WYSOCKI’S JUMP FROM REDLANDS TO L.A. GAMES

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

Clay Brooks raved about Ruth Kleinsasser.

So did Ted Runner.

Brooks, who spent years as the University of Redlands track & field coach, was a true professor of his sport.

Runner, whose presence on that campus as an athlete, coach and, ultimately, director of athletics, was fond of track. He’d competed. For years, he coached. It almost seemed like he kept a closer eye on that sport than he did anything else.

When Kleinsasser (eventually Ruth Wysocki) stepped onto the track at the Los Angeles Coliseum nine years after spending her freshman season at Redlands, the two men – Brooks and Runner – watched with great interest.

The Alhambra-born Kleinsasser, who ran at Azusa High School, was a prized performer at Redlands for one season.

What made Kleinsasser special was her true dedication to the sport. As a track star, she’s a lifer.

It started in age-group races in the late 1960s, starting an eventual period of about 30 years, until she became a Masters (over-40) runner in 1997.

As an Azusa High senior in 1973, she ran a 2:16 to win the CIF Southern Section 880-yard championship. She also sped around the track to win the 440 (57.3). That’s as tough of a double is in any championship meet.

Since there was no State meet held for girls that year – one would start in 1975, Kleinsasser never had a chance to prove her domination.

By the 1975 season, Kleinsasser was running at Redlands, primarily because internationally-renowned Bulldog coach Vince Reel had come out of retirement. Reel, in fact, met Kleinsasser halfway. He trained her in Claremont.

Ruth Wysocki
Former University of Redlands runner Ruth Wysocki, then known as Ruth Kleinsasser, beat Mary Decker Slaney, right, at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials in the women’s 1500-meter – one of the shocking upsets that year in track (Photo by runmoremiles.com).

A YEAR IN REDLANDS

Reel, who was married to Chinese star Chi Cheng, had international status, especially since he’d lured some top talent – Chinese sprint star Lee Shiu-Chia, middle distance runners Chee Swee Lee, plus Donna Fromme and some dandy runners like distance star Molly O’Neil, hurdler Pam Ashe, sprinters Gloria Kennedy, Lynn Jones and Denise Becton.

Throw Kleinsasser into that mix. If only she’d lasted four seasons.

Reel wrote about his own exploits. Part of his writings were about Ruth, including her season at Redlands.

Vince Reel
Vince Reel, shown her as a Long Beach City College athlete, where he was State champion in the 100 and 220, in the early 1930s. A two-time sprint champion at Occidental College in 1936, he was fourth in the NCAA 220 championships for Occidental College.He would become a huge connection in the track world as a coach –  Long Beach Wilson High School Track and Field Coach (1938-1957), moving on to Claremont College (1958-71), coming out of retirement to coach Redlands through 1979. He was also the Olympic track & field coach for India (1960) and China (1972). Reel was the founder of “Women’s Track and Field” magazine. (Photo credit: Long Beach City College).

Admittedly, Kleinsasser dropped out of Redlands. “I realize I had chosen the wrong school. Not that it isn’t a wonderful place; it was not just the right place for me.”

“That was before the NCAA for women,” Kleinsasser told Reel in the days when women’s sports were governed by the old AIAW. Truth is, in those days, Redlands’ men were part of the NAIA, not the NCAA.

In reality, Kleinsasser wasn’t even the fastest half-miler on her own team. That same season, Lee Chiu-Shia ran a 2:05.36 in the SPAA meet at track-rich Occidental College, just outside of Pasadena.

At the Bakersfield Invitational, Kleinsasser posted her 2:07.6.

A more familiar name may well be Ruth Wysocki. That came after she married top national distance runner Tom Wysocki.

What made her a Redlands Connection was the year she spent at the University of Redlands. In 1975, she ran fast – the 2:07.6 in the 800, plus a 56.80 in the 400 at the Long Beach Invitational – but she headed back to Citrus College.

More domination. At Citrus, running as Ruth Caldwell, she scored victories in the State cross country championship for both 1977 and 1978.

During the spring track seasons in 1978 and 1979, she was State champion in both the 800 and 1500.

There was a pattern here. Like many international competitors, she was laying the groundwork for the Olympics. In fact, she ran a 2:03, qualifying for the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials – still under Reel’s watch. She was 19. Ruth took eighth in the Trials.

