The history of athletics at the University of La Verne is filled with a long and rich tradition of excellence that began at the dawn of the 1900s and has continued to flourish to the present day. Ranging from several championship-winning teams to numerous individual accomplishments, Leopard Athletics proudly boasts of prominence at the conference, regional, and national levels. Many of the Leopard coaches and athletes over the years have excelled at every level in building a legacy of growth and high quality that is undoubtedly evident in the present day.
Nine years after opening its doors in 1891, Lordsburg College included sports teams, though none competed at the intercollegiate level. Despite this fact, the athletic scene on campus was quite evident during the early days. Tennis and bicycling were the favorite pastimes. The first Lordsburg College basketball team was established in 1904-05. Sports teams originally surfaced under Lordsburg’s preparatory wing known as the “Academy.”
During the decade, sports became more prominent as the college fielded teams in men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and track and field. In 1917, the city of Lordsburg – and the college – changed its name to La Verne. Sports clubs on the campus grew in popularity, with tennis regarded as “the most enthusiastic of the athletic clubs” consisting of 30 members. Like the college, the Academy fielded a few sports teams with regularity, ranging from baseball to track.
La Verne witnessed growth in sports – both in quantity and philosophy – during the Roaring Twenties. Varsity sports included baseball, basketball, and track, with football beginning in 1921 under the direction of Dr. Claude Arnett, who would serve as head coach for seven seasons. Arnett would also coach baseball and basketball during his tenure. In 1926, La Verne College would earn membership into the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, a move seen to add both credibility and visibility to the Leopard athletic programs.
From 1931 to 1934, La Verne enjoyed modest success in football while basketball also flourished. The arrival of Lee Eisan, a standout football player at the University of California, took over as football, basketball, and track coach. Under Eisan, the football squad, known affectionately as the “Larruping Leopards” was more competitive during the decade. Men’s tennis was also among the varsity sports featured at La Verne. Baseball enjoyed success under Coach “Fanny” Crites in the mid-to-late thirties. The ’38 squad was led by Wilson Ferrell. After a 12-year run, La Verne College would end its affiliation with the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1938. Women also participated in sports, though basketball was the only sport with a full team. Hockey, speedball, baseball, and tennis were popular among the women during inter-class competitions.
Sports at La Verne took a different tone through 1945 as America diverted all of its resources to winning World War II. Several La Verne College men became absent from campus, enlisted or drafted into the armed forces to aid in the war effort. In fact, La Verne did not field athletic teams for four seasons (1942-45). Football returned in 1946 and basketball was restored for the 1945-46 season as the squad competed with just seven players. There were notable performances during the decade, such as “Squack” Moore in basketball, Ted Runner in track & field, and Dwight Hanawalt, who co-captained the football squad in the latter part of the decade. A new era in football would begin with the hiring of Roland Ortmayer as head coach in 1948. The Women’s Athletic Association, a group of women wishing to compete in after school sports, played a significant role on campus. The WAA participated in a variety of sports.
Leopard football began to emerge with players such as Daryl Brandt, Jack Milhoun, and Warren Carter. Basketball enjoyed success with players such as Bill O’Neill and Jack Smith. The Leopard track team began to earn prominence with standouts Kenny Caulkins. The football squad went international, taking a trip to Mexico City to take on Mexico City College in 1953. One of the more memorable athletes of the 1950s was not a student but a faculty member Bob Richards, a Theology professor at La Verne College, earned two Olympic Gold Medals (1952, 1956) in the pole vault. The arrival of Nancy Blickenstaff in 1959 signaled a new era of women’s athletics. Blickenstaff coached women’s teams and would serve as Director of Women’s Athletics.
One of the legendary coaching eras in La Verne Athletic history began in 1960 when Ben Hines took over the baseball program. He quickly made an impact as his 1962 Leopard baseball squad reached the first round of the NAIA Playoffs. That same year, the football Leos finished with a 6-2 overall record. Prominent players on the gridiron during the early sixties included the likes of Art Keough and Larry Kennan. Other multi-sport Leopard standouts from the late sixties included Steve Barber (football, baseball) and Rex Huigens (football, golf). The decade saw the inception of new sports such as golf and cross country for men. In addition, softball arrived as the third major team sport for women. The Women’s Recreation Association also found a niche and featured athletes such as Wanda Flora, who participated in several sports during the early sixties. The baseball team ended the decade by claiming the NAIA District III Championship in 1969.
