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Coaches Think About Moving Up

Softball: Jumping to Division I isn't for everyone.

March 11, 1997|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To go up or not? That's the question coaches of some of the county's premier teams faced last week. The divisions for the softball playoffs, for the first time, will be determined by enrollment, not by league affiliation. Like basketball, the playoffs will be regionalized. And, teams that want to move out of their division must move all the way up to Division I, the highest level of competition.

Which brings us to Mater Dei (ranked No. 1 in the state), Pacifica (No. 2) and Foothill (No. 10), three of the best Division I teams in the Southern Section--based on last year's playoff format. This season, Mater Dei would be a Division II entrant, and Foothill and Pacifica would be Division III.

All of which made Laguna Hills Coach Cary Crouch--he of the Division III Hawks--a little wary.

"If they don't go up to Division I," Crouch said, "we will."

There's actually a good deal of pride involved. Mater Dei is the defending Division I champion and returns nearly intact. It almost has to go. Foothill won the Division I title in 1992, is 79-13 the last three years, and is a threat to win the title every year.

"It's supposed to be the best division, and I'm not sure there's that much difference between the divisions, anyway," Foothill Coach Joe Gonzalez said. "We're going to go."

Pacifica Coach Rob Weil was convinced a few weeks before Friday's deadline that the Mariners were going to go Division I. "I'm not saying Division III is a bunch of slackers, but the glory is in Division I and that's where we should be playing," he said. "I think we're legitimate contenders."

On Friday, Pacifica Principal Peggy Mahfood made the decision for Weil: The Mariners would remain in the weaker Division III.

"I have mixed feelings about it," said Weil, who will have a chance to play Mater Dei in two tournaments this season. "I think I would have been a little more committed to Division I if we had dominated in Division I in the past, but that wasn't the case. This is where we belong, and this is where she said we should be. If we happen to get lucky and win a title, we'll make considerations to go Division I next year."

Woodbridge, which won the 1995 Division II title and lost in last year's championship game, is staying put.

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Remember Tanya Harding, the UCLA pitcher who helped the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA title, then bolted to Australia before classes ended, and pitched her country to an Olympic victory over the U.S. in 1996?

Over the summer, La Habra's Jenny Topping's travel ball team played the Australian national team, and Topping tripled off Harding.

Then she hit another off the Australian's other pitcher.

*

Who's on the spot this season? Here are three worth keeping an eye on:

* Canyon's catchers. Coach Lance Eddy is touting pitcher Veronica Lopez as one of the premier pitchers in the county, and that might ultimately prove the case. But Eddy is hoping one of three freshmen can emerge as a front-line catcher. If not, he weakens his infield by moving third baseman Amber Kolle behind the plate. If Lopez doesn't have a catcher who can handle her, then it might not matter.

* Marissa Young. She was the county's player of the year last season as a freshman. But she had tendinitis in her elbow in the off-season, which begs the question: What does she do for an encore?

* Garden Grove. A strained relationship between Coach Cliff White and New Mexico-bound pitcher Kathy Moore led to Moore's decision not to play this season. White is big on team and down on individual stars. Without Moore, he doesn't have a star. Question is, now does he have a top-10 team?

*

Moore's not the only college-bound player sitting out the season. Robin Tessman, who has already signed with Long Beach State and was to be one of the county's top returning players, transferred from Foothill to Orange. Tessman, who began her high school career in the Foothill district but has moved a couple of times since, had her interdistrict transfer revoked by the school after 3 1/2 years.

Although her grades for a zero period (7 a.m.) class were passing, she had trouble actually getting to class because she didn't have transportation.

Orange is 10 minutes from her house and she's using the opportunity to improve her grades.

But Tessman's departure from school caught her coach, Joe Gonzalez, off guard. He learned about it two days after she was gone.

"How does it get that far without the coach knowing about it?" he asked.

Tessman batted .443 during the regular season with 20 RBIs, five triples and five doubles.

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Woodbridge softball player Lizzy Lemire won't be the first person in her family to attend Notre Dame. Her great uncle, Jack Elder, played for Coach Knute Rockne and returned an interception 98 yards for the game's only score against Army at Yankee Stadium in the last game of the season during the undefeated 1929 national championship season.

Lemire also visited Iowa, and was contacted by Boston College, but Notre Dame was her first choice all along.

She batted .328 last year with 24 RBIs to help Woodbridge reach the Southern Section Division II finals. Lemire drove in the tying run and scored the winning run in the 1995 title game against Lakewood pitcher Angela Bessalo, currently a sophomore at Notre Dame.

*

What is it they say about the difficulty of repeating as champion? Mater Dei may have all the talent in the world, but the Monarchs have had their share of off-season adversity. They could be a little slow out of the gate because:

* Shortstop Robin Walker had an inflamed tendon in her left wrist.

* Outfielder Shealee Dunavan had a tumor removed from her glove hand. It was benign.

* Catcher Courtney Ryan had shoulder surgery, jaw surgery and, two weeks ago, appendicitis.

* Pitcher Marissa Young had tendinitis and didn't pitch in January or February. With the last batter of a scrimmage against Pacifica at the plate, she twisted her ankle on a foul ball.

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