She was on-again, off-again training – seriously, pondering, planning. She’d gone from Ruth Kleinsasser to Ruth Caldwell and, finally, to Ruth Wysocki.

WYSOCKI SLAYED SLANEY

If there was a top-flight moment for the ex-Redlands runner, it might be these:

Wysocki upset highly-touted USA star Mary Decker to win the 800 at the 1978 U.S. Championships in 2:01.99. Wysocki scored another upset victory against Decker (eventually Slaney) at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials, this time in the 1500-meter.

It was huge at that time. Still is … huge, that is.

Wysocki outsprinted Slaney to win the Trials in 4:00.18 – her lifetime best.

It was Tom Wysocki, training for the Trials, that had convinced his wife to train for the Olympics.

Brooks, who was Reel’s successor at Redlands and Runner, who were both coming to the end of their Redlands careers, watched with curiosity as the one-year Lady Bulldog star made her way into the L.A. Games.

She finished sixth in the 800 and eighth in 1500.

To veteran observers like Brooks and Runner, it was a Redlands victory. One of their own had reached the pinnacle of the sport.

Who cared if the Eastern Bloc nations had boycotted the 1984 Games?

Remember, these were the games of Carl Lewis’ 4-event gold medal.

The women included sprinters Valerie Brisco-Hooks, Evelyn Ashford, plus Flo Jo – Florence Griffith Joyner – plus onetime San Gorgonio High School star Sherri Howard (4 x 400 gold medalist), Jackie Joyner-Kersee, along with marathon champion Joan Benoit.

More men: Britain’s Daley Thompson scored his second straight decathlon title.

Hurdler Edwin Moses. Triple jumper Al Joyner.

ANOTHER REDLANDS CONNECTION

Adding to the flavor of Redlands connections:

One year before the L.A. Games, Redlands held its annual invitational on its cinder track. Two interested participants were Air Force Academy (Colo.) and Azusa Pacific University, among over a dozen other team entries.

In the meet-concluding 4 x 400 relay, Air Force’s Alonzo Babers and Azusa’s Innocent Egbunike ran neck-and-neck on the anchor lap. They might have even brushed against one another halfway on the final lap.

Egbunike could be seen turning his head in Babers’ direction. Neither runner broke stride.

At the finish, Egbunike prevailed.

One year later, the two met in the open 400-meter – Egbunike for his native Nigeria and Babers for the U.S.

Babers won the gold in 44.27 seconds. Egbunike took last in 45.35.

The two would meet again in the 4 x 400 relay.

Sunder Nix, Ray Armstead, Babers and Antonio McKay won the gold, prevailing in 2:57.91. Nigeria, anchored by Egbunike, ran third in 2:59.32.

As for Wysocki, that Redlands Connection kept going for years.

Over a decade later, in 1995, Wysocki ran seventh in the 1500 at the Championships in Athletics in Gothenburg.

In 1997, Wysocki set several Masters records at distances from 800 to 5000 on the track, plus 5K and 8K road races.

She was surrounded by distance runners.

Her dad, Willis Kleinsasser, was a successful Masters athlete.

Alan Kleinsasser, her brother, ran a 1:50.5 over 800 meters and a 3:52.2 clocking in the 1500 – both school records at Caltech in Pasadena.

Then, of course, her husband, Tom produced 13:35.33 in the 5000-meter and 28:19.56 in the 10,000.

WYSOCKI AT THE L.A. OLYMPICS

It wasn’t going to be easy. Despite the absence of the Eastern Bloc nations, that boycott led by the old Soviet Union, there was still plenty of international talent.

On Aug. 6, Romanian Doina Melinte circled the Coliseum track twice to score gold in 1:57.60. USA’s Kim Gallagher, whom Wysocki had encountered on plenty of occasions, won silver in 1:58.63. Melinte’s teammate, Fita Lovin, won the bronze in 1:58.53.

Wysocki ran sixth (2:00.34).

She also qualified in the 1500, held on Aug. 11.

Wysocki was America’s best in that event, but she took eighth (4:08.32), nowhere close to her best mark set at the Trials.

Melinte won the silver, barely nosed out by Italy’s Gabriella Dorio (4:03.25), the Romanian a fraction behind in 4:03.76 with yet another Romanian, Maricica Puica winning bronze (4:04.15).

