As a senior at Walnut High, Alison Stowell had the type of season that most softball players can scarcely imagine.
Not only did she lead her team in batting with a .468 average, she also made the All-Sierra League team for the second straight time and was selected co-most valuable player of the league.
Stowell was hoping that would attract the interest of at least a couple of college teams. But by the time the national recruiting period had come and gone, Stowell hadn't attracted so much as a whisper from a college recruiter.
So Stowell decided to try her luck as a walk-on player at nearby Cal Poly Pomona, which not only had a solid physical education program but one of the top NCAA Division I softball teams.
Four years later, Pomona Coach Carol Spanks isn't hesitant to say: "She is the best walk-on we've ever had."
That may be a bit of an understatement when you consider that the 21-year-old Stowell has made the All-Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. team for an unprecedented four times and could become the first Pomona player to make the NCAA All-American team four times.
She was a member of the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the 1987 Pan American Games and has surpassed or approached most of Pomona's records. The 5-7 Stowell is the team's all-time leader in hits, doubles, runs, stolen bases and at bats and is second in career batting average and runs batted in.
Spanks said Stowell has been one of the most important factors in the success of the Broncos, who are 53-14 and ranked No. 2 behind UCLA in Division I heading into the NCAA West Regional playoffs Friday and Saturday against visiting Long Beach State (46-15).
Hardly the kind of contribution one would expect from a player who arrived on campus inauspiciously.
Spanks wonders how Stowell could have been missed by recruiters.
"I don't know how much she was looked at in high school," she said. "But a lot of times good players are overlooked because they are at schools that are not watched by the scouts, or maybe she didn't play in the right tournaments. Or maybe they didn't think she was ready to play college ball."
Stowell said the lack of interest may have been attributable to the league in which she played. "We played in the Sierra League and nobody out of that league was recruited that year," she said.
Having watched a lot of Broncos games when younger, Stowell decided to write a letter to Spanks about her interest in playing for the team. But when Stowell did not receive a response, she figured she would simply try out for the team.
Although Stowell was good enough to make the club, she didn't exactly leave a lasting impression on Spanks from the start.
"The first impression I had was that she was a very good hitter and very quick, but there was nothing about her that stood her out from anybody else," Spanks realled.
Before her freshman year, Stowell said she was expected to play primarily in a back-up role. Fate changed that when an outfielder was injured at the start of the season.
"She got the chance to play," Spanks said. "Our infield was pretty solid and she wasn't going to play there. So it was just a break that she got to play."
Stowell played all 70 of the team's games in her freshman year and has been a fixture in the lineup ever since. She has not been fixed at one position, though.
A shortstop in high school, Stowell was in right field as a freshman. She switched to second base as a sophomore, played center field as a junior and has returned to second this season. Regardless of the position, the result has been the same.
"She's just one of those players who plays where she's needed and everywhere she's played she has been an All-American," Spanks said.
Besides, Stowell doesn't mind switching positions: "I just want to help the team, so wherever the coach needs me I try to fill in."
Despite her success and strong team attitude, Stowell doesn't see herself as a leader--at least not in the true sense of the word.
"We don't have one leader," she said. "Everybody, whether starter or reserve, does her thing because it's hard for one person to be the leader. I'm not that kind of player anyway. I guess, if anything, it's more (leadership) by example."
Make no mistake, Stowell has set a good example.
"As far as what she does on the field, she has a lot of respect from our players and our opponents," Spanks said. "She's much better at the college level than the average player. She does a lot that most players don't do."
The coach said that Stowell has displayed considerable improvement since her freshman year.
"She was pretty strong back then but has developed a lot of confidence in her ability," Spanks said. "She's developed a lot defensively, and maybe that's because she has played a lot of positions."
Stowell said her success has not come without work.
"I think I've learned something all the way through college, but there's still a lot to learn," she said. "Not so much on the basics, but there are so many other things you can learn every day."