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STATE OF VALLEY CHRISTIAN HIGH ATHLETICS : Flurry of coaching changes not deterring the school of league and CIF-SS championships

 

 

 

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter • JUNE 25, 20020

 

This is the sixth in a series of stories on the athletic programs of the area high schools from the past 15-20 years and the immediate future of most of those sports. Each story will have comments from that school’s athletic director, or one of the co-athletic directors on most, if not, all the sports that school competes in.

Next up is Valley Christian High, a school that has always had its share of championships, both in the Olympic League and with the CIF-Southern Section. The school even has won a USA Today National Championship. Since 2000, every sport has won at least one league title with three programs having claimed at least 11 league championships. In the history of the school, there have been over 240 league championships and over 30 CIF championships.

The current athletic director, Dan Leffler, graduated from V.C. in 1990 and has been associated with the school one way or another for over 30 years. He is about to start his third year as athletic director and when he took over for Zac Chan at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, had his work cut out as there were half a dozen coaches on their way out. As the upcoming school year approaches, there will be more new head coaches.

FOOTBALL

When Leffler was at V.C., he played for former legendary head coach Mike Wunderley and even then, the football season was considered to set the tone for the school year. Wunderley retired from coaching after the 2002 season and since then, there have been five coaches in charge of the program with four of them winning at least one league title. The program has missed the playoffs four times since 2000 and have had four losing seasons in that time, the last being in 2018 when the Defenders were 3-7 under former head coach Stephen Kelley.

Two seasons before that, former head coach Woodie Grayson, who had gone 42-20 in five seasons and lost two league games, won the 2016 Division 9 championship.

“We had a little bit of a road block there, trying to figure out the program [and] how we were going to fill that gap because coach Grayson did a tremendous job and it was time for him to move on,” Leffler said. “I think from there, having someone like Bill Garner, who is our current head coach and being on staff really helps our program.”

Garner won seven games last season, marking the 14thtime in the past 20 years the program has won at least seven games. The program has won eight league titles, finished in second place nine times and has won at least one league game for over 22 years, at least.

“I think Valley Christian is in a good spot and we’re poised to make it back to the playoffs again,” Leffler said. “That’s always the goal every year and if you’re the undefeated Olympic League champs like we are, there’s always a target on you. So, we’re mindful of that.

“Obviously with Bill at the helm, he’s a graduate of Valley Christian [and] he played for Mike Wunderley,” Leffler later said. “So, I honestly believe that’s part of the formula for us to be able to succeed. It’s having someone that has played in that program and understands the tradition and what’s expected.”

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

With 323 victories in the past 20 years, this has been the winningest program in that time, but the program has won two league titles, which came in 2001 under former head coach Susan Boogaard and in 2016 under former head coach Melody Nua. Still, the program has advanced to the quarterfinals seven times, the semifinals in 2006 and won last season’s Division 4 championship under current head coach Jeff Ornee.

“We’ve obviously had a rich tradition; this goes even back to the days when Gladys Rouwenhorst was there,” Leffler said. “To me, we have a lot of girls that come through our school system that actually stay. We don’t have that luxury all the time, especially when it comes to football or basketball.”

Leffler says keeping the volleyball girls in the program, even before they get to the high school level, can be attributed to Ornee, who calls the fourth-year head coach ‘very meticulous and detailed and skill-oriented’.

Ornee has won 65 matches and no other head coach before him has lasted at V.C. more than four seasons from 2000. On top of that, Ornee is one of two coaches since 2000 to have won at least 20 matches in two seasons. The other one was Brett Rinks, who won 21 matches in 2012 and 20 matches the next season.

“Obviously winning a CIF championship this last year in Division 4, we’ve got a lot of excitement and people are really eager to be a part of our volleyball program, and I think a lot of that is attributed to Jeff,” Leffler said. “He’s got some club experience at a really high level and has coached some national teams and stuff.”

Leffler added that Ornee will be coming on in the athletic department to help Leffler on a part-time basis and will have the role of Director of Volleyball operations, coaching both the boys and the girls starting next year.

GIRLS TENNIS

The program is in a transition stage as longtime head coach Sheri Admiraal, who also coached the boys tennis program, resigned and is moving to another state. According to Leffler, Admiraal had been coaching V.C. for over 20 years. Since 2002, the program has gone 99-75-1 in league competition, winning a league championship in 2005, 2007 and 2011, coming in second place six times and third place five times.

“Sheri has a pretty laidback style, which I think helps girls play a little freer and not quite have the pressure,” Leffler said. “I think that was a lot of their success; is that Sheri’s motto was always, ‘hey, we’re not going to take ourselves too seriously. We’re going to be prepared and the outcome will take care of itself’.

