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Vandergeest Is Back at Catcher and Now She Drives Truck After Two Automobile Accidents

March 01, 2000|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — Catcher Mackenzie Vandergeest of La Reina High has been the Regents' driving force for three seasons.

If only Vandergeest was as accomplished at driving a car as driving in runs, Coach Don Hyatt might sleep better.

"Mr. Hyatt says I'm not allowed to drive until I'm done with softball," Vandergeest said.

Hyatt would have good reason for keeping Vandergeest off the road. The holder of three single-season La Reina records and among the region's top recruits was involved in two major car accidents last year.

Arizona-bound Vandergeest rolled her sports car in the second accident in November, but the first accident last February took a bigger toll on the 18-year-old.

Just before the start of softball season, a driver failed to obey a four-way stop and struck Vandergeest's Mitsubishi Eclipse on the driver's door.

Although the car was traveling at a low rate of speed, the impact left Vandergeest with terrible back pain, aggravating her scoliosis, a congenital condition.

But Vandergeest overcame the pain and returned to practice after nine days, maintaining her perfect posture.

"She hid it very well," Hyatt said.

However, Hyatt was not convinced Vandergeest was ready to pick up where she left off in 1998. Upon her return, she played designated player or outfield rather than catcher. For a player accustomed to being part of every pitch, a reduced role was tough to play.

"A lot of kids would not have even competed with all that she went through," Hyatt said.

Vandergeest worked her way back behind the plate. Clearly, she was not the same Vandergeest who batted .512 as a sophomore and set single-season records with 43 hits, 30 runs scored and 31 RBIs.

"Bottom line, we didn't tell anybody, but she was not anywhere close to full strength last year," Hyatt said.

"But we needed her in the lineup for the mental aspect more than anything else."

Vandergeest, a career .425 hitter, suffered through her worst season, batting .367 with nine doubles and 25 RBIs. Impressive numbers for most players, but not for Vandergeest, who blames herself for setting her goals too high.

"I'm not setting goals for myself this year because that kind of backfired last year," she said.

"Yeah, there was the accident, but that's no excuse. I set so many goals and thought that I was going to kick everyone's butt in [the Tri-Valley League], and I kind of lost who I was."

By all accounts, a healthy Vandergeest is much more grounded these days.

After rolling her sports car down a small embankment near an offramp on the 101 Freeway, Vandergeest got rid of her black roadster and now drives a small pickup truck.

She's also adopted a more conservative approach to driving.

"Now I totally drive away from everyone," Vandergeest said. "It opened my eyes."

Hyatt is as happy to see Vandergeest in a truck as he is to witness the reemergence of probably the finest player ever at La Reina, which also produced standouts Kathy Slaten and Shane Anderson.

"What I see now is the same girl I saw as a sophomore or even as a freshman . . . who was able to go out and go all day," Hyatt said.

"I don't think I've ever seen anybody go to the plate and want it as much as her."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Top 10

Preseason rankings region softball teams

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RK School (League) '99 Rec. 1 Camarillo (Pacific View) 22-7 2 Thousand Oaks (Marmonte) 23-9 3 Crescenta Valley (Pacific) 21-6 4 Newbury Park (Marmonte) 24-8 5 Highland (Golden) 19-11 6 Westlake (Marmonte) 18-10 7 Hart (Foothill) 23-6 8 Chaminade (Mission) 25-6 9 Saugus (Foothill) 18-10 10 Quartz Hill (Golden) 25-2

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