As one of the most successful sports teams in the history of the University of La Verne, the women’s volleyball team is the epitome of consistency.
Imagine taking a pass from your teammate, leaping into the air and striking the volleyball with every ounce of energy that you have. As the ball hits the ground, past the outstretched arms of a diving defender, you, your teammates and the crowd all jump in celebration because ULV volleyball has won another conference championship.
Winning the conference crown is the goal of probably every team in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. For the women on the University of La Verne’s volleyball team, it is just the first goal.
The volleyball team has been the epitome of consistency. Over the last seven years the team has won seven straight SCIAC titles and is one of three programs in the country to be ranked nationally in the top ten each of those years. A lot of the teams’ success comes from the coaches who mold and form these women into some of the greatest volleyball players in the nation. This is where all the dedication and leadership starts for the team. With only two head coaches in the program’s 31-year history, they have definitely earned every major award and honor bestowed upon them. This includes the Division III National Coach of the Year award, won by current head coach Don Flora.
Flora, who is in his ninth season as head coach, has been the man who has held the team together. This past season he reached two coaching milestones: Flora won both his 100th SCIAC game as well as his 200th game overall in his career. He was also named the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s West Region Coach of the Year for the 2006 season after guiding the Leopards to a 27-2 overall record and 13-1 record in SCIAC play. It is coach Flora who instills the idea that the team is bigger than any one individual. The roles of each player are established quickly so everyone knows what they need to contribute to make the team as strong as possible.
“Our players have a deep commitment to the team,” said coach Flora. “The recruits know the expectations of the program.”
Just because the team has had a lot of success on the court doesn’t make it any easier to recruit quality, new players. Flora acknowledged that recruiting is tough in Southern California where there are so many quality teams. From all the junior colleges to the top Division I teams like USC and UCLA, recruiting good young players to come to a little Division III school like La Verne can be tough. This is just another reason why the long-term success of the program is so amazing.
The women have excelled both individually and as a team. Individually, 18 players have been named All-Americans, 10 have earned SCIAC player of the year honors and two have even been named National Player of the Year. Ryan Winn won the award in 2001 and Amy Smith won in 2003.
“The program definitely has higher standards and expectations since winning the national championship in 2001,” said alumnus Adrian Pearson.
As a team, the women are among the best in the business. If the seven straight SCIAC titles and national top-10 rankings aren’t enough, how about a total of 20 SCIAC titles and three national championships in the storied history of the program.
Titles on the court aren’t everything either. The women excel off the court as well. In the past eight years, every player with the team who played at least three seasons has gone on to graduate.
The team is built of players from all walks of life but each of them has one thing in common, they’re all ULV Leopards. These women live together, go to class together and play together, but they never seem to get tired of each other. While athletes on other teams may go their own way on weekends, these players don’t. They are always there for each other. If one of them has a problem and needs someone to talk to, she goes to her teammates.
The family-like atmosphere is just one of the reasons that the Leopards come together to be one of the best teams in the country. Another reason is the continual expectation to win. It’s this confidence that helps them
“The way we finish and our endurance are really important,” said outside hitter Allison Dahlgren. “It all starts in the weight room before the season even begins.”
The team works year-round to prepare for the season. With the help of their strength and conditioning coach, Matt Durant, the Leopards are in the best shape possible. Durant pushes them so they will be stronger and in better condition than their opponents.
The success of the team has had a positive effect on the school as well. The admissions office markets the team to show the type of success that is possible at the University of La Verne. With the team’s popularity comes a higher degree of responsibility as well. The players are well aware that they represent the school and ULV volleyball at all times, even if they are out with friends at a weekend party.
The team has the record and awards to show how successful they have been in the past, but the future looks bright as well. The team’s attitude and swagger is being passed on from class to class. The winning mentality will always be there as coach Flora continues to lead and teach the right way to play the game.
The team doesn’t take anything for granted. Even though they may be one of the best teams in the country and have the support of the school and local community, they know that they have to improve every day to reach their goals.