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2019 SOFTBALL PREVIEW : Gahr hoping for return trip to divisional finals while Artesia is anxious to win rare league title


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


The most dominant team in the area last season was Gahr High, which advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 championship game. This season, a new coach takes over with enough experience to get the team far again. The new 605 League will bring an opportunity for Artesia High to win a league crown. But Cerritos High and Whitney High will have something to say about that.

Returning players in italics


10-12 overall last season, 5-7 in the Suburban League, fifth place

Head coach: Dayna Feenstra (sixth season, 38-60)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 38-60

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

Key loss: Miranda Williams

Projected lineup:

P-Shelby Hile (SO)/Valerie Joaquin (JR)/Miriam Estrada (FR)

C-Charlene Fregoso (JR)/Alexis Duenas (FR)

1B-Brenda Duran (SR)/Leilani Pati (JR)/Fregoso

2B-Zoey Williams (SO)/Natalie Luna (SR)



LF-Isabel Navarro (SO)/Shaylin Riddell-Perez (SO)

CF-Camryn Thompson (JR)


After making the playoffs in 2017, Artesia stumbled a bit last season but still showed that they are here to stay as far as being competitive. The Lady Pioneers were dominant offensively in 2018, batting .334 as a team and they are still locked and loaded in that department this season.

“Missing the playoffs last year was definitely a disappointment, but more so a learning opportunity for the team,” said head coach Dayna Feenstra. “We lost three core players that year and unfortunately, the team fell short by one game. With almost the entire team returning, I know the girls are taking that feeling at the end of the season to help motivate them throughout this season.”

Junior center fielder Camryn Thompson (.410 average last season, 32 hits, 26 runs) is tough to keep off base with her tremendous speed and she’ll cover a lot of ground in the outfield. Senior first baseman/third baseman Brenda Duran (.467, 35 hits) is a big home run threat while senior second baseman/shortstop Natalie Luna (.444, 32 hits) is also a big hitter. But nearly the entire lineup has experience and is ready to show the league that they are for real. While sophomore pitcher Shelby Hile started most of last season, look for junior Valerie Joaquin to get more time in the circle this season.

The one big positive for Feenstra is that she lost only one player from last season’s team and there are two seniors on this season’s team.

“We are very excited this season,” she said. “By only losing one player, our team has a little more experience which has led to more confidence. Our seniors, Natalie Luna and Brenda Duran, are very strong leaders and our underclassmen have gained the experience and confidence to perform more consistently.”

Feenstra says moving into the 605 League is very exciting and that by playing teams in similar divisions, it will “definitely level the playing field”. She added that the team is looking to being extremely competitive this year and fifth for the league title. At the same time, she was quick to say that it will be different not going to [former Suburban League schools Bellflower High, La Mirada High, Mayfair High and Norwalk High] and that she’ll miss the relationships that were built with some of the other coaches.


18-6 overall, 11-1 in the Suburban League, first place, lost to Edison High 2-1 in the Division 2 first round playoffs

Head coach: Kim Ensey (third season, 38-12)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 89-39-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Key losses: Kiara Crockett-Pope, Alyanna Hernandez, Kristina Mendez, Jennifer Morinishi

Projected lineup:

P-Erin Gibbs (FR)/Jadyn Nielsen (FR)

C-Natalya Mendiola (FR)/Leilani Pina (SO)

1B-Samiya Jones (SO)/Makayla Sur (FR)

2B-Niki Ibarra (SR)/Lauren Lejano (SO)/Sarah Duarte (JR)

3B-Alazea Herrera (SO)/Raquel Aragon (SO)

SS-Nielsen/Ibarra/Kaitlin Caneda (FR)

LF-Lejano/Alexa Diaz (SO)/Elise Gibbs (JR)

CF-Essense Gibbs (SR)/Lejano/Caneda


The defending Suburban League champions will face a much tougher challenge this season if they want to repeat as league titlists. Cerritos graduated its pitcher, catcher, first baseman and right fielder from last season and even though there are nine returning players, some of them got little action and the team is still very young.

