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West Ranch's Lauren Lombardi: Fully recovered

West Ranch senior is back after a serious injury

Posted: April 15, 2013 11:22 p.m.
Updated: April 15, 2013 11:22 p.m.

West Ranch senior Lauren Lombardi spent most of last season sidelined due to a torn ligament in her knee.

 

One hundred percent. Every play. Every day.

It’s cliche, sure — but then again, it’s just who West Ranch senior catcher and Long Beach State University commit Lauren Lombardi is.

It didn’t matter when she had just caught 3 1/2 games and was moved to left field to give her body a break in what was the final travel ball game of the 2011 season.

Lauren Lombardi goes 100 percent — so she went hard to go after an otherwise meaningless ground ball, and in a flash things changed.

”From the moment it happened I knew it had to be something more,” she says. “My dad kept going, ‘Maybe it’s just a sprain, maybe you just twisted it.’ But deep down, it felt pretty bad.”

She had torn her ACL and would spend the next six months rehabbing and recuperating.

The title run

Lombardi had high expectations for the 2012 high school season.

The Wildcats were loaded with talent and Lombardi, who had started on varsity since her freshman season and had recently committed to Long Beach, was in line to play third base.

The Foothill League title dream came
true — West Ranch won its first in school history — but Lombardi didn’t play a single inning.

She was always there, though, only missing practice for doctor’s appointments and always sitting in the dugout supporting her teammates.

“She embraced it,” says West Ranch head coach Bob Shults. “She was there every practice and at the games. She never, ever felt sorry for herself, always cheering on her teammates. Right now, it’s hard not to give her a shot, and that’s how she won the position because of her attitude last year.”

That attitude wasn’t lost on her teammates, either.

“A lot of girls could have been bitter and not wanted to come out and have been selfish, but she was there every practice,” teammate Kylie Sorenson says. “This group of girls, we’re so close. It’s not a thing where every man for themselves. Everyone works for everyone and (Lombardi) was such a huge supporter, making people feel good about themselves.”

A father’s experience

Lombardi hasn’t exactly had to go it alone.

She comes from an athletic family and plays with her younger sister Julia on the West Ranch squad.

Her mother played softball in high school and she has another younger sister who also plays the game.

But it’s her father, former Major League Baseball player Phil Lombardi, who has the most to share with his eldest daughter.

Softball and baseball may be different games with their own unique intricacies, but Phil was a catcher and finds his former role and his daughter’s current one virtually the same.

Phil was drafted out of Kennedy High School in Granada Hills by the New York Yankees in the third round of the 1981 draft, and he made his MLB debut on April 26, 1986.

He was traded to the New York Mets organization in 1987, played sparingly in the Majors in 1988 and was claimed off waivers in 1990 by the Atlanta Braves before retiring.

“When it comes to catching, I was able to instruct her and she was a very good learner,” Phil says. “She’s an exceptional athlete. She’s a very solid, strong kid. That’s a natural position for her.”

And Lauren is grateful to receive the advice of someone with the experiences of her father.

“I always knew he played and he would tell me things, ‘You have to do this because I learned it in the Major Leagues,’” she says. “I’ve really come to appreciate it the older I get.”

But of all the lessons from her father, the most important might have been how to mentally come to grips with an injury.

Phil retired from the Major Leagues after multiple knee operations.

“I injured my knee just like she did my junior year in high school,” Phil says. “I missed my whole junior year. I was a prospect being scouted heavily at the time and injuries are part of the game. There’s nothing you can do about it. It happens.”

Lauren went through six months of rehabilitation, going to physical therapy one to two times a week.

“It was pretty rough at first,” she says, “I had to do a lot. I wasn’t certain I would come back out of it where I was before. I was so happy when the doctors told me I could play again.”

With her knee physically ready to go, the only setback remains mental.

“I do still wear a knee brace that my doctor said I only need to wear for as long as I need to feel comfortable,” she says. “For me, that really just gives me the strength to go out and give 100 percent, because I have less fear of injuring it with (the brace).”

‘Rhino’

“I’ve grown up with (Lombardi) my whole life. (Rhino) was her nickname because she was such a beast. It’s just because she’s so good,” Sorenson says. “If you ask any softball player who Lauren Lombardi is they’d be like ‘who?’”

And that’s because everyone calls her Rhino.

She’s living up to that nickname so far in 2013.

Lombardi enters today’s tilt with Saugus batting .245 on the season with 11 RBIs and two home runs.

And she’s been stellar behind the plate, finally getting to start at catcher after the graduation of University of Oregon athlete Janelle Lindvall.

“She’s embraced it. She’s been with the program for four years on varsity. She had to sit in the shadows of Janelle, which is tough for any kid, but she’s a special kid,” Shults says, “She was realistic, she knew Janelle was a tad better, a little more advanced being a year older at that time. She waited her time patiently. Honestly, we haven’t missed a beat. Janelle was hard to replace and is having a great season in college, but Rhino is right here too.”

And she’s only getting better everyday — with the goal to always give it everything she’s got, because you never know when everything can change.

“It makes me want to work even harder being down and out last year,” Lombardi says. “It makes me realize how little time I have. It’s four years of college and then I’m done. I want to be able to make sure I can give it my all each game because you never know when an injury will have you down and out.”

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