Wysocki had to be thinking if she’d matched her lifetime best – that 4:00.18 at the Olympic Trials – she’d have been a gold medalist.

She told Reel, “Even though the Olympics didn’t go really great for me, when I got to Europe after the Olympics, I beat everybody that beat me in the Olympics, including (Dorio).”

It was, she said, some vindication.

Brooks, for his part, sent plenty of half-milers out to do battle in Lady Bulldog colors.

Runner, meanwhile, often reflected on the year that Ruth Kleinsasser ran at Redlands.

“She was,” he said, “not just a hard worker.” Runner said, observers could easily tell, “she had a game plan in any race she ran.”

She even made one last game attempt to qualify for the 1996 Olympics at 38.

That one season, 1975, she was a Redlands Connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAHVANNA JAQUISH: CATCHING OR HOLDING COURT ON ESPN?

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

(Part of this writing came in a submission in the Highland Community News in 2017.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if Sahvanna Jaquish showed up, someday, on ESPN, holding a microphone under the nose of prominent coaches, players, managers, world class athletes – someone – as a network commentator. She’s received plenty of exposure on the sport’s network over the past couple seasons.

That’s on the field, not holding a microphone.

Jaquish, a Redlands East Valley product from a few years earlier, is Louisiana State University’s clean-up hitting catcher, a force both in the batter’s box and behind the plate. She contributed in a huge fashion to the Lady Tigers’ appearance at this year’s College World Series.

First, though, she got to finish off a brilliant collegiate softball career that took her from Highland, Mentone and Corona to Baton Rouge, where she was an All-American at LSU. She’s got a year of eligibility remaining.

Highland’s where she lived.

Mentone’s where her high school campus sat.

And Corona was home base for her club team.

All-American? She’s all-conference, all-region, a four-time all-leaguer in her REV days, All-CIF, you name it. Whether she wielding a bat, or holding a piece of leather, Jaquish is a lethal softballer – one of the best across the nation.

S JAQUISH
Sahvanna Jaquish, a Redlands East Valley High product, played four brilliant seasons at LSU, got drafted third overall in a pro softball league draft in 2017 and could be a U.S. Olympian by 2020 (Photo by LSU).

Bet on this: If she was a guy doing similar things on a baseball field, scouts would be lauding her as a possible No. 1 draft pick.

Truth is, she did get drafted in a pro softball league. First round, too.

A COLLEGE WORLD SERIES REGULAR

At the 2016 College World Series in a 4-1 elimination game win over No. 16 Georgia, Jaquish relied on teammate Bianke Bell’s two-HR game to help LSU prevail. She was catching Carly Hoover, who improved to 22-8 on the season, in a three-hit performance. The Lady Tigers beat Georgia pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson (28-9), leaving LSU to take on No. 2 Oklahoma later that night, June 5.

One game earlier, Jaquish’s two-run double – having advanced Bell two bases with an earlier bunt – were key hitting moments in a 6-4 elimination game, beating No. 6 Alabama.

LSU didn’t get off too well at the World Series, losing in the opening game to Michigan, 2-0, a game in which Jaquish went hitless. She caught Allie Walljasper’s mound effort, not a bad one, really, surrendering just four hits and a pair of runs.

Jaquish (.343 average, 19 doubles, 13 HRs, 76 RBIs, .463 on-base), is an accomplished NCAA All-American in a highly competitive national women’s softball field. She was swept away into the highest level of collegiate softball, right off the REV campus following a brilliant prep career.

At REV, you knew she was special. Just in her senior year, she batted .548, knocked in 48 runs in 25 games. Her final game as a Lady Wildcats, she went 0-for-1 in a 5-0 losing playoff game against Charter Oak High. The Lady Chargers were smart enough to walk her a few times.

Hit .443 as a junior, .565 in her junior season.

Rival coaches knew who she was, too.

Jaquish was stolen. Stolen, that is, right under the noses of USC, UCLA, San Diego State, not to mention Pepperdine, Arizona State, etc., etc., etc.

The collegiate highlights? Name them all? Jaquish blasted a three-run homer against No. 2 Oklahoma, equaling the score at 3-3, before the Lady Sooners eliminated LSU, 7-3. That came in 2016.

As for her coach, Beth Torina – the one responsible for recruiting Jaquish to Baton Rouge – LSU has long been a major force in the collegiate softball world.

