Five officially inducted into the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame
Kim Mortensen Newman remains as intrigued by the phenomenon today as she was then.
Why has Ventura County been so prolific in developing star distance runners?
“I don’t know,” she said with a smile. “I know there have been a lot, and it’s a good group now.”
Indeed, Sadie Engelhardt of Ventura High and Newbury Park High’s elite group led by Colin Sahlman and Samantha McDonnell rank among the top runners in the state and nation.
The area’s first super distance talent was Mortensen Newman.
As a senior at Thousand Oaks High in 1996, she engineered a postseason run, quite literally, that is still impressive in its scope.
In the span of three weeks and major events of the season – CIF-Southern Section Championships, CIF Masters and CIF State Finals – Mortensen Newman won four races and posted three of the fastest high school times ever recorded nationally in the 3,200 meters.
His mastery mark of 9 minutes, 48.59 seconds will remain a national record until 2019, 23 years later.
On Sunday night, Mortensen Newman officially took his place in the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame.
She is part of a stellar five-member group that includes Mike Lieberthal, a Westlake High graduate and Major League Baseball All-Star catcher for 13 seasons; Terrail Lambert, the former Saint-Bonaventure football player who played four seasons at Notre-Dame; Henry Lobo, the famed basketball coach who turned the Oxnard High Boys program into a CIF-SS powerhouse; and the late, great Lynn Clopper Losch, a product of Ventura High and among the best softball and basketball players to ever play in the county.
All were inducted at a dinner/ceremony at the Serra de Camarillo Center.
Not only is HOF’s latest class among the best ever inducted, but it’s the only one that took three years to prepare. The Hall of Fame dinner had been canceled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The night also belonged to the county’s best and brightest high school stars. Boys and girls athletes from every high school in the county are now among the laurels of the Hall of Fame.
Two senior stars received special honors as Hall of Fame boy and girl athletes of the year.
Gabriela Jaquez, Camarillo High’s record-breaking basketball player, is the Female Athlete of the Year. Sahlman, the gifted distance runner from Newbury Park, is the Male Athlete of the Year.
It was an emotional evening for the new HOF inductees.
Lieberthal called the honor “humiliating” and noted he got a hit in his first season in youth baseball. It flourished from there.
“I always considered myself very lucky to play baseball and play it for a living,” he said.
Lieberthal staged a senior season at Westlake High that ranks among the county’s all-time best ever. He had 43 hits, 43 RBIs and 13 home runs.
The centerpiece was a performance against the power of Simi Valley County that may never be topped. Lieberthal homered four times and had a county-high 10 RBIs with a grand slam, a three-run homer, a two-run homer, and a solo shot.
Weighing in at 155 pounds, he became the No. 3 selection in the 1990 Major League Draft when he was picked by the Philadelphia Phillies.
He will play 13 seasons in MLB, starting in 1994 with the Phillies. The two-time All-Star had his best season in 1999 when he hit .300 with 31 home runs and 96 RBIs.
He offered advice to the high school athletes in the room and noted that there were “no shortcuts” to success.
“It’s not about the will to win, it’s about the will to prepare to win,” he said. “If you doubt yourself for a second, you won’t succeed.”
Lambert struck a similar chord, pointing out that he was brought up by a “football culture” that valued hard work and a team ethos.
He credited other county football stars, including Ventura’s Tyler Ebell and St. Bonaventure’s Lorenzo Booker, as the motivator.
“I stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said.
Lambert’s time at St. Bonaventure High from 2002 to 2004 included two CIF-SS championships and a second-place finish. He was so gifted that his senior season ended with selections to the all-CIF-SS Division 4 team on offense and defense.
He became a three-year starter at cornerback for Notre Dame and recorded 115 tackles and four interceptions and played in three bowl games
Lobo is one of the most influential coaches to ever grace County. He is as humble as a monk.
When told he had been selected to the County Hall of Fame, his reaction was direct: “Why me? I’m just a coach.”
Before Lobo became head coach of Oxnard’s men’s basketball program in 1991, the team had 10 losing seasons in 11 years.
In its fourth season in 1994, the Yellowjackets earned their first winning record since 1984-95. The success will not stop.
Utilizing what would become the program’s defensive trademark — a high-pressure, full-court man-to-man — Oxnard posted eight 20-win seasons over the next 10 years.
Lobo retired as head coach after the 2007–08 season with a 300–148 record, including Southern Section semi-final appearances in 2003 and 2006.
He remains with the program as a senior assistant to head coach Jeff Staniland.
“Coaching is what I do. It’s my passion,” he said.
His advice to high school athletes is simple.
“Go out and do what you love,” he said. “Set the world on fire.”
Mortensen’s impact on county athletics is still strong today. Her best CIF-SS rating of 9:48.59 is still chased by the county’s best in the 3,200m.
The lifelong county resident lives with her family in Simi Valley and works as a learning specialist at Oaks Christian Middle School. She praises the impact the community has meant to her.
“I’m very proud of our community for the way we embrace and celebrate,” she said.
Clopper Losch died of breast cancer in 2013 and left an indelible mark on County athletes.
The 1967 Ventura High graduate played for the Cougars’ first three college basketball teams while posting a 46-2 record. Ventura was the CIF-SS Division 4A semi-finalist in 1975.
Softball was his best sport, and the shortstop/pitcher led Ventura to the Miss Softball America National Tournament for three straight years. The Cougars won titles in 1974 and 1975 and took second place in 1976.
She then played softball for UC Davis and worked as a clinical laboratory scientist from 1985 to 2004.
Loren Ledin is the editor of The Star. He can be reached at [email protected] or 805-437-0285.