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Secrets of Success : St. Lucy Softball Players Excel in Classroom as Well as on Field

May 01, 1997|MARK STRODER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Education has always been the top priority at St. Lucy's High in Glendora.

So it has been a surprise to many that the all-girls Catholic school with an enrollment of 850 has developed into one of the Southland's softball powers.

No one is more surprised than the athletes themselves.

Third baseman Kyla Hattabaugh carries a 3.8 grade-point average and plans to study psychology next year at Northwestern.

She can also hit the cover off a softball, as her .397 batting average would attest.

Pitcher Kristina Gandara has 11 victories and gives up less than one earned run a game. But she is prouder of her acceptance into Texas A&M and looks forward to a career in sports medicine.

Angel Braden plays shortstop, is batting .403 and leads the team with 18 runs batted in. Teaching is her first love, though. She plans to major in math at Minnesota and hopes to return to teach and coach at St. Lucy's.

Cate Otto is headed to DePaul in the fall. She has a 3.74 GPA and wants to be a physical therapist. She is also a slick-fielding second baseman and one of the team leaders.

Those four seniors each went to St. Lucy's with one goal: to get the best possible education. But they got more than they had planned on--including athletic scholarships to Division I universities.

St. Lucy's Coach Dave Confair has also received unexpected rewards, including a Southern Section Division III softball championship in 1994.

"I can't explain how a school that stresses academics so much has had this kind of athletic success," said Confair, whose teams have an 83-22 record during the last four seasons, including 17-6 this year. "It took a lot of luck for us to get this kind of talent even though all the girls came here for an education."

Confair received his first stroke of luck in 1993 when Stacey Nuveman enrolled at St. Lucy's. Nuveman, one of the top hitters in the nation as a freshman this season at UCLA, helped bring respectability to the program. She played four positions and batted .448 with 11 home runs and 87 RBIs in her high school career and was an All-Southern Section selection three times.

Nuveman teamed with Gandara, Braden and Hattabaugh three years ago to help the school win its only athletic championship with a 3-0 victory over Redondo in the final.

St. Lucy's will be a leading contender for a title again this season and the future appears bright. Three of the Regents' best players will be back next season.

Two juniors, pitcher/first baseman Shannon Walsh and catcher Natalie Anter, were All-Southern Section last season, and sophomore outfielder Libby Ramos leads the team with a .412 batting average and is hitting more than .700 in Baseline League play.

All three also excel in the classroom, the norm at St. Lucy's; 99.5% of last year's senior class are attending college, and 83% of those students are attending four-year universities.

Which again raises the question of how these outstanding student athletes came together. Many knew each other before enrolling.

Otto went to St. Lucy's her sophomore year at the suggestion of her best friend, Walsh, who sang the praises of the academic program. They had met in eighth grade while playing for an Orange County traveling softball team.

Braden and Gandara played for the same travel team. They had helped convince Walsh to attend St. Lucy's for the education.

Anter also enrolled after her father spoke with Walsh's father about the school's academic reputation.

Ramos appears to be the only player drawn to the school--at least somewhat--by the success of the softball program.

"I saw the team play in the CIF championship game three years ago and the program seemed great," Ramos said. "I knew then that St. Lucy's was where I wanted to go."

The players are as close off the field as they are successful on it. A "Secret Pals" tradition began four years ago. Each player draws a teammate's name before league play begins and, throughout the league season, secretly gives small gifts, along with an inspirational note before each game.

"We don't forget about each other," said Gandara, who has struck out 101 batters in 103 innings. "We don't forget about the things that help keep us close. We'll do anything to keep team unity."

Said Braden: "I don't have a best friend [on the team]. That would be too hard to pick. We all really click. We're usually together everywhere we go."

They also support each other. Otto broke her wrist in March in a car accident, forcing her to sit out three weeks.

"I was really upset about being hurt, but three teammates came to the hospital that night and brought me ice cream," Otto said. "They picked me up right away. I never had a chance to get really bummed out."

Said Braden: "The winning and the success has been great, but the camaraderie is what I'll remember the most."

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