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The Age of Excellence: Nobody did it better

2007’s big story : Valencia Softball

Posted: December 26, 2009 11:09 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Valencia pitcher Jordan Taylor celebrates after winning the 2007 CIF-Southern Section Division I championship. Taylor would go on to play for Michigan.

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A lot goes into making a champion.

Elite talent is a must.

There has to be unwavering team chemistry.

And of course, great coaching is needed.

In 2007, Valencia softball had all three, and feeding off an early playoff exit the year before, the result was a national championship.

“We knew we were on a mission,” says Vikings head coach Donna Lee. “We wanted a target on our back. We wanted everyone to play their best against us.”

However, no opponent was ready for starting pitcher Jordan Taylor, who went 32-0 in the circle in 2007.

“We all grew up playing with each other, so it made the experience special because you’ve been playing with each other odd many years,” Taylor says. “To experience that with that close group of friends made it that much better.”

To say that Taylor was dominant in her senior season would be a dramatic understatement.

Taylor surrendered a meager 14 runs en route to a minuscule 0.19 ERA, 24 shutouts and an astounding 406 total strikeouts in her final year as a Viking.

She was named CalHiSports.com’s 2007 Ms. Softball State Player of the Year, Gatorade State Player of the Year, 710 ESPN Female Athlete of the Year, CIF-Southern Section Division I Player of the Year, Foothill League Player of the Year, All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year for a third straight season and The Signal’s Female Athlete of the Year.

“Her position automatically puts her in the role as a leader,” says Alyssa Ishibashi, who played shortstop for the Vikings. “There were some games where she really kind of put us on her back and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, get me one run and I’ll keep them from scoring.’”

When it counted, the current University of Michigan star was ready. In the CIF-Southern Section Division I championship game, she was nearly perfect, holding down a 1-0 shutout over archrival Hart to get the victory and eventual national title.

“During that point of my career, I felt confident enough to have one run and be able to hold to the team,” she says.

Locked at 0-0, she got that one run when Ishibashi hit a single into shallow right field to drive home Lelani Bernardino in the bottom of the fifth inning.

“I really didn’t think it was going to be game-winning run,” says Ishibashi. “I figured we would either score more or they would. I didn’t think it would end being 1-0 either way.”

But it was all Taylor needed.

She finished with 13 strikeouts in the game, gave up only three hits and earned her fourth straight shutout of the postseason, which Taylor says was a major goal of hers going into the playoffs.

The Vikings ended the season ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today and StudentSports.com, giving them the national championship.

“Jordan was so dominant and she had great composure and she was great leader on the mound,” says Jessica Spigner, the team’s third baseman that year. “She never let anyone see her sweat, and that’s what a good team needs — a dominant pitcher and someone the team can count on. She was our rock.”

The next season, Spigner took over for Taylor in the circle and led the Vikings to a second straight CIF-SS Division I championship before heading off to the University of Tennessee.

In all, eight players on the 2007 roster moved on to Division I programs, while two more will after the 2010 season.

Aside from Spigner, Ishibashi went to North Carolina State, Kristen Aidem went to Michigan State, Torrie Anderson went to Cal State Fullerton, Bernardino committed to Memphis and Nicole Matson and Amy Moore headed to the University of the Pacific.

Currently seniors at Valencia, Madison Shipman has already committed Tennessee, while Megan Foglesong has done the same to Pacific.

Now scattered across the country, the team still stays in touch and even gets together during the holidays for an annual Christmas party.

Things were no different back then, which was a major factor in the team’s success, Taylor says.

“We really didn’t care about the wins and losses,” she says. “That was obviously what we wanted to do was go undefeated, but we just had fun more than anything. I think that’s what made us so successful.”
Spigner agrees.

“Some girls, you get sick of each other,” she says. “We were always around each other. We picked each other up. We were close friends, and we were always there for one another.”

The Vikings weren’t going to let the rigors of being the team to beat keep them from enjoying the process.

“I think that year definitely stood out to me because it was so fun,” says Ishibashi. “We were in sync. When you are worried about your undefeated record for your pitcher or being ranked, it can be stressful and people can be edgy and uptight, but that team really never let it get in the way of having fun. We played for each other, which made our team stronger.”

But there was another factor essential in Valencia’s run to the title.

“Our coach,” Spigner says. “I mean, we had a lot of talent, a lot of great players, but you can’t go anywhere if you don’t have coaching and great chemistry.”

Lee managed the talent to perfection and helped refine the natural gifting that her athletes possessed, says Ishibashi.

But Lee keeps things focused on her players and what they were able to accomplish during the spring of 2007.

“I can say for a fact, most of these girls, they were on a mission after losing in ’06 in the second round,” she says. “They basically took every game like it was the championship game and the reward at the end of it was the national championship. Looking back on it they can say, ‘We did something really special.’”

As for Taylor’s place in SCV softball lore?

“I definitely think she is the best pitcher coming out of this valley by far,” Lee says.

 

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