Coach puts passion for game first

After 13 seasons with the University of La Verne’s women’s volleyball team, Don Flora is finishing up his ninth season as the head coach. Flora believes the Leopards have a good team this year, demonstrated by their powerful overall record of 26-1, 12-0 in SCIAC. / photo by Rhiannon Mim
After 13 seasons with the University of La Verne’s women’s volleyball team, Don Flora is finishing up his ninth season as the head coach. Flora believes the Leopards have a good team this year, demonstrated by their powerful overall record of 26-1, 12-0 in SCIAC. / photo by Rhiannon Mim

The fight, kick and spit, the natural love for the game, the competition, and the family that you become after only a couple months of playing together are all the reasons that keep head volleyball coach Don Flora coming back year after year.

Last month at 37 years old, Flora achieved his 100th Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference win and just one week later he earned his 200th career win.

The woman’s volleyball team at the University of La Verne is currently ranked third in the nation for Division III and has a record of 26-1 overall, 12-0 in SCIAC.

Flora attributes these successes to his assistant coaching staff of Adriana Contreras, Meridith Zembal and Mark Hearn.

“I think I have been very blessed … with the level of time and the level of investment in our coaching staff over the past nine years,” Flora said. “I have just been very lucky to have part-time people that work really hard, and they don’t get payed a ton.”

Flora and his staff have directly contributed to all of the success the University of La Verne woman’s volleyball team has experienced in the last nine seasons.

He has guided the women to six consecutive SCIAC titles between 2000-2005 and to a Division III National Championship in 2001.

“He is an outstanding teacher of the game,” said Chris Ragsdale, athletic director. “He knows our team and has the ability to analyze our opponents to minimize their strengths and maximize ours.”

Flora grew up near La Verne and spent his childhood as what some might call a “gym rat.” Both of his parents coached several sports teams. He was heavily involved in sports, as well.

“I was always in the gym with my mom at Mt. SAC,” Flora said. “From upper elementary to middle school I was in the gym a lot after practice and so on, so I was around game and sport and tactics a lot.”

Flora attended Charter Oak High School in Covina where he played volleyball and continued that career through his freshman year at Cal State Long Beach.

After Flora’s first year with the Long Beach 49ers, he decided to return home and attend the University of La Verne.

While he was a student at ULV, he played volleyball, tennis, football and a year of basketball.

During the beginning of his last year at ULV, he was offered a head coaching position for girl’s volleyball at Claremont High School.

This is where Flora came to his first crossroad in life.

He had to decide whether he would play one last year of college football or take a head coaching position. Flora knew with time constraints there was no way for him to do both.

Flora made the decision to take the head coaching position launching his successful career.

“If I looked back at why I wanted to be a coach, I would have to say I had a number of great mentors, who reflected the things that I liked about life,” Flora said. “They embodied and reflected things that were bigger than the sport. They helped me in life, not just in the sport.”

After graduating from La Verne, Flora ventured to Chicago for graduate school thinking he may want to become a pastor.

While in central Illinois, Flora continued to coach boys and girls’ high school volleyball.

After a year of part-time graduate school studying theology, he decided he wanted to become a teacher and return to his roots in Southern California to attend graduate school in Claremont.

He quickly found his way back to the University of La Verne and began as the head coach of men’s volleyball, while assistant coaching for the women’s volleyball team.

For five years, Flora assisted the woman’s volleyball team which was coached by Jim Paschal, until Pascal retired in 1998.

One of Flora’s goals when he took over was to improve the team’s recruiting process.

With the help of his staff, they have been able to recruit real competitors and the program has excelled.

“He is a goal-orientated coach, he has a program,” said senior setter Leslie Flores. “He always tells us this program is bigger than all of us and he does well recruiting to maintain the level of success this program has achieved.”

Flora’s knowledge of the game is vast and he is continually teaching his players more.

He is described by his players as always willing to spend that extra time, and as a coach who is focused and uses the time he has with the women to get the best out of them.

“He is really welcoming and open, even when I was a freshman and he was teaching us things I wasn’t familiar with,” sophomore Madison Bradley said. “He would take the time to help me one-on-one.”

“He is a coach that does everything with a purpose,” Flores said. “If you come to him before or after practice with questions about why your doing a certain drill, he has a direct answer. Either we didn’t do it well in a game or he will show us our stats or game footage, everything has a purpose.”

The only loss La Verne suffered was to the No. 1 ranked team in Division III, Juniata, in the Illinois Wesleyan Invitational earlier this month.

“This 2006 team might be one of the better teams when it comes to culture and dynamics,” Flora said. “I think that this team has some of the traits of being the best team on any given night and the traits to be a national championship team.”

Other than being a dedicated coach, Flora is a new dad.

Flora and his wife Jeanne, who is an associate professor of speech communications at ULV, have two daughters; Annika and Alexis Jane.

His daughters can be seen at many games, supporting dad and his team.

“It’s humbling but it’s pure joy,” Flora said. “Just to spend time with my two little ones is just a total blessing.”

Flora might have more to learn about his two little ones, but he doesn’t lack knowledge on the volleyball court and has set an example that his players plan to or have all ready taken with them into their coaching careers.

“One of the biggest things I take from him is if your team is doing all the right things and all believing in your goal, together you will achieve your goal,” Flores said, “but if one person doubts, the team will fall apart.”

Flora believes that lesson is the key to the La Verne volleyball success.

“I think that we bring a high level of trust, we’ve got each other’s back and the culture is this; is your family for the next couple of months,” Flora said. “We take care of each other.”

Morgan Dobis can be reached at m.dobis15@yahoo.com.

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Journalism operations manager at the University of La Verne. Production manager and business manager of the Campus Times.

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