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2015 SOFTBALL PREVIEW Cerritos, Gahr expected to make deep runs in the playoffs with stacked squads

By Loren Kopff

This is it. There’s no sugarcoating the expectations laid upon the Cerritos and Gahr softball teams for 2015. Not only are the two predicted to win their respective leagues, they have more than enough talent to reach the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III championship game. Norwalk welcomes back a very familiar face to the dugout while John Glenn might be the sleeper team in the Suburban League. Artesia and Whitney field very young teams while Valley Christian hopes for a better non-league season.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS

5-14 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place

Head coach: Dayna Feenstra (second season, 5-14)

Team’s record previous five

seasons: 30-78

Last time made the playoffs: 1992

Key losses: Patricia Calderon (SO), Erika Chavez (SO), Sarah Guerrero (SO), Alondra Hernandez, Sabrina Manzano, Damaris Rodriguez (SO)

Projected lineup:

P-Destinee Alvarez (SO)/Michaela Benzor-Smith (SO)/Alyssa Rios (SO)

C-Chantal Fregoso (FR)/Jessica Hernandez (FR)/Alyssa Medina (SO)/Briana Perez (SR)

1B-Benzor-Smith/Perez

2B-Destiny Briseno (SR)/Skye Jimenez (FR)

3B-Hernandez/Darlene Hurtado (FR)

SS-Alvarez/Jimenez/Rios

OF-Crystal Briseno (SR)/Melina Hernandez (SO)/Medina

OF-Ali Vega (JR)

OF-Isabel Matamoros (JR)

Dayna Feenstra’s debut season as a varsity high school coach didn’t go the way she wanted. The Pioneers were a very young team and more of the same might be the motto for this season. The former Artesia and Michigan State University standout said she used to get frustrated early on but just learning to deal with the culture, while not accepting it, and just finding different ways to change it was what she wanted to focus on last season.

“I think it was a learning process, not only for me, but a learning process for them and them learning my style, technique and my expectation,” Feenstra said. “Even though our record didn’t show how much we improved, I think…we’ve already improved in different aspects from last year.”

The biggest blow to the team came when sophomore pitcher Sarah Guerrero was injured last season against John Glenn. Her experience in the circle will definitely be missed. So, the Pioneers will go with a brand new pitching staff. Senior catcher Briana Perez, senior second baseman Destiny Briseno, senior left fielder Crystal Briseno and junior center fielder Ali Vega and junior right fielder Isabel Matamoros are the only returning players. Look for everyone to play more than one position this season, especially with the high number of freshmen and sophomores.

“Our goal this year was for them to learn multiple positions,” Feenstra said. “I don’t know if I would like to use the word depth. But they’re definitely a little bit more experienced than other positions.”

Artesia’s problem, for what seems like an eternity, has been its production in league play. Since 1998, the Pioneers have gone 13-189 in the league. Last season, they managed to score only five runs off of league pitching after scoring 52 in the first seven games of the regular season.

“The pitching we faced in preseason did not prepare us at all for league,” Feenstra said. “I wasn’t in control of the schedule, and so a lot of the pitching was not near to the quality of what the Suburban League was at. We were not prepared at all.

“I think we were capable of getting maybe one or two [wins] out there,” Feenstra later added as far as league victories. “I know we were young and inexperienced and it’s always been that way for this school. And that’s why I’m here; trying to change that because even being a former player of this school, we didn’t win many games while I was here either.”