La Verne rejoined the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1971. Baseball enjoyed one of the most successful decades in the seventies and become a national power, highlighted by the NAIA Championship in 1972, and took third place at the nationals in 1974 and 1975. A wealth of talented baseball players were part of a dominant era. Leopards such as Willie Norwood, Nick Leyva, John Verhoeven, and Dan Quisenberry would go on to earn success at the Major League level. As Hines was cultivating a legendary coaching run in baseball, another one was beginning in volleyball when Jim Paschal took over in 1974. That year also saw the birth of “The Tents,” which became a landmark for the University of La Verne. Football continued success under Roland Ortmayer, leading to the school’s first SCIAC title in 1975 when the Leopards shared the conference crown that season. Offensive stars such as Randy Brown and Curtis Frick helped lead La Verne to the league title that season. The decade would also see the beginning of men’s soccer, men’s volleyball, and wrestling along with women’s basketball and women’s track & field becoming varsity sports. Under Coach Nancy Blickenstaff, the softball and women’s basketball teams would remain competitive.
Under Jim Paschal, La Verne women’s volleyball became a fixture on the national stage. Led by All-Americans Sue Haebecker and Eileen Kamidoi, La Verne captured back-to-back national titles, the AIAW crown in 1981 and the NCAA Division III championship in 1982. The Leos would also post national runner-up finishes in ’83, ’85, and ’88. Despite the departure of Ben Hines in 1980, baseball continued its winning ways with eight conference titles during the decade. Owen Wright took over as head coach in 1984 and guided the Leos to five of the eight league crowns in the eighties, including a perfect 18-0 conference mark in 1987. Wright also served as men’s soccer coach and led La Verne to consecutive league championships in 1987 and 1988. In 1987-88 Coach Wright led both the men’s soccer team and the baseball team to post-season play. Kirk Dean became La Verne’s first individual national champion when he captured first place in the men’s long jump at the NCAA Division III Championships in 1987. The ’82 football squad, led by SCIAC Player of the Year Greg Hopkins, rose to prominence by claiming the program’s second conference crown. Other SCIAC Player of the Year recipients from football included Maurice Harper (1983) and Anthony Grove (1989). Both Grove and Lamont Landers were two-sport stars in football and basketball. Women’s soccer also became a varsity sport beginning in 1987.
The decade provided a bevy of highlights in several sports. Multi-sport star Tricia Wright became La Verne’s first woman to win an individual national title when she placed first overall in the javelin at the 1990 NCAA Division III Championships. Baseball claimed its second national title in program history in 1995 when the Leopards finished a perfect 21-0 in conference play en route to an NCAA crown under head coach Owen Wright. After the retirement of Roland Ortmayer in 1991, longtime assistant Rex Huigens helped lead Leopard football to one of its most successful eras in winning two straight SCIAC crowns in 1993 and 1994. The ’94 squad earned the program’s first-ever NCAA playoff bid after an undefeated regular season. First-year coach Don Morel led La Verne to a third straight league title and a second straight unbeaten regular season in 1995. Leopard softball flourished under the direction of Julie Curtis (Kline) as the 1993 squad captured the SCIAC title en route to an NCAA D-III College World Series berth that season. The Leos were led by pitcher Stacey Mays, who was named National Player of the Year that season. Men’s basketball captured conference championships in 1990 and 1993, with the ’93 squad earning a berth to the NCAA D-III Tournament and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Track & field rose to prominence in the latter half of the decade with individual national crowns in the 4x100 meter relay (Neal, Hayes, Rice, Wilson) in 1996 and the women’s long jump in 1997 (Stacey Williams). Jim Paschal, who assumed duties as Athletic Director in 1991, won his 13th SCIAC crown in women’s volleyball in his final season as head coach in 1997. Paschal helped launched aquatic sports at La Verne as both swimming & diving and water polo began competition in 1998. Men’s volleyball closed the decade with a Molten’s Division III title in 1999.