“It’s going to be a huge void for me to try to fill,” he continued. “Most of all, I think the tennis guys and girls that are still in the program will miss her tremendously, as a person and as a coach. She’s a great mentor for those girls and guys in our tennis program.”

CROSS COUNTRY

The program has captured a combined 15 league championships in school history but recently, both boys and girls have been the leaders of the league. The boys won five straight league championships from 2013-2017 while the girls have finished in first place from 2010-2017. In addition, the boys came in second place in the CIF championships in 2016 and 2017.

“Cross country is a really big deal at Valley Christian,” Leffler said. “We have probably the largest numbers of student athletes participating in that specific sport. We have 50 or 60 kids every year participating in cross country and track at one time. For a school that has 460 kids, it’s probably kind of unheard of.”

Leffler said that former boys head coach Tim Becksvoort, who coached up to the 2009 season, held the runners to a high standard which was very contagious when someone like himself is demanding excellence. Christina Dekker, who ran when Becksvoort was the coach, had recently been the head coach of both programs but retired at the end of the 2019 campaign. Taking over is Craig Henry, who was an assistant last year and had previously been the head coach at Covina High. Last year, the girls program advanced to the state championships for the first time in school history.

GIRLS GOLF

Leffler says this program is always interesting because the Olympic League doesn’t field too many golf programs with among the other four schools. Last year, V.C. was in the 605 League for girls golf and Lauren Cho, one of the better area golfers according to Leffler, was a league champion.

“Here again, it’s not something where we have a steady flow of girls coming through to do girls golf,” Leffler said. “We have a few girls who are in our system that actually train and play golf on a daily basis and Lauren happens to be one of those. Do I think we’re going to be the first or second place finisher? No. But do I think that Lauren will carry the torch for us and represent us in CIF? Yeah, for sure.”

BOYS BASKETBALL

Leffler coached for six seasons, beginning with the 2000-2001 team which advanced to the quarterfinals. Since then, the program has seen three other coaches with former head coach Bryan Branderhorst winning a CIF championship in 2008. Although V.C. has won 292 games and missed the playoffs twice since Leffler took over, that 2007-2008 team is the only one to have won a league crown in over 20 seasons. Most of that can be attributed to the strength of the league, especially with Heritage Christian High, Maranatha High and Village Christian High constantly dominating the circuit.

“Obviously, a lot of the success came when Bryan was there, and even before that [former head coach] Harold [De Bie] had some success as well with all the 40 years he was there,” Leffler said. “For us, I think we kind of got ourselves in a very difficult spot as far as league goes. When Heritage Christian is in your league playing in Division 2, Village was really, really good this year and they actually play in our same division…competition-wise, it seems everybody gets frustrated in our community because they really don’t understand how the divisions work. For us, third is automatic and puts us in a division with teams we can compete with. I think we can compete with Heritage and Village and the likes of those teams in the Olympic League. But we’re not playing on the same wavelength as those guys.”

V.C. is coming off a 20-9 season under the tutelage of head coach Josh Zumkehr, the fourth time since the 2006-2007 season that the program has seen a team win at least 20 games. However, six of those losses came in league play. The program has made one other trip to the semifinals and three other trips to the quarterfinals in addition to that CIF championship team.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

This program has the exact record of that of the boys program over the past 20 years, 292-274, which ranks tied for the third winningest of all V.C. programs in that time. Three teams under three different head coaches have advanced to the CIF finals, but there hasn’t been a championship since the 1999-2000 squad under another legend in V.C. history, Eleanor Dykstra.

The program will see it’s seventh head coach since Dykstra stepped down following the 2005-2006 season. Anthony Roldan, a former V.C. player, will become the program’s fourth head coach in as many years and since Dykstra, no head coach has lasted more than four years.

Roldan is also the school’s strength and conditioning coach and coached the middle school team last year.

“We’re trying to get back to the roots of what we learned from Mrs. Dykstra over the years,” Leffler said. “We have to nurture this program from the elementary all the way through the high school and convince the students who are here in the program and our school system that this is the place for you. We have a rich tradition in girls basketball and a lot of great things going on at Valley Christian over the years with…CIF championships. So, we use that as momentum.”

Even with all the success, the program has been very rocky at times, missing the playoffs seven times in the past 20 years and winning as few as one game in the 2012-2013 season to over 20 games five times, the last coming in the 2016-2017 season when that team wound up 22-10 and lost in the championship game. The program has advanced to the semifinals five other times,

“I’m very tight with Mrs. Dykstra,” Leffler said. “She’s kind of a mentor to me, being an athletic director and coach. We worked really close together when I was coaching boys and she was coaching girls. She was the shooting coach for me when I played at Valley. I rely on her a lot to kind of help guide and direct, more specifically the girls basketball program because it’s engraved in her DNA.”