CERRITOS LADY DONS

20-4 overall last season, 11-1 in the Suburban League, league champions, lost to Westlake 2-0 (eight innings) in Division II first round playoffs

Head coach: Mike Freeman (second season, 20-4)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 74-44

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Key losses: Kaitlyn Bales (SR), Lilianna Herrera, Melanie Okazaki (SR)

Projected lineup:

P-Jennifer Iseri (SR)/Jennifer Morinishi (FR)

C-Celeste Borza (SO)/Heather Cameron (SR)

1B-Iseri/Madison Lee (SR)/Kiarra Pope (FR)

2B-Leeann Tran (SR)

3B-Amanda Lejano (SR)

SS-Lailoni Mayfield (SO)

OF-Alyssa Flores (JR)

OF-Megan Darling (SR)

OF-Cameron/Morinishi

Cerritos had almost a complete season as one could get under first-year head coach Mike Freeman. The well experienced Lady Dons won 20 games for the first time since 2000 and won a Suburban League title for the first time since 2011, but outright for the first time since 2000. But Cerritos was upset, and shutout, in the first round of the playoffs. Look for even bigger things from this team with even a more experienced and balanced squad.

“They definitely have it in their heads and they don’t want that to happen again,” said Cerritos assistant coach John Zamora on last season’s one and done playoff performance. “So there’s definitely a goal that’s in mind that they want to not repeat what happened last year and achieve what they’re capable of.”

The pitching staff will be anchored down by senior Jennifer Iseri but look for freshman Jennifer Morinishi to get enough playing time under her belt. All of the players are pretty much interchangeable as to where they play, as was the case last season. Sophomore Destiny Lucero can play any of the infield positions while sophomore varsity rookies Evelynn and Katelynn Hernandez will be utility players. Although she is just a freshman, Kiarra Pope has the potential to be a big slugger sooner than later. If anything, this team will not lose a step beyond 2015 despite the graduation of seven seniors.

Last season, Cerritos batted .364 and had eight everyday players hit at least .300 with another one, senior outfielder Leeann Tran, bat .291. Cerritos, as well as the rest of the Suburban League, also dropped from Division II to Division III. In addition, the Lady Dons beefed up their schedule and will participate in the Best of the West Tournament, hosted by Pacifica High school, travel to Cypress, Gahr for a doubleheader, Mater Dei and Redlands East Valley. The league title could be won as early as Apr. 2 because Cerritos opens up its league slate with a home and home series with Mayfair (Mar. 25 and 27) followed by La Mirada (Mar. 31, Apr. 2)

“I think this year’s team is more experienced than last year,” Zamora said. “I think they’re better in that they’re upside is a lot bigger. They know the program and they know what’s expected of them.”

GAHR GLADIATORS

17-10 overall last season, 9-1 in the San Gabriel Valley League, co-champions, lost to Righetti 4-1 in the Division III second round playoffs

Head coach: Shawn Quarles (third season, 28-25)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 49-78

Last time missed the playoffs: 2013

Key loss: Erica Balboa, Erica Espinoza (JR-transferred to John Glenn), Vanessa Montanez (SR)

Projected lineup:

P-Naomi Dickerson (SO)/Deidra Genera (SR)/Dani Martinez (FR)/Destiny Vasquez (SR)

C-Brianna Besenty (SR)/Madison Huskey (FR)/Alyssa Kumiyama (SO)

1B-Jessi Alvarado (FR)/Celeste Gonzalez (SR)

2B-Besenty/Dejanae Davis (FR)/Vasquez

SS-Deja Portillo (SR)

3B-Malia Quarles (SO)Jade Wittman (FR)

OF-Sabrina Quarles (SR)

OF-Huskey

OF-Alyssa Cuffia (JR)/Alyssa Rodriguez (JR)

Another team that has high aspirations of doing more damage this season is Gahr. The addition of three freshmen last season plus the stability of its returning players brought a smile to the face of head coach Shawn Quarles. But if you think last season was what Gahr was looking for, which included the school’s first San Gabriel Valley League title since 2008, it’s only going to get better this season.

“I guess you always expect more but I definitely saw that we progressed last year,” Quarles said. “Sometimes it takes a while to turn things around and get everyone on the same page. Our goal at the beginning of last year was to try to win a league title. I know we shared it but maybe this year we can do something on our own.”