Women’s volleyball enjoyed arguably one of the most dominant eras in Leopard history, winning the NCAA Division III Championship in 2001, earning five trips to the NCAA Semifinals (’01, ’03, ’04, ’05, ’08), and claiming nine straight SCIAC championships (2000-08) under head coach Don Flora. The program featured a pair of National Player of the Year award winners in Ryan Winn (2001) and Amy Smith (2003). In addition, volleyball totaled six SCIAC Player of the Year selections from 2001 through 2009. La Verne also served as host to the 2003 NCAA Division III Volleyball Championships. Leopard golf burst onto the national scene and closed the decade with three straight conference titles. Golf continued its league supremacy with a run of seven consecutive SCIAC conference crowns from 2007-2013. La Verne finished in the runner-up position at the NCAA Division III Golf Championships in 2007 and 2009. The ’09 squad was led by Mitch Fedorka, who captured the prestigious Jack Nicklaus Award as the National Player of the Year in Division III.
Leopard softball enjoyed immense success in the 2000s starting the decade with three consecutive SCIAC crowns from 2000-2002 under the direction of Julie Kline and added another league title in 2004. The Leopards qualified for eight NCAA Regional Tournament Appearances during the decade (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010) and capped off the era with the 2008 and 2010 SCIAC Postseason Tournament Championship.
The decade also unfortunately saw the end of men’s tennis as the program was discontinued following the 2009 season.
Two years after its inception, men’s water polo captured the SCIAC crown in 2000, while Kenny Clements (2000) and Robert Casillas (2002) earned National Player of the Year honors. Clements (2000), Steven Smith (2000, 2001), Ian Gratz (2001), Steifling (2000), Ian Thorburn (2002), Casillas (2002), Jason Walters (2002), Will Broer (2004), Jared Carvitto (2005), Ricardo Negron (2006), Seth Shelton (2007)Kyle Thorsness (2009), and Emerson Grant (2009, 2010) were all named All-Americans.
In women’s water polo Maria Desantis (2001), Jennifer Pacheco (2001, 2002), Jessica Egbert (2005), Jessica Figgins (2005), Kristin McKown (2005, 2006), Lindsey Waterson, and Elizabeth Roberts (2010) each earned All-American honors.
Baseball won the SCIAC in 2004, 2005, and 2008 under coach Scott Winterburn. The Leopards produced the SCIAC Athlete of the Year in each of those seasons with James Ortega (2004), Scott Lindeen (2005), and Scott Marcus (2008) each earning the award. Women’s basketball posted SCIAC Regular Season Championships in 2003 and 2007 and the 2008 SCIAC Postseason Tournament Championship under Julie Kline.
In track & field, Brandon Tedrow captured the men’s javelin national title at the 2003 NCAA Championships. Tedrow (2002, 2004), Kephyan Sheppard (2000), Demitiro Brown (2000), Will Lawson (2000, 2001), Brandon Jones (2000), John Horton (2001), and Marcus Fortungno (2010) picked up All-American honors. On the women's side Dejuana Satchell (2000, 2001), Lori Waters (2001, 2002), and Liz Lucsko (2002, 2003) each earned a pair of All-American awards. Krystle Luckley (2005, Deonne McLean (2005), Lauren Johnson (2005), Lakia Pearson (2005), and Chelsea Sherier (2005) each earned one All-American honor.