Just to get into the 2016 College World Series, LSU had to endure a best-of-three series against No. 7 James Madison in the Super Regionals.

SEC FOOTBALL? SOFTBALL’S JUST AS GOOD

You think Southeastern Conference football was hotly-contested? Wait until you ingest the full force of SEC softball.

Beyond No. 10 LSU, there’s No. 11 Kentucky, No. 16 Georgia, sixth-ranked Alabama, No.11 Texas A&M, No. 8 Auburn and, uh, No. 1-ranked Florida.

It kind of makes the other NCAA Div. 1 conferences look weak. Maybe not. After all, Oklahoma was ranked No. 2.

S JAQUISH - 3RD BASE
Catcher or third base? Redlands East Valley’s Sahvanna Jaquish made every play count over a brilliant four-year career at Louisiana State (Photo by LSU).

Jaquish concluded her career last spring, 2017. LSU’s all-time RBI leader. Another All-American season. That made it four straight All-American seasons, the first in LSU’s rich history. Drafted by the Chicago Pride, third overall, 2017. National Pro Fastpitch. Hit .323, by the way, with 4 HRs. All-Rookie team.

In February 2018, she signed a two-year contract with the USSSF Pride. She could be playing Olympic ball by 2020.

As for holding a microphone for ESPN, Jaquish majored in Mass Communications, specializing in broadcast journalism. Who knows where that’ll lead? Just taking a look at her LSU publicity photo on the school’s website, you can tell it’s a camera-friendly face that could take off at a place like ESPN. FoxSports. You name it.

Just like her playing career. A Redlands Connection on and off the field.

 

PART 2 – ROYAL, REGAL AND REDLANDS CONNECTIONS

To get the full story, read Part 1 here. 

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

A year or so after that volleyball banquet, I wrote an article about Redlands High’s boys soccer team. At the time, the Terriers were among the most successful soccer side in Southern California. Even on their own campus, they were more significant than any other team.

It was no contest.

Back-to-back CIF championships, five trips to the CIF semifinals and a record run of 23 straight seasons of playoff appearances had left a high standard unmatched by any other program on that campus, before or since.

Every kid that made varsity soccer teams at Redlands during that era was cutting edge. Cream of the crop. Best this city had to offer. Kids cut from those teams would have made teams at other schools very strong.

That’s how strong Redlands was in those years.

LUDIKHUIZE’S FIST PUMP SIGNALS

TERRIER GREATNESS

My by-line appeared about a soccer playoff preview for their match in Orange County. Among other facts listed were the team’s top three scoring attackers. Jeannie Ludikhuize, mother of Chris Ludikhuize, read that day’s edition and called my publisher to lobby a complaint.

She was peeved that her son’s name had been left out. He was fourth in scoring. It must have been intentional, she felt. Or maybe it was that the team’s coach, Tony Murtaugh, failed to report this information. Neither of which was accurate.

Toebe Bush, our publisher, asked me to call Jeannie.

“Jeannie,” I asked her, “what grade is your son in right now?”

Chris was a senior. Time was running out on his high school career. In fact, this would be his final match. Jeannie was, apparently, not enjoying those moments as fully as she could have.

“All I know,” I told her, “is that if I had a son on a team like this, I’d take my lawn chair, plant it in some good location, watch the game and watch every move my son made – and enjoy everything. Maybe even take some pictures.

“Savor each moment,” I said.

No one was leaving Chris out intentionally. “Forget what’s written in the newspaper, or what’s not written. Just enjoy your son.”

Jeannie, in fact, did calm down and recognized that her son didn’t necessarily need media recognition. Parents want their children’s achievements recorded. You know, for their scrapbook. For the scholarship opportunities. Good press never hurts. Her son was a good player, regardless.

By the way, in Chris’ final high school match, he couldn’t have played better. He saved a remarkable scoring attack by Anaheim Esperanza High, taking a shot that whizzed past a drawn-out Redlands goalkeeper, clearing the ball just off the line, saving a sure-fire goal. In the rain. Chris shot a triumphant fist into the air in jubilation.

That fist pump, to me, signifies that Redlands has long made its mark in all sports, at every level, creating A Redlands Connection that can never be stripped away. One of Chris’ teammates, by the way, was Landon Donovan.