Where does one begin to talk about the 2015 version of Gahr softball? It could be the pitching staff of returning seniors Deidra Genera and Destiny Vasquez and sophomore Naomi Dickerson, who combined to allow almost one fewer run than that of 2013. In fact, the team’s 3.39 earned run average was the lowest since 2008 (2.99) and its 173 strikeouts were the most since 2007 (221). With Genera and Vasquez, there is no number one and number two pitcher, according to Quarles. With the addition of freshman Dani Martinez, opponents should take notice.

“That’s always going to be my idea; to split up the pitching,” Quarles said. “At a certain point at the end of the year you kind of have to go with what you think your best foot forward is. I don’t think all of our pitchers were operating at their best when it was time to operate at their best. So I think we were doing that out of necessity. I’d love to have a rotation where with Deidra and [Destiny]…when they’re both on, I don’t think there’s a No. 1.”

If you don’t want to start with the pitching, then go with the offense, which batted .404 last season, the highest in over 15 years. Sophomore catcher Alyssa Kumiyama led the way with a .522 average and 11 home runs. Senior first baseman Celeste Gonzalez batted .500 while sophomore third baseman Malia Quarles also belted 11 home runs. The team’s 33 home runs were the most in over 15 years as well.

The outfield, which was strong with junior Alyssa Cuffia patrolling center field and having a cannon of an arm, and senior left fielder Sabrina Quarles, just got stronger with freshman Madison Huskey, who has verbally committed to the University of Washington.

“I think this game is hard to play as a freshman no matter how good you are,” Quarles said. “I think there’s a transition period your freshman year. I’ve got some great freshmen on the team right now.”

Gahr loaded its schedule again and it includes a trip to Bullhead City for the prestigious 20th Annual Dave Kops Tournament of Champions. Also on the docket is another home doubleheader with Cerritos, a return road game at Los Alamitos and participation in the La Mirada Tournament later in the season.

One thing that should change is Gahr’s ability to beat a team with a winning record, something it did only twice last season before the playoffs began. The combined regular season record of the Gladiators’ nine regular season losses was 148-56 and all but one opponent finished below second place in its respective league.

“We’re just excited,” Quarles said. “We have a lot of good freshmen in and we have a good, strong senior class. So if everybody gets on the same page, I think it can be another fun year.”

JOHN GLENN LADY EAGLES

9-14 overall last season, 4-8 in the Suburban League, fifth place)

Head coach: Albert Enriquez (third season, 19-26)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 40-71

Last time made the playoffs: 1990

Key losses: Destiny Hindman (SR), Valeria Ortega, Vanessa Rouse (SO), Brianna Ruiz

Projected lineup:

P-Ashley Armas (SO)/Destiny Enriquez (JR)/Alize Lopez (SO)

C-Devany Esparza (JR)/Alyssa Fajardo (JR)

1B-Maria Enriquez (SO)

2B-Jackie Mojica (SR)

3B-Armas

SS-Erica Espinoza (JR)

OF-Alize Lopez (SO)/Christina Shyrock (FR)/Daisy Vargas (SO)

OF-Genesis Gonzalez (SR)

OF-Fajardo/Vargas

It was shaping up to be a special season for the Lady Eagles until junior pitcher Destiny Enriquez was injured within the first month and was lost for the remainder of 2014. But her father, head coach Albert Enriquez, sees a completely different view for this season, one that might even get Glenn to the playoffs for the first time since 1990.

“I don’t think [last season] was a disappointment,” Albert Enriquez said. “I think it was what it was. We had an injury, we had new players around and we kind of scrambled things around and salvaged the season the best we could.”

With his daughter healthy this season and the experience that sophomore Ashley Armas gained last season, Glenn’s pitching should be a lot better. The infield is one of the best the program has ever had with senior second baseman Jackie Mojica the leader of that crew, junior shortstop Erica Espinosa, a one-time Gahr player, sophomore first baseman Maria Enriquez and Armas. The outfield is young and pretty much inexperienced but Glenn has one thing that it hasn’t had in a very long time-speed. One of those speedsters is freshman Aaleyiah Simmons, who has never played before. Can Glenn reach fourth place in the always tough Suburban League? That’s something Albert Enriquez is hoping.