“Every year has its various challenges,” said head coach Kim Ensey. “Our freshmen class has come in strong and we are looking forward to what the future of our program looks like.”

Niki Ibarra, who moves from shortstop to second base and centerfielder Essence Gibbs are the lone seniors, which means Cerritos should be a force in the future if it’s not in 2019. Gibbs batted .333 last season with 25 hits and 14 runs batted in, the highest totals of the returning players, and Ensey says she has continued to come back each season stronger than the one before.

“You can see her maturing and getting more comfortable as a leader and more composed at the plate,” Ensey added. “We are excited to see how she excels this season.”

Junior Elise Gibbs, who patrolled left field last season, will be used mainly as a designated player. Sophomore Lauren Lejano moves from second base to left field while sophomore Alazea Herrera remains at third base. Sophomore first baseman Samiya Jones has the potential to be a big hitter as she had 16 hits in 56 at-bats last season. The other remaining returning players combined for 22 at-bats. The one area of concern will come in the circle as the Lady Dons will have a pair of freshmen in Erin Gibbs and Jadyn Nielsen.

“First of all, it is nice having two pitchers that can throw at any time,” Ensey said. “Both freshmen have a tremendous amount of experience outside of high school, so they are no strangers to competing at a high level. Erin Gibbs brings great control of her pitches while also having a strong presence in the circle. Jadyn Nielsen’s pure athleticism allows her to compete on the mound and she is a quiet leader that positively affects our team whether she is in the circle or in another position.”

As far as the new league, Ensey says it’s somewhat of the unknown. Of course, her goal and that of the team is to be the first league champion but it’s everyone’s goal each year to become a league champion.

“We are going into the league with the expectation that we need to execute to win,” she said. “If we don’t execute, we will lose. We need to play our game. So, not much will change.”


24-6 overall last season, 9-1 in the San Gabriel Valley League, tied for first place, lost to Norco High 8-2 in the Division 1 finals

Head coach: Rey Sanchez (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 115-31-2

Last time missed the playoffs: 2013

Key losses: Dejanae Davis, Vanessa Foreman, Madison Huskey, Danielle Martinez, Jade Wittman

Projected lineup:

P-Daisy Torres (SR)/Ashley Benavides (SO)

C-Malia Luna (JR)/Shasiel Fregoso (SR)/Grace Rivera (SO)

1B-Johanna Rodriguez (JR)/Fregoso

2B-Giselle Tapia (SR)/Irene Dorado (SR)/Ariell Romero (JR)  

3B-Jazmine Hill (SR)/Taylor Stephens (SO)

SS-Taylor Stephens (SO)/Tapia

LF-Kristalyn Romulo (SO)/Romero/Sydni Jones (JR)



After six seasons as Gahr’s head coach, the last four winning at least 24 games, and advancing to the school’s first trip in a divisional championship game since 1989, Shawn Quarles has left and Rey Sanchez takes over to keep the program going as strong, or even stronger. Sanchez, who has also been the Gahr’s golf coach for over 20 seasons, is also part of the Ohana Tigers travel ball program and has been coaching softball for over 12 years. He says his daughters brought him into the sport.

Sanchez, who also played and coached baseball at Gahr, inherits a team that lost half of its pitching staff from last season and a couple of key players. But the Lady Gladiators also return enough offense to keep the program highly ranked in the area as well as the nation.

“It was a little bit unexpected, but that’s okay,” Sanchez said. “The Quarles have been here for six years and they did a great job of making sure that the talent that we had was harnessed and it was taken care of and they put the girls in the right positions. We still have some pretty good talent here.”

Pitching is the only area that’s not as experienced but senior Daisy Torres did pitch 10 innings last season and struck out 19 batters without giving up a run. Sophomore Skylar Sanchez was slated to be her backup, but she fractured her left tibia last August and is lost for the season. Torres’ backup will now be sophomore Ashley Benavides.

