A century of La Verne sports

Joey Matsuzawa
Sports Editor

With over 400 athletes across 18 teams, it is easy to take La Verne’s athletic programs for granted. But as with many great things, our sports came from very humble beginnings.

Founded in 1891, La Verne College did not play its first official intercollegiate athletic game until 1919, when La Verne took on Redlands on Dec. 18, 1919, in basketball.

Also in 1919, inter-class basketball began to emerge as a popular sport, as well as women’s indoor baseball. Other sports like stick swinging and skeeter weights were also added in the following years.

As the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference had not yet been founded, LVC primarily played against local high school teams and freshman squads from larger colleges.

The LVC football team won its inaugural game against Montebello High School in 1921, beating up on the teenagers to the tune of 34-0.

Unfortunately, LVC football would be discontinued in 1941 due to lack of funds. Luckily, the football squad returned by the 1945 season, before the addition of historic coach Roland Ortmayer in 1948, who spent the next 43 years building and defining the football program we know today.

One of the University’s most prolific football stars was running back Anthony Rice, who dominated SCIAC in the late 1990s, rushing for a total of 2,661 yards and 35 touchdowns, and currently holds seven of the University’s nine rushing records.

In 2015, the ULV football team made history when they became the SCIAC champions with an undefeated 7-0 record, taking the trophy back after 20 long years.

It was not until 1926 that La Verne College joined SCIAC, which then consisted of seven other teams: Caltech, Occidental, Pomona, Redlands, Whittier, UCLA and San Diego State.

Established in 1905, the men’s basketball team brought glory to ULV when it played in the 1992 NCAA Division III regional tournament after winning the 1992 SCIAC title.

Introduced in 1986, the women’s soccer team won their first game in 1988 against Redlands and made history in 1994, when they beat both Claremont and Pomona – a first for the Leopards.

Around the same time, the University also supported a wrestling team that was eventually cut in 1986.

It was at the turn of the decade that the University established itself as a baseball and softball championship contender and has remained since. The baseball team took the SCIAC championship in 1989 under head coach Owen Wright, whereas the softball team would tie for the conference title in 1989 and 1990.

Baseball also took two national titles, one in 1972 then again in 1995. After graduating from LVC in 1958, legendary baseball coach Ben Hines played for a few years in the minor league before returning to coach at his alma matter. These humble beginnings helped shape Hines into a championship caliber coach: winning both the NAIA College World Series as well as the NCAA College World Series, before becoming a professional hitting coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers and subsequently winning the 1998 Major League Baseball World Series. In his time at La Verne, Hines coached over 60 players to professional leagues, including all-star relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry, outfielder Willie Norwood and MLB coach Nick Leyva. Scott Winterburn took the reigns of the baseball team in 2000, helping coach the program to five SCIAC titles, most recently in 2018.

The ULV softball squad also received national attention when they competed in the 1993 softball world series in Decatur, Ill. La Verne’s softball team became a dynasty in 2016. Built around four-year seniors Sienna Kendricks, Carly Condon, Rachel Ogata, Michelle DeGuzman and Melissa Garcia, the softball team won three consecutive SCIAC championships.

Women’s volleyball also evolved into a national powerhouse when they took back-to-back championships in 1981 and 1982, and later in 2001 – racking up over 20 conference championships in the process.

While it existed, the men’s volleyball team was one of the more successful sports at La Verne, making three final-four appearances (1998, 2002, 2003) and winning the 1999 NCAA championship before the team was cut in 2004.

Another sport that is longer offered is tennis. The University fielded both men’s and women’s tennis squads that were also eventually discontinued due to budget cuts. Both teams were cut in 2009, but the women’s team would make a triumphant return later in the year, only to be cut again in 2016.

La Verne added water polo as well as swimming and diving in 1997. The University’s golf squad recently made a name for themselves when they won seven consecutive SCIAC championships under head coach Eric Riehle, (2007-13), before Riehle lead them to another in 2019. Earlier in the decade, Joe Skovron lit up the league in 2001, becoming the 2001 SCIAC Player of the Year in and earned All-American honors. Skovron went on to become a caddie for his childhood friend: professional golfer Rickie Fowler. 2009 graduate Rizal Amin was a three-time PING All-American and was named Lee Fulmer SCIAC Golfer of the Year in 2008. In 2015, golfer Kelby Scharmann won the individual SCIAC championship while teammate Mitchell Fedorka received the Jack Nicklaus award for the Golf Coaches Association of America’s collegiate player of the year. Last year, Conner Davis caped off a magical 2018 campaign that saw him place 12th at the NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championships and was named a PING All-American.

Year in and year out, La Verne’s track and field team has always excelled. Dating back to 1985, when Kirk Dean won the national championship for the long jump, the university has produced over 10 national champions and is always well represented at nationwide tournaments.

In 100 years of athletics at La Verne, a lot has changed. Different sports may come and go, dynasties will rise and fall, but the university’s devotion to its sports teams, athletes and coaches has remained firm and forever will.

Joey Matsuzawa can be reached at joe.matsuzawa@laverne.edu.

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