Here are the Pioneer’s Top 10 Sports Stories (in no particular order):
1. Kristen Ipsen and Kara Kohler Olympic Bronze Medalists
A pair of young Clayton natives, Kristian Ipsen and Kara Kohler, stepped onto the biggest international sporting stage in 2012 and on the same day won Olympic bronze medals at the 30th Summer Olympics in London.
Ipsen was a diving child prodigy and excelled as all-American, record-setting diver at De La Salle High and Stanford. At 19 he was the youngest member of the USA’s Olympic diving team where he was paired with the oldest American Olympic diver Troy Dumais in the three-meter synchronized. Four years later he competed in Rio in the three-meter springboard outdoors with winds upwards of 40 mph to take fifth. It was his final competition after a grueling career that took him around the world to national, international and world championships. “I’m really happy with how I ended,” Ipsen recently told The Pioneer.
At 21, Kohler was the youngest rower in the entire London Olympics. Unlike Ipsen, she came to her sport just three years earlier as a freshman at Cal Berkeley. The Clayton Valley High grad went on to an all-American career at Cal and has been in the US National rowing team program for almost the entire decade, competing in a variety of boats at national and world championships. In London she was part of the third-place USA quad. Four years later she just missed out on another Olympic berth for Rio and subsequently has changed to the single skulls, which she is aiming to qualify for in this summer’s Tokyo Games after being named 2019 USRowing female senior athlete of the year.
2. Carondelet dominates North Coast Section basketball
Carondelet lost one East Bay Athletic League girls basketball game in the decade while playing in 10 consecutive North Coast Section championship games, winning five Division II titles and the past three Division I crowns. In 2015 they lost the D-II championship game by two points to Dublin after also falling short by two points to Berkeley in the 2011 D-I finals. During the decade the school was 242-53 while playing an increasingly difficult schedule that expanded after they began a limited league schedule in 2017-18.
The senior class that graduated last spring featured Ali Bamberger (24), Emily Howie, Erica Miller, Alex Brown and Tatyana Modawar who were on varsity together all four years, taking a Section championship each time and going on to the Northern California championships. The 6-3 Bamberger was the team leader. She is now a University of Washington freshman. Last season she was named first team all-State, matching her dad, Eric Bamberger, who was so honored in 1988 as an Ygnacio Valley postman.
3. Chris Wondolowski becomes Major League Soccer’s scoring king
Wondo played club soccer at Diablo Valley Soccer Club in Concord, starred at De La Salle and then led Chico State to a runner-up finish in the NCAA playoffs. As a professional he played a reserve role with the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo before having a breakout season with the Quakes in 2010. During the entirety of the decade he scored in double figures every year and during the 2019 season became the leading scorer in the history of Major League Soccer, a record that now stands at 159 goals. Earthquakes captain and club legend Wondolowski announced 2020 will be his final season.
He played in the 2014 World Cup for the United States as well as on three American Gold Cup teams and the USA Copa América Centenario squad in 2016. He scored 11 goals for the National team but his miss in the World Cup round of 16 game against Belgium is his most remembered international moment.
4. Teenager Yealimi Noh goes from Carondelet sophomore to LPGA golf in two years
In 2016 and 2017 Carondelet was one of the state’s top high school golf teams featuring underclassman Yealimi Noh, who helped the Cougars to NCS title as a freshman and was Section medalist as a sophomore. She left the school after her sophomore year to concentrate on her golf game and be home schooled in Concord. In the summer of 2018, she burst onto the national scene by winning three consecutive prestigious amateur tournaments in July and that fall helped the United States win the Junior Ryder Cup in France.
Before that year ended, she had competed in her first professional tournaments, been named Rolex Junior Player of the Year and soon made the decision to turn down a full-ride scholarship to UCLA and turn professional. She had two near misses of winning 2019 LPGA tournaments in Wisconsin and Portland. Those accomplishments led her to the grueling LPGA Q-Series where she earned her tour card for this year while taking third among a field of pro aspirants which began with golfers from 32 countries and 23 states.
5. Clayton Valley Charter football success leads to controversary
The Ugly Eagles football program has been in the news through most of the decade with on-field success that sparked the team’s removal from its league last year and then ended the decade with its first-ever State football championship. Tim Murphy was hired as head coach in 2012, replacing long-time coach Herc Pardi, who had taken the team to three North Coast Section championship games. Murphy used a bruising, take-no-prisoners running attack to lead the school to four Section titles and three appearances in CIF State Bowl games which culminated last month when CVCHS defeated Aquinas of San Bernardino 10-7 in the 2-AA finale.
