NO REV ATHLETE COMES CLOSE TO KRISTA VANSANT’S ACHIEVEMENTS

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

I could hear the whispers in the stands at Redlands East Valley High, circa 2007.

“She’s only on the team,” said one volleyball-players’ mom to another, “because her mom’s the coach.”

That was enough evidence for me. I glanced down the roster. Saw there was actually a Vansant, jersey No. 16. Freshman. Sure enough, Tricia Vansant was the coach.

Can’t stand a pushy parent. Here’s one mom that pushed her daughter right onto the Varsity – as a freshman. It takes something special to make Varsity as a freshman.

Right?

REV had a squared-away squad. Victoria Brummett, a college-bound (Univ. Colorado-Boulder) junior was playing middle. At setter was sophomore Johnna Fouch and libero Kyla Oropeza, both eventually winding up at Univ. San Diego.

“Two Story Tori” – Brummett’s nickname – would eventually transfer back to NCAA Division 2 powerhouse Cal State San Bernardino and win All-American honors.

Then there was that little REV freshman.

Little? She was listed at 6-feet, 2-inches.

Talk about a “loaded” team.

COLLEGIATE POWERHOUSE IN SEATTLE

Krista Vansant probably wasn’t kidding when she spoke about hopes of winning a national volleyball championship for the University of Washington. She’s that competitive. There was a breathtaking come-from-behind win over Pac-12 rival USC in the 2014 NCAA Division I Western Region championship.

Krista Vansant
Team USA was Krista Vansant’s final stop on a brilliant volleyball career that included Rancho Volleyball Club, Redlands East Valley High, University of Washington, a little European pro ball, capped by a near-miss on reaching the 2016 U.S. Olympic team (photo by Team USA).

One match later, Washington landed in an NCAA semifinals against second-ranked Penn State.

The onetime REV superstar outside hitter had risen from the Gatorade National Prep Player of the Year in 2010 to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Player of the Year in 2013.

It was quite a run – for Vansant, her team and coaches, family and friends, plus all those that followed her exploits – in a season full of remarkable achievements. After that match against USC, though, she was full of hope.

She spoke about not being satisfied, setting goals, never reaching the Final Four despite great teams, winning a national title. For athletes like Vansant, nothing short of winning is ever enough.

Said Vansant: “So I think we’re not being complacent. We’re in the gym working hard every day to get better.”

(Speaking of working hard. During her REV days, Vansant might’ve been among two or three volleyball players working in the weight room – alongside the school’s high-achieving football team.)

When third-ranked University of Washington took the floor against No. 2 Penn State in the NCAA Division 1 women’s volleyball semifinals on a December night just before Christmas, Vansant was the logical force in the Lady Huskies’ attack.

Vansant, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, would likely be a factor in lifting the Huskies to the national title game two nights later. But the Nittany Lions swept Washington’s women in three sets.

One match earlier, top-ranked Texas, the defending NCAA champion, was knocked off by No. 16 Wisconsin – a huge surprise. In an all-Big Ten showdown, Penn State later knocked off Wisconsin for the NCAA title.

Against Penn State, Vansant looked tall, lithe and athletic, totally ready to fire. Penn State, no stranger to national championships (seven titles since 1999), took her out of the flow, its attack dwarfing Washington in that semifinals matchup.

Washington’s win over USC became ultimate triumph.

Vansant’s efforts were key – 38 kills and 30 digs – the first-ever 30-30 performance for a Husky in the NCAA tournament’s long history. Her 38 kills notched a Washington record, beating Stevie Mussie’s 35 kills against BYU in 2007.

 

Washington, trailing USC by two sets in the NCAA Western Regional finals, likely stunned a national TV audience, completing a comeback that included saving two match points to knock off the sixth-ranked Lady Trojans in five sets, 26-28, 23-25, 25-22, 25-18, 17-15.

I watched closely on TV. You couldn’t miss her. Vansant was seen instantly breaking into tears on the court after the emotionally-draining marathon.

Vansant eventually joined eventual Team USA Olympian Courtney Thompson, a previous Washington star, as the only Honda Award winners in program history.

Finalists included Haley Eckerman (Texas), Kelsey Robinson (Nebraska) and Carly Wopat (Stanford).

For good measure, Vansant was also the espnW Player of the Year.

Incidentally, Vansant was a two-time Honda Award winner.

It’s hard to keep all those awards straight.

CAPPING HER PREP CAREER

At REV, Vansant was a monster – part of a stacked REV lineup that won three CIF titles (2007-2009), winning CIF Player of the Year honors as a sophomore, junior and senior from 2008-2010 – her Lady Wildcats’ squad winning all 59 Citrus Belt League matches with her mother, Tricia, as coach.

In Dec. 2010, Vansant, who was REV’s Homecoming Queen, and later named national Gatorade Player of the Year just after completing her senior season at REV.

She was in my wife’s English class at REV. If I quoted Laura Brown properly, there’d be comments about how classy and responsible, humble and honest, forthright and work-conscious.

Let’s not forget that was in English class – not on the volleyball floor.

It was for that reason that Mrs. Brown forced Mr. Brown to drive all the way to Redondo Beach to watch REV play in a Division 1 playoff match. In a rarity, REV lost the Division 1 showdown to Redondo Union.

It was Vansant’s final prep match. She was a senior.