Both track & field teams continued to succeed at the highest level. Paul Turner and Marcus Fortugno kicked off the decade with a bevy of All-American performances. Turner was a five-time All-American during his career, highlighted by a national title in the men’s long jump in 2011 while Fortugno earned consecutive runner-up finishes in the 400 meters (2011, 2012). Both athletes led La Verne to respective fifth and ninth place NCAA team finishes in 2011 and 2012. Chancise Watkins and Lenore Moreno took the torch and burst onto the national stage as seniors in 2014. Moreno won the first indoor national track championship in school history in March 2014 as she shattered the championship meet record in the 5,000 meters and followed up with another national title in the 10,000 meters at the outdoor national championships. Watkins finished his career with five All-American honors and along with Nick Gonsalves, James Francis, and Robert Oshodin won the national championships in the men’s 4x100m relay team in 2014. Both Watkins and Moreno were named the 2014 USTFCCCA West Region Indoor and Outdoor Track Athletes of the Year for their respective gender. Men’s track and field found continued success on the national stage as quartet of Nick Gonsalves, Joshua Francis, Robert Oshodin and Austin Warrington earned 2016 All-American in the 4x100m relay. Andrew Carrasco honors in the hammer throw and the 4x100m relay, respectively, at the 2016 NCAA National Championships. Andrew Carrasco earned a pair of All-American honors in the hammer throw in 2016 and 2017. On the women’s side, Tiahna Gillon earned All-American honors in the 100m in 2015 and graduate transfer Elizabeth Prevedello became the Leopards’ first All-American in the heptathlon in 2019. Jade Griffin capped off the decade with an All-American award in 2020 in the indoor 200m dash.
Moreno also became the first-ever cross country athlete to earn All-America honors by virtue of her 17th place finish at the 2012 NCAA Championships. Men’s cross country also enjoyed a stellar 2012 campaign by earning the program’s first-ever team berth to the NCAA Championships. Bryan Hayes (2013, 2014), Andrea Ramirez (2014), Melissa Cerrillos (2018), and Matthew Salas (2019) each added their names to the La Verne history books by qualifying to the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships.
In 2015, football went 7-0 in SCIAC play en route to its first conference title since 1995 and earned a bid to the NCAA Championship tournament for the first time since 1994. The Leopards played a pair of international games against Mexican university CETYS (Centro de Enseñanza Tecníca y Superior) in their first games against a foreign opponent since 1953. The Leopards hosted the Zorros in an exhibition in 2018 in a unique game in which La Verne played both the CETYS Tijuana and CETYS Mexicali squads (the two Mexican universities alternated quarters). Four members of the Leopards 1953 squad were in attendance and honored prior to the game. In 2019 the Leopards traveled south of the border to face CETYS Mexicali in an exhibition. That same season, Mika Makekau made history for La Verne when she kicked a 26 yard field goal against No. 11 Whitworth to become the first woman in school history to score points for the Leopard football team. The next week more history was made when Makekau and Willamette kicker Kyla Gordon participated in what is believed to be the first NCAA Division III football game with female players on each roster.
In 2013, Marc Okimura (100-yard breaststroke, 200 breaststroke) and Madeline Lovrensky (100 breaststroke) of swimming and diving combined to garner three All-American honors. Lovrensky went on to add to her trophy collection in 2014 and 2015, being named the SCIAC Female Athlete of the Year both years and earning three more All-America awards. Lovrensky’s crowning achievement came at the 2015 national championships, where she earned a silver medal in the 100 backstroke.
Softball dominated the SCIAC during the decade claiming three-straight SCIAC Regular Season Championships, one SCIAC Postseason Tournament Championship, and a trip to the NCAA Tournament under the direction of head coach and USA Softball Gold Medalist Julie Smith. Led by SCIAC Athlete of the Year Katherine Kibbe, the Leopards posted a 25-3 SCIAC record to win the 2016 SCIAC championship, the program’s first since 2008. Alexis Schiff earned SCIAC Athlete of the Year honors in 2017 leading the Leopards to both the regular and postseason conference titles and their first trip to the NCAA Playoffs since 2010. The Leopards completed the three-peat the next year with Smith earning SCIAC Coaching Staff of the Year honors in her final season leading La Verne.
Randi Toomay and Kayla Cribbs of volleyball were selected as AVCA Honorable Mention All-America as the Leopards earned a berth to the NCAA Championship in 2012. Volleyball returned to the NCAA Championship in 2014 as they were led by All-Americans Brittany Yaxley and Kelsi Robinson. Yaxley went on to earn All-American honors again in 2015. Robinson earned SCIAC Athlete of the Year and All-American honors in 2016 and led the Leopards to the NCAA Playoffs for the third time in the decade. Marisa Rojo (2017) and Kelsie Sievers (2018) were both named All-Americans during the era.