That game came a week after the Ugly Eagles pulled off a miraculous last -minute rally to defeat Elk Grove in the Northern California Regional Bowl game 28-26. The irony of the 2019 success was that it came at the end of a season when the Eagles had their worst record (10-5) in the Murphy era.
They were a team without a league last winter and spring while the NCS grappled with the issue of realignment after every other school in the Diablo Athletic League requested the removal of CVCHS, which hadn’t lost a league game in seven years. Following months of discussions and votes CVCHS was placed in the East Bay Athletic League and then proceeded to win only one of five league games before starting a playoff roll with five consecutive victories.
6. Legendary De La Salle football coach Bob Ladouceur, hands over reigns to protege Justin Alumbaugh
Ladouceur retired following the 2012 season with a 399-25-3 record that included De La Salle’s 151-game national record winning streak that stretched from 1992-2003. The future Hall of Fame coach started at DLS in 1979 as a first-time head coach and ended by winning another National Championship in his final season. Two years after his retirement as head coach, the school was featured in a major motion picture “When the Game Stands Tall” based on the book by former local journalist Neil Hayes chronicling the winning steak and its end in the first game of the 2004 season. Ladouceur was portrayed by actor Jim Caviezel in the film.
De La Salle alumnus Justin Alumbaugh took over as Ladouceur’s hand-picked successor and the Spartans continued their winning wins through the decade. Ladouceur was an assistant coach until the 2019 season when he stepped away from day-to-day on-field coaching but helped the team with film study of the Spartans and their future opponents which he shared daily with coaches and players.
7. De La Salle the nation’s No. 1 high school football team on field, movie screen
To say there have been volumes written about De La Salle football in the past four decades would be quite the understatement. There have been at least three books and in 2104 the school was featured in the major motion picture “When the Game Stands Tall.” Renowned actors Jim Caviezel (Bob Ladouceur), Michael Chiklis (Terry Eidson) and Laura Dern (Bev Ladouceur) portrayed the school’s long-time coaching duo and Coach Lad’s wife in the film.
Standouts Boss Tagaloa (75) and Devin Asiasi (16) made their college commitments live on ESPN and several Spartan games were telecast nationally through the decade.
The Spartans (130-10 in the decade) earned the moniker as California’s high school football team of the decade by reaching all 10 State Open Bowl games, winning five of the first six title games before running into the SouCal buzz saw of Mater Dei and Saint John Bosco, who defeated DLS in the past four championship games.
In the past year the Concord school has been ranked as the greatest US high school football program ever.
8. Mt. Diablo legend Todd Lichti inducted in College Basketball Hall of Fame
Mt. Diablo High School has retired one jersey number in its 118-year history—No. 41 in basketball. Lichti received that honor when he was graduating in 1985. He went on to become one of Stanford’s greatest players and then was the 15th player selected in the 1989 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets.
Last November he was inducted to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame for his Stanford exploits. A three-time All-America selection, Lichti is one of only four players in conference history and the lone Cardinal to earn all-conference honors each of his four years. Lichti completed his career as Stanford’s leading scorer with 2,336 career points. More than three decades after his graduation, the total ranks second all-time. He scored in double figures in 121 of his 124 career games on The Farm. As a senior Lichti guided Stanford to its first NCAA Tournament berth in 47 years.
9. Mariya Koroleva represents USA twice in Olympic synchronized swimming
Koroleva spent most of a decade through 2016 training up to 10 hours a day with the Walnut Creek Aquanuts and the United States National team. The Russian-born swimmer reached the pinnacle of American synchronized swimming with two trips to the Summer Olympics representing her adopted country in the duet competition in 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio.
Concord resident Koroleva and her London Olympics partner Mary Killman were 11th in the duet. She teamed with Anita Alvarez to improve that showing by taking ninth in Rio before making her second visit to the White House with the American Olympic team to meet President Obama.
10. Mazza-Mazza local athletes make mark in baseball and golf
Chris Mazza (74) played on the Clayton Valley High varsity baseball team in 2007 and 2008, primarily as an infielder, pitching a total of 2-1/3 innings. Last year, the 29-year-old made his Major League Baseball debut on the mound for the New York Mets on June 29 and ended that magical season by earning his first MLB victory in the season finale. The promotion to the Mets came after an outstanding early all-star season in the minors (his eighth year of a nomadic minor league journey). His reward for that success? The righthanded pitcher was cut by the Mets a week before Christmas and then claimed off waivers by the Boston Red Sox.
