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Chandler Inherits Legacy of Success at El Camino Real

High school softball: Former Conquistador waited 16 years to become coach of City Section's premier program.

March 10, 2001|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODLAND HILLS — Lori Chandler, the new softball coach at El Camino Real High, has made a career of pining for her dream job.

"I remember in the 10th grade I said I wanted to teach P.E. and coach basketball and softball at El Camino," she said. "I'll never forget it, I was standing right over there."

Chandler, 39, pointed to a spot on the Woodland Hills campus. She finally has hit the trifecta.

But it follows a long period of waiting, the result of bad timing.

Neils Ludlow became softball coach at El Camino Real in 1984, one year before Chandler's return from the University of Hawaii, where she played point guard on the basketball team and served as a graduate assistant for one season.

After 16 winning seasons, Ludlow's coaching career is legendary. He guided the Conquistadores to an unprecedented 10 City Section titles and two runner-up finishes. His teams won 310 of 367 games.

"Every year we fill out this form that says, 'What would you like to coach?' and I've been putting varsity softball for 15 years," said Chandler, who succeeded Ludlow as girls' basketball coach 12 years ago.

Ludlow announced his retirement as softball coach in May, minutes after the Conquistadores suffered a surprising 1-0 loss to Carson in a City Championship semifinal.

Knowing Chandler was champing at the bit to become coach, Ludlow informed her of his plans months earlier so she could join the team as an assistant and make a smoother transition to head coach.

Ludlow always downplayed his importance to the program's success, crediting the steady stream of talented players.

Now it's Chandler's turn. And she's pointing in the same direction.

"This school has been blessed with great softball players," said Chandler, a former two-sport athlete who graduated from El Camino Real in 1980. "And I'm no dummy. You can't plant wheat and get corn.

"If I had gotten here a year before [Ludlow], I would have had 16 years of [success]."

When it comes to motivating a softball team, Ludlow and Chandler differ greatly.

Ludlow was always known as a low-key, stone-faced coach who said little and got big results.

"He's laid-back," said senior catcher Christina Enea, who played for Ludlow for three years. "He keeps a straight face on and maybe kicks the dirt a bit."

In contrast, Chandler is vocal and animated, wearing her emotions on her sleeve.

Said Chandler: "You know if I'm angry. You know if I'm happy. You know if I'm disappointed."

El Camino Real players also know Chandler is a stickler for detail. She adheres to a strict practice schedule.

"We're to the minute right now," said Chandler, glancing at her watch before checking two groups of players who are rotating in hitting stations every five minutes.

"We do something new every day," ace Melissa Coogan said.

Quite a change from Ludlow's practice regime, when players could always count on routine ground balls, fly balls and hitting in the cage.

Players aren't saying one way is better than the other. It's simply different.

"We won a lot of championships because of [Ludlow]," said Enea, one of seven returning starters. "He trusted us. He knew that we knew what we were doing."

Enea calls Chandler an "in-your-face" coach.

"She's so upfront with everything," she said. "Everything is out in the open."

Players are told in front of teammates what they need to do to earn a starting position. No secrets. No surprises.

Chandler wants to keep the Conquistadores focused.

"Our goal this year is just to be successful every day," Chandler said. "I'm trying to take all the pressure off of them, because there is a pressure. They're supposed to be good."

And Chandler isn't about to let them forget it.

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