“She’s top level, she’s really top level and I think we can rely on her quite a bit and do really well,” Rey Sanchez said of Torres. “I’m very proud of Daisy’s effort so far. She was in the shadows, obviously, of some pretty good pitching last year. Daisy is really ready to step in and be the one to take over.”

The other half of the battery will be junior Malia Luna, who spent time last season in the outfield. Backing her up will be senior Shasiel Fregoso, who will also be the designated player at times. The infield is still very solid with senior Jazmine Hill moving from left field to third base and sophomore Taylor Stephens, who drove in 20 runs and scored 19 times, and Giselle Tapia taking care of the middle. Stephens, who played third base last season, hit .385 last season while Hill batted .384 with 21 runs batted in, 18 runs scored and cracked five home runs. Rey Sanchez said the outfielders are interchangeable and all of them had anywhere from 20 to 46 at-bats last season. Look for freshmen Mikala Huskey and Amanda Ta’amu, to provide some big hits off the bench, according to the new coach. He says that Ta’amu has some “serious power”.


“It’s really special because I walk into a pretty good situation,” Rey Sanchez said. “It’s not like I have to rebuild much. I kind of just step in, manage the talent a little bit, coach them up a little bit and with their experience…just having them as energized and as focused in the dugout really helps.”

Now that everyone knows who Gahr is, if they didn’t before, the bullseye will be even bigger when it comes to repeating as San Gabriel Valley League champions, something it has done five straight times. It will even be harder to make a repeat appearance in the division title game.

“I understand rankings are important for people and parents get a kick out of it; other coaches get a kick out of that,” Rey Sanchez said. “My goal is to make sure that these girls know how to play the game the right way. If we throw strikes and play catch, we’re going to be in every game. That’s really my emphasis.”


2-17 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place

Head coach: Larry Leal (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 37-75

Last time made the playoffs: 1990

Key losses: Darlene Ayala, Melissa Fernandez, Emily Gramajo, Christina Shryock

Projected lineup:

P-Gabriela Ortega (FR)

C-Jessica Perez (SO)

1B-Miranda Chaidez (JR)

2B-Dalia Morones (SR)/Elissa Aguilera

3B-Julie Manzanares (SO)/Adriana Vargas

SS-Andrea Carlin (SO)

LF-Jimena Urena (SO)/Jarey Lopez

CF-Sarah Casillas (SO)/Savannah Pineda (SR)

RF-Areyanna Garcia/Daniela Barron/Joana Rivera

The area’s longest playoff drought remains John Glenn High where head coach Larry Leal replaces David Cruz, who had been at the helm for the past three seasons. In fact, the last three head coaches had all been the head coach of the Lady Eagles for three years. Leal brings with him coaching experience with the Vendetta California travel softball program.

“I am excited to be a part of the softball program at John Glenn,” Leal said. “I am looking forward to working with the players. For this team to compete and to be a competitive team this season, the players need to understand that it’s not an individual sport. It takes a group of players willing to work together, communicate and have the drive and determination to want to win.”

This team is as young as it gets with three returning players. Senior Dalia Morones had been at shortstop the past few seasons but now takes over at second base. She led the Lady Eagles last season with a .390 average, 16 hits and 13 runs. Senior center fielder Savannah Pineda and junior first baseman Miranda Chaidez combined for five hits in 51 at-bats last season.

“Dalia is an outstanding player and as a first-year head coach, I am very grateful to have a player with the talent Dalia has. Dalia keeps improving every season whether it’s playing travel ball or high school. Dalia is always looking for ways to improve her playing abilities.”

Glenn has not had a winning record since 1999 when it went 12-11 and has not finished above fifth place in over 18 seasons. Leal says he believes the team has the talent to be competitive if everyone stays healthy and does what they are supposed to do in class.