His cousin, Dominic Mazza, has made national headlines three times this decade. At CVHS the junior finished second as a 16-year-old in the 2011 Re/Max World Long Drive Golf Championship in Nevada. He turned down the $70,000 second-place prize money to retain his amateur status and eligibility to pitch for his high school and then college teams. Six years later, he was the punchline in a story about former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow hitting his first homerun as a pro baseball player off Mazza. Later the same April for his Augusta GreenJackets minor league team of the San Francisco Giants., Mazza became the first pitcher in the history of the Class A South Athletic League to throw a perfect game as he retired 27 consecutive Lexington Legends batters.
Our Decade Honorable Mention list is noteworthy in its own right
Dana Hills Swim Team continues City Swimming Championship streak alive: Much like De La Salle football, the Otters continued its winning streak at the Concord City Swimming Championships during the decade, stretching their record to 27th titles in 28 years. Host Springwood interrupted the win streak in 2002. The Clayton team has also become a fixture among the top three teams at the County Meet.
Forest Park wins three County Division II swimming championships: Forest Park Swim Team won the County Meet Division II (mid-sized teams) championship in 2012, 2015 and 2019 during the decade matching its earlier three titles in the 1970s and 80s.
Concord High School football and softball earn North Coast Section titles: In 2010, Concord High hadn’t won an NCS team championship since the baseball team in 1979. Then the Minutemen girls won the section softball title that spring and followed up with three more championships while the CHS football team won NCS in the 2010 fall season and took second three more times in the next four seasons.
Carondelet opens Athletic Complex with Olympic superstar Natalie Coughlin: Carondelet purchased a former tennis club in Walnut Creek and developed the six-acre Carondelet Athletics Complex that opened in 2018, serving the school’s swimming and diving, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, water polo and softball teams. The aquatics center was named for Olympic legend and CHS alumnus Natalie Coughlin, who competed in her third and final Olympic Games in 2012, winning her 12th swimming medal.
De La Salle, Ygnacio Valley, Carondelet claim NCS soccer crowns: De La Salle won six NCS Division 1 soccer championships and finished second three times during the decade. Ygnacio Valley boys won the 2016 D3 title and were second last year while Carondelet ended three years of heart-breaking championship game losses to take the NCS 2019 title, ending an eight-year championship drought.
Concord High’s Rayna Stanziano runs to glory: From her freshman cross country season in 2015 through her senior track season in 2019, Stanziano stood out as the decade’s top runner. She also was a standout swimmer for Concord High and the Forest Park Swim Team before heading off to St. Mary’s College last fall. She’s the only four-year, three-sport varsity athlete at Concord in over 15 years with four trips to the State cross country finals and three track State Meets.
Chuck Berkeley sleds to 2010 Olympic berth: Berkeley represented America at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in the four-man bobsled while living in Clayton. He was the second Winter Olympian with local roots after skier Daron Rahlves, who grew up in the city. Berkeley seemed in line to return for the 2014 USA team in Sochi before becoming a last-minute scratch. The UC Berkeley grad didn’t go quietly into the night, ranting against the subjective final USA Olympic team selections which put him off the team.
Clayton Valley track and field nearly won state championship: Competing against the powerhouses of high school track and field, CVCHS nearly pulled off an incredible upset at the 2018 CIF Championships in Clovis. An injury to standout hurdler Aidan Jackman deprived the Ugly Eagles of expected points that could have propelled them from third place to the state title. Juniors Cameron Reynolds (400 meters) and Daylon Hicks (high jump) each took second in their specialties while the Eagles 4×400 relay of James Ward, Justin Lowe, Reynolds and Bryson Benjamin was also runner-up in the country’s most competitive high school track and field championships.
Olympic champion Don Bragg marks 50th anniversary of Rome victory: Don Bragg, who spent many of his later years in Clayton, won the pole vault gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics, four years before Clayton was incorporated as a city. Starting the decade, he returned with his wife Theresa on the Golden Anniversary of his victory. Before the decade ended, Bragg died last Feb. 12 at 83 years.
Northgate boys wins inaugural CIF State Swimming Championship: Bronco swim team co-coaches Tommy Ortega and Jeff Mellinger were feted as the California State boys swimming coaches of the year after guiding the Northgate boys team to the inaugural CIF State championship in 2015 after winning both the DVAL and North Coast Section meets that spring. The team also won NCS the previous year.