Redlands ended up losing that semifinals match.

Chris represents hundreds of Redlands sports products that will not be in any of these blog posts – good but not good enough. These blog posts are, in a sense, dedicated to them. Thanks to Chris’ mom, Jeannie, it’s a reflection of a splendid athlete, pushy parent, a professional writer and limited newspaper space.

REDLANDS CONNECTION ROUNDUP

There are at least three Redlands products that share a total of four Super Bowl rings.

A three-time Indianapolis 500 champion actually learned to drive in Redlands.

Soccer’s World Cup has connections to Redlands in both men’s and women’s lore.

There’s a World Series ring in there, 1984.

The man who personally thwarted Arnold Palmer’s chance to complete golf’s Grand Slam in 1970 later moved back to the area, thus connecting Redlands to the sport’s royalty.

Olympic gold medalist Misty May, a superstar at Long Beach State and eventual beach volleyball megastar, led her college to a national volleyball championship. The legendary setter graduated, replaced by Redlands’ Keri Nishimoto, who had a few notable achievements on her own athletic ledger.

v9n8-nishimoto
Redlands setter Keri Nishimoto took over for legendary Misty May at Long Beach State. Photo credit: Cara Garcia

Those are the people we’re after.

This is a bond between Redlands and the major sports world beyond. And what a world it has been! And what bonds they have built up!

Redlands has been connected to the likes of coaching and managing legends such as Lombardi, Landry, Jerry Tarkanian, Tony LaRussa, John McKay, George “Papa Bear” Halas, Abe Saperstein, Tommy Lasorda, very nearly John Wooden and Knute Rockne and, quite possibly, Connie Mack.

For instance, did John Wooden recruit Redlands’ Danny Wolthers to play at UCLA in 1961?

That’s a breathless collection in this connection.

JOHN WOODEN UCLA
Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden may have tried to recruit Redlands’ Danny Wolthers to play in Westwood in 1961. Whatever the story, Wolthers chose to play at Cal-Berkeley. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello/ALLSPORT

Redlanders were teammates of Bart Starr, Carlton Fisk, Gaylord Perry, Misty May, Joe Namath, Orel Hershiser, Kristine Lilly, Darrell Waltrip, Fernando Valenzuela, Jennie Finch, Mark Spitz, Charles Paddock, race car dynamo Jimmie Johnson, David Beckham, Cy Young Award winners, baseball Rookies of the Year, Heisman Trophy winners, World Cup heroes, No. 1 draft choices and various Hall of Famers from different sports.

Jennie_Finch_vs._China
Jennie Finch, a teammate of Redlands East Valley’s Ally Von Liechtenstein at Arizona State, is shown pitching against China in 2008. Photo by C5813

(Photo source.)

It’s a connection to sports’ very best.

Strong and historical opposition to Redlands connections has come from the likes of Bobby Jones, Amanda Beard, Ronnie Lott, Richard Petty, George Allen, Spitz, Arnold Palmer, Carl Lewis, Jack Nicklaus, plus an endless supply of baseball, basketball and football all-stars, golf and tennis legends.

In some cases, Redlanders came out on top. In many cases, they lost out to the greats.

For over a decade, Redlands caught an up-close glance of football All-Pros, NFL Hall of Fame players, MVP types, Super Bowl and NFL championships and legendary football players, coaches and executives when the Los Angeles Rams trained at the local university.

Beginning in 1985, the Redlands Bicycle Classic began a connection to a sport that led to the appearance of national and international champions, Tour de France competitors and a link to a world that continues to connect.

Redlands has been connected to Super Bowls, World Cups, World Series, Olympics, Indianapolis 500s, Kentucky Derbys, baseball division winners, NFC championship contenders, Daytona, national collegiate championships, college bowl games, NASCAR at Daytona and Talladega, major tennis and golf championships, not to mention one of the world’s greatest showtime basketball teams, the Harlem Globetrotters – and the World Series.

Bill Buster owned a five-point share in Captain Bodgit, the colt that ran a close second to Silver Charm in the 1997 Kentucky Derby.

Those are the people these blogs are about. Connections from Redlands to the outside world of sports success at the highest possible level. It doesn’t make sense that such a smallish community has become so prominent in virtually every major sport in the USA – and beyond.

It, thus, becomes A Redlands Connection.