Leffler said if there is one problem with the program, it’s making sure the kids who are currently in the school’s basketball system from the younger levels, stay in the program all through high school. As for the future, Leffler sees the program turning around under Roldan, who ‘puts a tremendous amount of time into prepping and practice planning and nourishing relationships of girls that play basketball at Valley Christian’. He added that Roldan is definitely the right fit for what the program is trying to accomplish and thinks some special things are going to happen for V.C. in the program.

BOYS SOCCER

It’s hard for this program not to make the playoffs as it’s happened only once (2008) in the past 20 years. Other than that, the program has captured 11 league titles under half a dozen head coaches, finished in second place five times, and won 250 games. But getting deep into the playoffs has been a struggle with one trip to the semifinals (2014) and one other trip to the quarterfinals, which came last season, posing the question of the disappointment of exiting earlier than later in the postseason.

“If you talk to coach Andy Anderson, he would say absolutely,” Leffler said. “From an athletic department standpoint, I think some compete at a high level and done really well and represented the school well in getting to the playoffs.”

Leffler continued to say that Anderson, who will be entering his sixth season, mentioned that once you get to the quarterfinals in the division, you’re likely to be paired with a boarding school and the makeup of kids on those campuses is something V.C. hasn’t been able to see through the regular season.

“But I don’t see that as an excuse,” Leffler said. “I see that as an opportunity for us to say, ‘hey, how do we get prepared’? Because, this isn’t the first time it’s happened to us. We’ve played Cate, then we played Dunn; both of those are boarding schools and have the flexibility of having international kids and kids who are playing on the national teams and doing other stuff.”

V.C. has had one losing season in the past 20 years and is currently in a stretch of seven league championships in the past eight seasons. The best mark came during the 2001-2002 when V.C. finished 16-2-4 under former head coach Dave Christensen, who is doing wonders with the La Mirada High girls program. Anderson is currently 56-29-15 overall and 30-2-8 in league play, and the win totals are second to Christensen.

Leffler also said Olympic League championships and second place finishes are expected at V.C. from the program. Now, the mentality has to switch to how can the program get to the finish line, i.e. CIF divisional finals and/or championship.

GIRLS SOCCER

This is the second program at V.C. to have recorded over 300 victories since 2000 (302-139-59) and has had three head coaches in that time. But, former head coach Kim Looney, who had been on the sidelines for 19 seasons, has retired. All she did was claim 13 league titles and three divisional championships, sharing in 2005 and 2007 and winning it outright in 2017. Her 2009 team also lost in the divisional finals and three teams lost in the semifinals with another four falling in the quarterfinals.

Leffler said he knew Looney was going to retire before the end of last season but she didn’t want to say anything until the season was over as she didn’t want the news to derail the program from what its goal is. Kyle Ormsbee is slated to be the new head coach.

“It’s kind of sad for me on a personal note just because I have a daughter that plays on the team and had the privilege to play for her last year as a freshman,” Leffler said. “I was hoping that was going to stick, but Kim is going to devote some more of her time to her family. If there is a void in our athletic program anywhere, it’s trying to find someone to fill the void of Kim. She has a great relationship with the kids.

“Kim is everything to Valley Christian soccer, having played in it, being mentored by [former head coach] Fred Wind,” he continued. “Just the way she runs the program…the girls deeply respect her, and I think it works both ways.”

Leffler went on to say that five or 10 years from now, even later than that, Looney will be in the same conversations with some of the other pioneers of V.C. athletics, like De Bie, Dykstra and Wunderley.

BASEBALL

Even with 289 wins since 2000, it’s been a roller coaster with the program. There were the 2001 and 2003 CIF divisional championships, the latter putting an end to a 23-10 season. But there has also been a pair of seven-win campaigns and seven seasons of not going to the playoffs. The program has won four league titles, finished in second place four times and third place another five times since 2000. There have also been 10 head coaches with Matt Dahlenburg going 4-7 before the season ended in March.

“I really think we were coming into our own with our second-year head coach, Matt Dahlenburg, when the season got cut short. I’m not going to make any predictions about where we would have finished. But I know we were competing at a lot higher level than we were in the past. Matt has always told me that this is a three to four-year process for us to be able to get this program back to where it was.”

Leffler says there are a lot of kids excited about baseball and a lot of kids solely focused on baseball, which can be good and bad for a school of the size of V.C. He stressed they feel they will compete, even though it’s difficult with Maranatha winning CIF championships.

SOFTBALL

Of the major programs at V.C., this is the only one to have a losing overall record since 2000, going 241-249-4. However, it is 30 games above .500 in league action and one more league victory will give V.C. 100 in that area over the past 21 years.

Eight coaches have come through the program since 2000 with former head coach Don Harper taking the 2006 squad to the CIF divisional finals. Three other coaches have taken their teams to the quarterfinals and five teams have missed the playoffs, including the 2019 team of current head coach Nichole McGahey.