9-12 overall last season, 2-6 in the Olympic League, tied for third place, lost to San Marino High 6-5 in the Division 6 wild card playoffs

Head coach: Nicole McGahey (fourth season, 19-46-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 40-76-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 2017

Key losses: Moriah Easley, Kaylah Hoxie, Katie Morewood (SR)

Projected lineup:

P-Caitlyn Azevedo (JR)/Chelsea Azevedo (FR)

C-Quinn Livesay (SO)/Kate Van Kampen (JR)

1B-Angelina Pool (JR)

2B-Morgan McGahey (SR)/Julia McIntosh (SO)

3B-Kyla Nunez-O’Leary (SR)

SS-Kate Van Kampen (JR)/Brooke Taylor (SO)/Azevedo, Ch.

LF-Gemma Bulthuis (JR)/Gladdy Nagao (FR)

CF-Alexandria Burgess-Allen (SR)

RF-Bella Richards (JR)

It was another frustrating season for Valley Christian High, which endured a fifth straight losing season, but managed to advance to the playoffs. However, all signs point to a much better season with an even more experienced squad.

“We felt great about getting an opportunity to play in the postseason,” said head coach Nichole McGahey. “Our girls worked hard and answered back in that game. We have come back and worked hard to prepare ourselves for the season that lies ahead.”

Experience is going to be key for the Lady Defenders, especially in the circle with junior Caitlyn Azevedo, whom has always been consistent and a focused player, according to McGahey. Another pleasant surprise last season from one of the younger players was sophomore catcher Quinn Livesay, who was batting over .400 more than halfway through the season.

“Quinn has been an incredible addition to the team,” McGahey said. “She came in as our only freshman and was enveloped by the team immediately. She plays well, practices hard and is an encourager on and off the field. She has a great attitude and never takes herself too seriously. Her bat is as big as her heart and we expect great things from Quinn this season.”

The left side of the infield is another strength for V.C. with senior veteran third baseman Kyla Nunez-O’Leary and junior shortstop Kate Van Kampen.

Over the past 10 seasons, V.C. has been an Olympic League champion three times, finished in second place twice and third place four times. The program has been to the postseason in all but one season and has reached the quarterfinals twice. This season’s team has the potential to challenge for a league title and possibly make a deep run in the playoffs.

“We always hope that our girls will bring the best they have,” McGahey said. “Our expectation as coaches is that our girls will get better every time they step on the field. We look forward to a great season with lots of learning and success. We expect a winning season and look forward to making that happen.”


4-11 overall last season, 2-6 in the Academy League, fourth place

Head coach: Luis Lavayen (14thseason, 97-119)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 36-57

Last time made the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Janessa Alderete, Katerin Joachin, Mary Kim, Victoria Tran

Projected lineup:

P-Taylor Genera (SR)

C-Haley Acosta (SR)

1B-Kimberly Rossello (JR)

2B-Susana Toscano (JR)

3B-Valerie Villegas (SR)

SS-Mia Sun (SO)

LF-Lois Kim (SO)

CF-Gabrielle Madjus (JR)

RF-Jennifer Corrales (FR)

It was another long and disappointing season for longtime Whitney High head coach Luis Lavayen, who has been to the playoffs just six times in his previous 13 seasons and has had only five winning seasons. He is hoping that the senior talent he has will be enough to grab one of the three automatic playoff spots in the new 605 League.

“The only positive thing [about last season] is hoping for the next season that we will do good,” Lavayen said.

The strength of the team will come from the battery of senior pitcher Taylor Genera, a four-year starter, and senior catch Haley Acosta, who has fit in quite well over the past few seasons.

“I think Taylor has gotten faster,” Lavayen said. “Haley has become a better catcher; more into the game. She’s doing a good job right now.”

He added that their leadership has already helped the younger players, who already look up to them. Junior Gabrielle Madjus is the only outfielder with varsity experience and is expected to patrol a wide area while freshman right fielder Jennifer Corrales and sophomore left fielder Lois Kim keep improving day by day.

As far as moving into the new 605 League and leaving the Academy League, Lavayen isn’t a big fan of it, at least not now. He doesn’t believe the move is a big fit for the team he has this season, especially going up against Artesia and Cerritos twice. He believes his team is equal to longtime rival Oxford Academy.