REV’s end was just the beginning for Vansant. She became the first-ever Lady Husky to win the AVCA Player-of-the-Year honor. On hand to present the award was none other than multi-Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh-Jennings.

The comments were typical Krista:

“I did not prepare a speech, I just want to thank my friends and family and all my teammates for everything you guys do for me. You make my life so easy and I love you all so much.

“Love you Mom and Dad (Robert). Thanks to my previous club coaches. I would say my previous high school coaches but those are my parents, so thanks again!”

As for Vansant’s freshman year at REV, there were 38 matches. Thirty-four of them were victories … team-high 367 kills … she could receive a serve (201) … she could serve well (30 aces) … she could play the net (26 blocks).

The Lady Wildcats went through the playoffs without blinking much – Monrovia, San Bernardino Cajon and Wildomar Elsinore, all in 3-game sweeps.

South Torrance went down in four.

In the finals against North Torrance, REV won in five.

So much for being the coach’s daughter!

 

Down The Road: Stories to come – Vansant came within an eyelash of making Team USA at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics … her coaching career is underway at Indiana.

DARNOLD, DE ROO AND DAMON JUST PART OF “CONNECTIONS”

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Mike Darnold was the latest “connection.”

Throw in football’s Jim Weatherwax and Brian DeRoo.

Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright showed up here, with his team, one Saturday morning in 2003.

“Black” Jack Gardner left here in 1928.

Jerry Tarkanian lifted off from here in 1961.

How many Redlands Connections can there be?

It’s the basis for the Blog site, www.redlandsconnection.com. Dedicated to the idea that there’s a connection from Redlands to almost every major sporting event.

The afore-mentioned have already been featured. There have been others. Plenty of others.

Golf. Track & field. Tennis. Baseball and basketball. Softball and soccer. The Olympic Games and the Kentucky Derby. The World Series and the Super Bowl. You name it.

For a city this size, the connections to all of those are remarkable.

Softball’s Savannah Jaquish left Redlands East Valley for Louisiana State.

Bob Karstens was just shooting a few baskets when I saw him at Redlands High. Turned out he was one of three white men ever to play for the usually all-black Harlem Globetrotters.

Brian Billick coached a Hall of Famer. Together, they won a Super Bowl.

09_Billick_PreviewPreseason_news
Brian Billick, a key Redlands Connection.

Speaking of Super Bowls, not only was a former Redlands High player involved in the first two NFL championship games, there was a head referee who stood behind QBs Bart Starr and Lenny Dawson.

That referee got his start in Redlands.

One of racing’s fastest Top Fuel dragsters is a Redlands gal, Leah Pritchett.

LEAH PRITCHETT (leahpritchett.com)
Leah Pritchett has punched her Top Fuel dragster over 330 mph many times.

Greg Horton forcefully blocked some of football’s greatest legends for a near-Super Bowl team.

At a high school playoff game at Redlands High in 1996, Alta Loma High showed up to play a quarterfinals match. It was Landon Donovan of Redlands taking on Carlos Bocanegra.

The two eventually played on the same Team USA in the World Cup and the Olympics.

Karol Damon’s high-jumping Olympic dreams weren’t even known to her mother. She wound up in Sydney. 2000.

In the coming days, weeks and months, there will be more connections.

  • A surfing legend.
  • Besides Landon Donovan, there’s another soccer dynamo.
  • When this year’s Indianapolis 500 rolls around, we’ll tell you about a guy named “Lucky Louie.”
  • Fifteen years before he won his first Masters, Tiger Woods played a 9-hole exhibition match at Redlands Country Club.
  • University of Arizona softball, one of the nation’s greatest programs, was home to a speedy outfielder.
  • As for DeRoo, he was present for one of the pro football’s darkest moments on the field.
  • In 1921, an Olympic gold medalist showed up and set five world records in Redlands.
  • The Redlands Bicycle Classic might have carved out of that sport’s most glorious locations – set in motion by a 1986 superstar squad.
  • Distance-running sensation Mary Decker was taken down by a onetime University of Redlands miler.
  • Collegiate volleyball probably never had a greater athlete from this area.

As for Darnold, consider that the one-time University of Redlands blocker is the father of Sam Darnold, the USC quarterback who might be this year’s No. 1 draft selection in pro football’s draft.

Jaquish became the first-ever 4-time All-American at talent-rich LSU.

Jacob Nottingham, drafted a few years ago by the Houston Astros, probably never knew he’d be part of two Moneyball deals.

Gardner, who coached against Bill Russell in the collegiate ranks, tried to recruit Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas State.

Wright, whose team went into the March 31-April 2 weekend hoping to win the NCAA championship for the third time, brought his team to play the Bulldogs as sort of a warm-up test for Hawaii.

Tarkanian? Few might’ve known that the legendary Tark the Shark started chewing on those towels while he was coaching at Redlands High.

Norm Schachter was head referee in three Super Bowls, including Green Bay’s inaugural championship win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Norm Schachter with Hank Stram
Norm Schacter, wearing No. 60 (not his normal official number), synchronizes with Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram during halftime of the inaugural Super Bowl in 1967.

Speaking of Tarkanian, Weatherwax played hoops for him at Redlands. Eight years later, Weatherwax wore jersey No. 73 for the Green Bay Packers. It makes him the only man to ever play for Tarkanian and Vince Lombardi.

There will be more Redlands connections.