captain Walt Pickering. “That was my first year playing, so it’s definitely a little bit different experience. I believe that year we also won the Pacific Coast championship. This time we have a lot of confidence in our ability, but at the same time we prepare the same week in and week out -- expect to get a battle from anyone we play.”

Fresno’s been through a lot of battles in the past two seasons. Playing in Northern California, they’re used to physically demanding matches every week, and those demands don’t subside in the Pacific Coast playoffs.

“I think our local union, Northern California, prepares us for the Pacific Coast and the Pacific Coast prepares us for the National Tournament, so it’s an honor to get to play those two tournaments and to get to play in the Sweet,” Pickering added.

Fresno are back-to-back NorCal Champs. Last season they didn’t play as well as they though they should have at the Pacific Coast Championships, and that, coupled with a wacky playoff structure, prevented them from reaching the Sweet 16.

A year later, and now in the National Tournament, Fresno does not yet feel as though they’ve righted the ship from 2010.

“I wouldn’t say we’re totally vindicated. We want to keep winning,” said the captain. “We played really well in the Pacific Coast Championships, so we are really excited and ready to see what we can do in the Sweet 16. When we’re this close, we can smell it, so we’re doing everything we can to get to our first National Championship.” 

The winner of Fresno vs. Pasadena draws the better of Fort Worth and Santa Rosa Sunday.