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Original Issue

Standing tall among the small

The nation's only perfect regular season mark belongs to tiny Biola

Until recently, all anyone really knew about the students at Biola University, a tiny Evangelical liberal arts school in La Mirada, Calif., 22 miles southeast of Los Angeles, was that they abhorred as "morally degrading" such collegiate pastimes as drinking, smoking, dancing and gambling, and that they read the Bible—a lot. Understandably. The curriculum at Biola, which was formerly known as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, includes 30 credits' worth of Bible study. But now, thanks to the game's only two-headed coach, a scrappy group of overachievers and perhaps the tallest man ever to lace up a pair of sneakers for competition in this country, a lot of people are finding out that the Biolans can play a little basketball, too.

Last week the Eagles shellacked Southern California College 75-42 at Whittier College to win their third consecutive NAIA District III championship. With a 35-0 record, the only unblemished mark in the nation, and the No. 1 ranking in the NAIA's final regular-season poll, they were top-seeded in this week's NAIA national tournament at Kansas City. Biola, which lost in the second round of the nationals in each of the past two years, hoped to become just the second undefeated No. 1-seeded team to win the NAIA title, and the first to bring the trophy back to the beleaguered District III—which encompasses California and Nevada—since 1945 when Loyola (Calif.) won a war-restricted eight-team tournament.

The brain trust of the Eagles is the coaching partnership of Lyon & Holmquist. Fifty-four-year-old Howard Lyon led Biola to a record of 140-73 between 1971 and 1978 as the Eagles' one and only coach. Thirty-one-year-old Dave Holmquist, a starting guard at Biola from 1971 to '73 and a part-time assistant from 1973 to '75, approached Lyon with the idea of a double team after quitting his head coaching position at Fresno Pacific in 1978. "Howard had asked me if I'd like to come back," says Holmquist, "but I knew I didn't want to be an assistant coach again after being a head coach. I said to him, 'What about a co-head coaching situation, a breaking up of the responsibilities?' He was excited about that."

"Howard needed some extra help," says Biola Athletic Director Charles Sarver, who approved of the arrangement. "He'd asked year after year after year for an assistant." Before the start of the 1978-79 season, Lyon and Holmquist mapped out the responsibilities. Lyon would handle the Eagle offense, while Holmquist, whose last Fresno Pacific team led the NAIA in scoring defense, would coach his specialty. Lyon would be concerned with the scheduling, run the school basketball camp and attend to all the paper work, while Holmquist would take care of recruiting and handing out scholarships. Though the road was rocky at first—"One of us would make a suggestion that would be ignored, or make an arbitrary substitution," says Holmquist—the team qualified for the District III playoffs that year with a 17-15 record.

In the next two seasons Biola went 26-4 and 25-7. This year's team finished the regular season second in the nation in field-goal percentage (56.8), defense (49.8 points allowed) and average winning margin (23.6). Now the two coaches work together harmoniously. "It would seem that there'd be problems, but there aren't," says Holmquist. "Howard is a very gracious type of guy. We're really flexible." Says Lyon, "He has ideas about my areas and I have ideas about his. If there's a difference, the person in charge has the final say."

In the matter of style, "Dave is a philosopher, while Howard is a purist, a basketball junkie," says Kirk Chittick, the Eagles' part-time assistant coach. "If Howard's not coaching he's watching films or going to clinics. Dave is a fine coach, but he can take it or leave it."

"Coach Lyon knows all the fundamental techniques and subtleties of the game," says senior Rich Cundall, a 6'5" guard who is the Eagles' playmaker. "Dave has been an asset because he's close to us in age and because he's a great motivator."

Sometimes Lyon's attention to detail can leave him vulnerable to one of the Eagles' favorite pastimes—bagging. "Coach Lyon can come up with some classic lines," says Warren Ellis, who, at just 6 feet, is the Eagles' shooting guard. "Like one day he got on some guy and said, 'You're zigging when you should be zagging,' whatever that meant." "The guys showed up a few days later with brown paper bags on their heads," says Lyon with a laugh. "They had slogans on them, things I told them to work on."

The gag says as much for the players' perspective as it does for their sense of humor. None of this band of Eagles was highly recruited out of high school. Cundall, the only member of the team to play all four years at Biola, wasn't recruited by a single school. Forward Wade Kirchmeyer, the team's leading scorer (16.6) and rebounder (7.8) and the school's all-time leading field-goal shooter (68%), was a transfer from Mesa State College in Colorado. Mark Sontoski, the other forward and the team's second-leading scorer (11.5), leading free-throw shooter (85%) and second-leading rebounder (5.6), transferred to Biola after two years at nearby Cerritos College. Ellis, the team leader in steals (81) and second-leading assist maker (3.46 per game), transferred from Santa Ana (Calif.) College. Pat McDougall, the 6'9" center who is the team's assist leader and third-leading rebounder, came to Biola after one uneventful season at Fresno State. "We're like a bunch of misfits," says Sontoski. "But we misfit together so well we're like an unassembled puzzle. Put us together and we make a pretty picture."

Then there is George Bell, who goes 7'8". Physical ailments kept him from playing high school ball in his hometown of Portsmouth, Va. After unhappy stints at Morris Brown College in Atlanta and the University of California-Riverside (1980-81), the 285-pound Bell transferred to Biola last fall and sat out the first 16 weeks of the school year, as required of NAIA transfers. "Anyone else in my position probably would have quit," he says.

Through 23 games he has averaged 5.2 points and 2.7 rebounds, and according to Holmquist, has improved "300%." "The one thing I like is that I'm being treated like a person and not like an athlete," says Bell. "It's a great feeling. I don't even feel any kind of pressure."

Because of Bell, McDougall is another who has found a happy home at Biola. "For the first time in a long time," he says, "nobody has asked me how tall I am."

In the NAIA, Biola is standing very tall, indeed.


Kirchmeyer is 6'7", but he still has to look up to Bell.