Across the entirety of Azusa Pacific’s athletic history, the Cougars have won a total of 148 conference championships.

College athletics have been a key part of Azusa Pacific culture since the 1940s. But has the same school that’s won the past three Commissioner’s Cups in a row always been this dominant? 

In 1959, members of Azusa Pacific College’s baseball team pose for the first of the school’s many championship photos. (Photos Courtesy of Gary Pine)

Well, let’s throw it back to the ‘40s to start.

In 1965, the school was granted membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), giving the athletics program its first-ever national affiliation. Within three years, Azusa Pacific was competing for postseason titles at the NAIA’s local level. Then, in less than a decade, the Cougars emerged as a force on the NAIA national scene.

In addition to the NAIA, APU adopted a secondary association with the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA). In 1969, Azusa Pacific basketball captured the university’s first national championship ever and the first of four consecutive NCCAA titles. That special squad featured many APU greats including Chuck Boswell ’73, Dennis Dickens ’72, Dennis Vanzant ’74 and Jim Wilson ’73. 

When it came to women’s athletics, it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the university formally sponsored intercollegiate women’s basketball and volleyball. 

In 1979, Coach Alane LeGrand led her volleyball team to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women Division III national crown. The following year, she coached Azusa Pacific to its first of 37 NAIA national championships, capturing the title in the first year the association sponsored women’s championships.

It wouldn’t be a proper history of APU athletics if we didn’t touch on APU icon Terry Franson. In 1983, he began a string of wins that small-college track and field had never seen.

Over the course of 13 years, Franson led Azusa Pacific to 11 NAIA national championships in men’s outdoor track and field, producing many of the greatest athletes in the school’s history: Mike Barnett ’83, Innocent Egbunike ’86, Dave Johnson ’86 and twins Davidson and Osmond Ezinwa ’94, all of whom went on to enjoy Olympic glory. And, of course, he coached NFL great Christian Okoye ’87, who was a track standout before he began his fabled football career at Azusa Pacific.

Along the way, Franson also brought the NAIA championship to the city of Azusa, hosting the 1988, ’89, ’94 and ’95 national meets at what’s now known as Franson Field.

Over the course of the 1990s, APU captured seven total national championships, including the 1998 NAIA crown in football and women’s soccer, the first national titles for both sports. During that decade, the 14 Cougars sports teams won a combined 39 Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) titles, including the first seven of an unprecedented nine straight GSAC titles in men’s basketball.

Azusa Pacific also earned a second-place finish in the prestigious Directors’ Cup in 1998–99, when the Cougars won two national titles, had five final-four appearances, three more top-20 finishes and a pair of regional playoff berths to close out the decade.

If you’re keeping track, that’s 18 NAIA championships over a 10-year span, which more than doubled the program’s number of NAIA titles. More than half of Azusa Pacific’s GSAC-record 112 conference titles came in the first decade of the new millennium, as Cougars teams claimed 59 GSAC championships during the 10-year span.

So you get the gist of it, right? Well, believe it or not, the Cougars’ excellence of the 1990s, which began to garner them national recognition even before entering the NCAA era, was just the start for the university. 

After finishing in the top five for six straight years, Azusa Pacific won its first-ever Directors’ Cup for the 2004–05 season, scoring in 12 of their 14 intercollegiate sports to tally, what was then a Directors’ Cup-record, 881 points and finish 182 points ahead of runner-up Lindenwood University.

But then they won it again and again, breaking their record each time. In 2007, the Cougars track and field program claimed men’s indoor and women’s outdoor national titles, while baseball capped its first 50-win campaign with its first trip to the NAIA World Series in 23 years.

Just a year after playing in its first NAIA championship game, men’s soccer returned to the title game and joined women’s soccer as national runners-up. Men’s basketball qualified for its 12th straight NAIA Tournament and reached the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year. Men’s tennis became the first NAIA program to advance to five-straight national title matches, and women’s tennis advanced to the national quarterfinals for the fourth season in a row. Volleyball made its first back-to-back national tournament appearances, and women’s basketball appeared in its fourth consecutive national tournament to mark another program first. Cross country turned in a pair of top-10 finishes at the national meet, with the men recording their highest showing ever in third place.

Then, APU won its fourth and fifth consecutive Directors’ Cups in 2008 and 2009 closing out the decade by becoming the first NAIA school to claim six consecutive Directors’ Cups. They won it again in 2010, and the run continued into the next decade with two more years atop the Directors’ Cup standings before Azusa Pacific’s transition into NCAA Division II brought the Cougars’ NAIA era to a close with eight consecutive Directors’ Cup trophies.

As a matter of fact, Azusa Pacific is the only school to finish in the top 10 every year of the Directors’ Cup since the school’s inception on the NAIA level in 1996 until concluding its NAIA membership in 2012, an unprecedented 17-year run among the nation’s best. Azusa Pacific ranked third among active NAIA institutions, with 37 national championships, and the Cougars claimed a conference-record 112 GSAC championships before changing national and conference affiliations in 2012.

So who’s where now? Azusa Pacific joined NCAA Division II’s Pacific West Conference (PacWest) in most sports beginning in the 2012–13 season. Football, at the time, joined the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) as an associate member, its first conference membership after competing for 46 years as an independent program in the NAIA. The program, however, was cut in 2020 during COVID due to limited resources and funding.

Women’s swimming and diving is still a member of the Pacific Coast Swimming and Diving Conference (PCSC), and acrobatics and tumbling is one of six founding members of the growing National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA). Women’s water polo, which was added in 2009, competed for five years as an independent program before joining the startup Golden Coast Conference in the spring of 2014.

Since joining the PacWest, Azusa Pacific has captured 46 Conference titles and counting, including tournament championships. They lead all active members, with the next closest being Hawai’i Pacific with 26 titles. 

Here’s a breakdown of titles by sport:

The current APU men’s cross country team won their first title in program history as the 2023 PacWest Champions. (Photo Courtesy of Krissy Hetherington)

  • Baseball: 3 titles (2017, 2018, 2019) & first-ever PacWest tournament champions in 2022
  • Men’s Basketball: 3 titles (2014–2015, 2015–2016, 2019–2020)
  • Women’s Basketball: 5 titles (2015–2016, 2017–2018, 2018–2019, 2021–2022, 2022–2023) and 3 tournament championships (2015–2016, 2021–2022, 2022–2023)
  • Men’s Cross Country: *Just won their first-ever title in program history in 2023
  • Women’s Cross Country: 2 titles (2012 and 2013), Eileen Stressling has also captured two individual titles in 2015 and 2018.
  • Men’s Soccer: 4 titles (2014, 2018, 2019, 2021)
  • Women’s Soccer: 2 titles (2013, 2016)
  • Softball: 1 title in 2016
  • Men’s Tennis: 3 titles (2018, 2022, 2023)
  • Women’s Tennis: 2  titles (2021 and 2022)
  • Men’s Track and Field: 7 titles in a row (2016–2023)
  • Women’s Track and Field: 7 titles in a row (2016–2023)
  • Volleyball: 2 titles (2018 and 2019)

Since their entry into the NCAA Division II level, the Cougars have also captured two National titles, both in Women’s Track and Field in 2021 and 2023. Additionally, all sports have seen postseason action past the PacWest level whether it be at the regional or national level, garnering several more All-American distinctions across all sports. 

And finally, just this spring, the Cougars clinched their third consecutive PacWest Commissioner’s Cup which is awarded to the winningest school in the Conference.