After earning its first-ever national ranking in 2013, women’s tennis enjoyed its best season ever in 2014 under the guidance of Yolanda Duron. The program achieved its highest ranking ever, climbing to as high as No. 13 in the nation and made the NCAA National Championship for the first time in history. Individually, Andrea Madrigal became the first La Verne tennis player to win the Fall ITA West Region Championship in 2013. In 2015, doubles duo of Laina Matsuda and Bridget Etchegaray earned La Verne’s first-ever win at an NCAA National Championship tournament and reached the semifinals. La Verne suspended the women’s tennis program indefinitely in June of 2016.
Women’s Water Polo enjoyed the program’s best season in 2016 as it finished second in the SCIAC standings. Led by All-Americans Guarina Garcia and Stephanie Rosero, the Leopards went 18-6 overall and 8-3 in the SCIAC and made a run to the final game of the SCIAC Postseason Championship for the first time in history. The Leopards flooded the All-American list during the decade with Elizabeth Ross (2011, 2012), Lauren Shepard (2012, 2012), Justine Mojarro (2014), Stephani Rosero (2016), Garcia (2016, 2017, 2019), Jasmine Bustamante (2018), Jassmine Kezman (2018, 2019, 2020), Shelby Garcia (2018, 2020), Nancy Trinh (2020) all earning the distinction. On the men’s side, Emerson Grant (2011), Kyle Thorsness (2011), Brendon Jones (2012), Bryan Jimenez (2014, 2015), Rey Julian Castillo (2017, 2016), and Charles Ortega (2018, 2019) were all named All-Americans.
Men’s golf continued their exceptional play, starting the decade with three-straight SCIAC Championships from 2011-2012 that was part of a seven-year run as conference champions that began in 2007. The Leopards advanced to six NCAA Division III National Championships (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2018, 2019) and ended the decade with another SCIAC Championship in 2019. The highlight of the era came in 2015 when Kelby Sharmann became the first Leopard to win an NCAA Championship in golf. Andrew Roque (2011), Derek Zachman (2012), and Hisham Hussein (2018) all earned SCIAC Golfer of the Year honors. Connor Davis led the Leopards to an NCAA at-large bid in 2018 and earned All-American honors along the way. In addition, Alec Spencer (2017), Scharmann (2015, 2014), Derek Zackman (2013, 2012), Trent Twamley (2012), Eric Bunge (2011), and Andrew Roque (2011) all earned All-American status. Sharman (2015) and Zackman (2012) also earned All-Nicolaus Team distinctions. The 2010s also saw the addition of women’s golf to the University of La Verne athletic program with the Leopards playing their inaugural season in 2014-15.
On the basketball court, the men’s basketball team advanced to two SCIAC Postseason Tournaments with five Leopards earning First Team All-SCIAC honors. The women’s squad advanced to one postseason tournament with four First Team All-SCIAC Awards. The women’s soccer team’s best performance of the decade came in 2017 when three Leopards earned First Team All-SCIAC honors. The La Verne men’s soccer team played its best season of the decade in 2016 led by 2016 Athlete of the Year Saul Uribe and the SCIAC Coaching Staff of the Year led by Head Coach Trevor Persson.
The La Verne baseball team added two more SCIAC Regular Season Championships in 2012 and 2018 and won the SCIAC Postseason Tournament in 2015. Christopher Peres (2019), Joe Winterburn (2014), and Jacob Ludvik (2012) all earned All-Americans honors during the span. In addition, Peres was named the 2019 SCIAC Athlete of the Year, and Head Coach Scott Winterburn and staff earned 2018 SCIAC Coaching Staff of the Year honors after guiding the Leopards to a conference title.
The decade ended on a sour note as the COVID-19 pandemic affected all college sports and forced the abrupt stop of the spring season on March 12, 2020.