“It’s been a building process with Nichole McGahey there and kind of getting people excited again about softball,” Leffler said. “We have a handful of girls that play travel ball. We no longer have a [junior varsity] program. That’s one of our goals; to put a j.v. girls softball program on the field again. We just haven’t had the numbers up to this point. We’re getting a lot better; we’re getting girls from our own middle school again that are coming and wanting to play, hoping to contribute.”

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

This is another program that has completely dominated the Olympic League since 2002, coming in first place 13 times and second place three more times. The program has gone 127-22 in league play in the past 18 years and captured the 2007, 2011 and 2016 CIF divisional championships with three different head coaches.

“It’s interesting because before I came in [as athletic director], we were in the midst of another coaching change for boys volleyball,” Leffler said. “I know they’ve had a fair amount of coaches come through in that 20-year process. We obviously have the talent; we have kids that are really excited about men’s volleyball. My biggest focus was who do we get to run it and Jeff [Ornee] is the right guy for that. I clearly have high expectations for our men’s volleyball program underneath his direction. I don’t expect us to take any steps backwards whatsoever in men’s volleyball.”

BOYS TENNIS

This program has been consistent since 2002 with five league championships, five second place finishes and four third and fourth place finishes. In league competition only, V.C. has gone 73-72 over the past 19 years.

“We see a lot more kids coming out for tennis who maybe haven’t done it ever, or have played some rec tennis,” Leffler said. “So that makes it hard to build a sustainable program with some rich tradition behind it and get people excited. A lot of that is attributed to Sheri [Admiraal]. She had the relationship with the kids in the classroom and then working through those relationships, she would get kids coming out and being a part of the program.”

Leffler said without Admiraal and her leadership and direction, the program was starting all over again and added that it’s going to be difficult in tennis.

TRACK AND FIELD

V.C. has been virtually untouchable in boys and girls with each capturing a dozen league championships since 2000. In fact, the boys have won six straight league titles while the girls are on an eight-year streak. On top of that, several athletes over the years have performed well in the divisional championships and Masters Meet.

“I think Valley Christian definitely has put its name on the map when it comes to track and field,” Leffler said. “We’ve been fortunate to kind of have that be an area where kids from all the sports from fall and winter decide that they’re going to rally again and come together. When we do that at Valley, we seem to have a ton of success because that’s all the athletes playing in all these different sports that can run and do hurdles and work in those field events.”

BOYS GOLF/GYMNASTICS

The boys golf program won league titles in 2011 and 2013 while the only area school to field a gymnastics program won league crowns in 2007 and 2008. Leffler said that boys golf has been slipping away and the program did not have enough golfers this past season to field a team that can score. He called it a little bit troubling, trying to figure out what the disconnect was with boys golf.

As for gymnastics, he said V.C. has surprised some people because the program has some girls who train at studios and dance and do other things that are now in gymnastics.

“I think that they’re going to continue to just keep building on the success that they’ve had over the past few years,” Leffler said. “It helps that we’re kind of competing with the schools around us in our area, holding gymnastic competitions at Millikan and Lakewood and St. Joseph.”

On a side note, for as long as anyone can remember, whether its programs have competed in the Alpha League, Delphic League or Olympic League, V.C. has had to travel far away for league contests, sometimes as far as the north end of the San Fernando Valley and to Pasadena.

“It’s very cumbersome; I’ll start with that,” Leffler said. “It surprises me every time we play at a location like Heritage [Christian] or Village [Christian] or even Maranatha that our fan support is unbelievable. They travel with us all over the place, so I’m grateful for that.”

Those days may soon be changing as V.C. is actively seeking an opportunity to get out of the Olympic League. When school begins in August, V.C. will be in the third of a four-year setup with the league. Leffler says the administration has been actively seeking conversations with schools closer to the city.

“I’ve been very transparent with all the other A.D.’s in the Olympic League letting them know that we are actively seeking an option for us to stay closer to home and being in a league that’s closer to home,” Leffler said. “I think this is probably the second time [we’ve been looking] and the second time it’s probably been a little more administration driven as well. Our superintendent has been very clear with me that we will get closer.”

Leffler says the students are missing active learning time in the classroom if, for example, the baseball team has to travel for a league event where the opponent doesn’t have lights, and thus would have to play around 3:00. That means the team has to leave V.C. before 1:00 for a game in Northridge.

Leffler has been petitioning the 605 League to take V.C., but there’s been a tremendous amount of pushback, he says. The Suburban League is another option and Leffler has already had breakfast with some of the athletic directors in that league to try to figure out what that would look like. V.C. has also explored options in Orange County to try to figure out if that would be a good fit.

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