“The Suburban League is always tough, especially for the playoff spots,” he said. “Norwalk brings a good game every year. This year they a new addition with a new pitcher who is lights out. We’re just going to do the best we can to stay out of the basement. Hopefully we can get a playoff spot. I think we have a chance. I thought we had a great chance the last three years.”

NORWALK LADY LANCERS

8-15 overall last season, 6-6 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to Long Beach Poly 12-11 in Division II wild card playoffs

Head coach: Paulette Gasporra (eighth season, 97-79-1 from 2004-2010)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 53-75

Last time missed the playoffs: 2010

Key losses: Monique Araiza, Amanda Benas, Viviana Gomez, Samantha Lujan, Erica Perez, Jennifer Vasquez

Projected lineup:

P-Sam Navarrete (SO)/Serena Nicolas (JR)/Breanna Vasquez (FR)

C-Briana Lopez (JR)/Samantha Ontiveros

1B-Lopez/Ashley Ponce (SO)

2B-Navarrete/Mercedes Orozco (SO)

3B-Ontiveros/Kathleen Perez (JR)/Sarah Segura/Andrea Villalta

SS-Jazmin Guzman (SR)/Navarrete

OF-Paola Martinez (SR)

OF-Alejandra De La O (SO)/Nicolas

OF-Analiza Barragan /Vasquez

After four subpar seasons that resulted in three head coaches and one winning campaign, Paulette Gasporra returns as the new, but old, head coach for the Lady Lancers. During her seven-year reign from 2004-2010, Norwalk went to the playoffs four times, advanced to the second round in 2007 and shared the league title in 2009. Since she left, Norwalk has finished in fourth place every year and failed to win a wild card playoff game including last season in which it blew an 11-0, third inning lead to Long Beach Poly.

“I’m excited because we have a lot of talent here at Norwalk like we’ve always had,” Gasporra said. “It’s going to be a good year. It should be a winning season. For me to be back on the field, it’s like I never left.”

The heart and soul for Norwalk lies with senior shortstop Jazmin Guzman, one of two seniors this season. Although junior Serena Nicolas and sophomore Sam Navarrete are the veteran pitchers, much noise has already been made about freshman Breanna Vasquez, who might be elevated to the team’s number one hurler.

Junior catcher Briana Lopez has some big shoes to fill in for the graduated Samantha Lujan, now at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The outfield should be improved with senior left fielder Paola Martinez and sophomore center fielder Alejandra De La O coming back. But to escape that fourth place spot could once again be another tough task to accomplish.

“We always have ambition and goals here and that’s one of our goals here at Norwalk,” Gasporra said. “Our Suburban League is a tough league but I think this year we have enough talent to take that better spot.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN LADY CRUSADERS

8-16 overall, 7-1 in the Olympic League, co-champions, lost to Ocean View 4-1 in the Division IV first round playoffs

Head coach: Jim Snyder (fifth season, 53-51-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 71-60-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Key loss: Kaylee Westra

Projected lineup:

P-Anna Collier (JR)

C-Kylie Carr (SO)

1B-Briana Lerma (SO)/Tia Naulls (SR)

2B-Hannah Buckley (FR)/Nicole Parker (SR)

3B-Chanel Varney (JR)

SS-Emily Morrow (SR)

OF-Chloe Malau’ulu (FR)

OF-Madison Wright (SR)

OF-Kaitlyn Carr (SR)

Valley Christian’s 2014 campaign was definitely divided into two parts. The month of March was one that head coach Jim Snyder would not want to repeat again as his team went 1-12. Then came Apr. 3 and an 11-2 lead against Calvary Chapel Downey turned into a 13-12 loss. But after that, the Lady Crusaders turned it around and ended up tying Whittier Christian for the Olympic League’s top spot. Had it not been for some costly errors, V.C. would have hosted a first round playoff game instead of going on the road to Ocean View. Still, it’s safe to say that V.C. was peaking at the end of last season.

“I think that we let a 4-3 game in 10 innings with Whittier [Christian] slip away,” Snyder said. “We kicked the ball in regulation and I think we could have closed that one out and gone 8-0. I also felt that kind of hurt us going into that opening round.”

Just like last season, V.C. will have to rely a lot on its starters because there isn’t much depth on this team. Senior shortstop Emily Morrow and senior center fielder Madison Wright will be the offensive threats while junior Anna Collier, who was a complete workhorse in the circle, will be called upon again to go probably 95 percent of the time. Snyder believes that Collier might be underrated even though she had a decision in 21 games last season.

“I do, to some degree,” he said. “She’s not on that club or travel ball beat. She doesn’t play any other sports, surprisingly enough because she’s very athletic. We have to give the rest of the squad a lot of credit. They play outstanding defense. I think that’s one of our cornerstones here; it certainly has been the past two years.”

If needed, Morrow and Wright can be replacements for Collier. Sophomore first baseman Briana Lerma, who batted in the fourth spot last season, will likely move to the third spot. Snyder was also hoping to get a couple of freshmen to transition into second base and shortstop once Morrow and senior Nicole Parker have graduated. And he believes he has found those two players in Hannah Buckley and Chloe Malau’ulu. The latter might see some time this season in left field and is slated to be the cleanup batter. The other newcomer to varsity is senior Xochilt Perez.

As experienced as this team is, there’s no reason why V.C. can’t repeat as league champions and if that happens, it would be the fourth in the past six seasons. During that time, the Lady Crusaders have advanced to the quarterfinals twice.

“We want to get out of the gate much quicker,” Snyder said. “We want to be playing good, solid ball and keeping the earned runs down is key for us. I really believe [we can win league]. Because we have a couple of freshmen, I think we have a better team this year than we did last year.

WHITNEY LADY WILDCATS

6-7 overall last season, 4-4 in the Academy League, fourth place

Head coach: Luis Lavayen (10th season, 67-69)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 45-32

Last time made the playoffs: 2012

Key losses: Czarina Linal, Ann Munoz, Kaya Quarles

Projected lineup:

P-Nicole Waldecker (SR)

C-Jenna Llamas (JR)

1B-Ashley Iseri (SO)

2B-Ashley Perez (FR)

3B-Melissa Babiera (JR)

SS-Karen Kaur (SO)

OF-Megan Babiera (FR)/Renee Lin (FR)

OF-Heather Choe (FR)/Cat Joachin (FR)

OF-Janessa Alderete (FR)/Jocelyn Chou (SO)

Since winning the Academy League in 2012, Whitney has had two losing seasons, falling one game short of .500 both times and finishing in third and fourth place respectively. The lack of depth coupled with very, very young teams has head coach Luis Lavayen scratching his head. To make matters worse, the team is even younger this season with six freshmen and three sophomores.

“This year, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Lavayen said. “I’m pulling my hair out right now. But let’s see how it goes. I’m trying all kinds of different little things.”

The Lady Wildcats return all five players but only senior pitcher Nicole Waldecker, junior catcher Jenna Llamas and sophomore first baseman Ashley Iseri are impact players and as they go, so will the team. Waldecker pitched in virtually every inning last season and barring an injury, she’ll be doing the same again this season.

“She carries the team,” Lavayen said. “This year she is going to have to work real hard because we have no backup. It’s just her.”

If there is a backup to Waldecker, it would be Iseri. The bad news for Whitney is it has so many freshmen, especially in the outfield. The good news is that if they can develop and gel together, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel for next season. But for now, Whitney hopes it can stay alive for a playoff spot in a wacky and weird Academy League.

“I’m really hoping for it,” Lavayen said. “They’re eager to learn. It’s just hard at this age to pick it up quicker.”

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