Graduation was only four months away for Alison Yin when she ended her eight-year stay at Pasadena Westridge, a prestigious all-girls' school, by transferring to Santa Ana Foothill High.
The February move surprised many within the tight-knit Westridge community and those in club and high school softball circles. It was well known that Foothill lacked an experienced arm heading into this season, but Yin was never mentioned as a possible successor to Courtney Fossatti, a first-team Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Assn. All-American last season.
Two months into the season, Yin is 14-1 with a 0.35 earned-run average and 129 strikeouts in 83 innings heading into today's first round of the Foothill tournament.
"I've never been in a situation where I've practiced and played at such a high level every day," said Yin, who signed with North Carolina in December. "I'm really glad I made the right choice."
For Yin, the decision to transfer was fueled by a final opportunity to compete for a top-notch high school program and a chance for a public-school experience before heading off to college. With an enrollment approaching 2,300, Foothill has nearly five times as many students as Westridge.
"I like the co-ed environment at Foothill, the bigger classes," she said. "I like the chance to experience what most kids get to experience."
In order to proceed with the transfer, Yin moved out of her parents' Glendale home and rented a room in Tustin from family friends, who established legal guardianship. The chance to live semi-independently before leaving for North Carolina also played a part in her decision to change schools.
"I'm doing all my own laundry and grocery shopping," she said. "I think it has been a good bridge before heading off to college."
Yin quietly arrived on campus on Feb. 4, the first day of the second semester. She was so quiet, in fact, that Foothill Coach Joe Gonzalez said he never had a chance to tell her that practice is not held on Foothill's campus but across the street at another school.
A teammate finally tracked down Yin as she was preparing to leave the school's parking lot and brought her to practice, where she met her new teammates for the first time. Not long after, she was firing strike after strike.
"I had never even seen her pitch before," Gonzalez said, "but she fit in as if she had been here all four years."
The transfer of Yin has forced Gonzalez to go on the defensive for the first time in his 13 years at Foothill. Nobody has directly accused him or his assistants of recruiting Yin, but he's heard some second-hand complaints.
Gonzalez points to the long list of players who have starred at Foothill and nearly all were home-grown talent.
"We've never had any players transfer in and there's a reason for that," he said. "Our school is impacted; if you don't live in the attendance area, you don't go there."
Gonzalez added: "One of the fun parts about competing is competing within the rules."
Yin played for Westridge her freshman and sophomore seasons, then sat out last season, though she said she preferred not to discuss her reasons. Bailey Brown, who coached Lin during her freshman year at Westridge, said it was clear that year that Lin was in a class by herself.
"We didn't have one kid who could catch her," said Brown, who is coaching the Tigers' softball team again this season. "Nobody could even catch her overhand throws."
Morgan Muir, a junior catcher for Westridge, played the same position during Yin's sophomore season. She remembers the webbing of her glove exploding after one fastball. A bone in her hand fell victim to several others.
"She kept chipping away at it," Muir said of her injury. "My doctor had never seen a fracture like that."
Even so, Muir said she would have loved to catch Yin again this season. Westridge has a 2-0 record in the Prep League and is off to its best start ever.
"We would have been a shoo-in for league if we still had her," Muir said. "It's a little disheartening that she transferred."
Brown holds a similar opinion, saying she was shocked when she learned Yin was leaving Westridge so close to graduation.
"I had not seen anything like that before," Brown said. "I'm happy for her, but I question why she wouldn't want to graduate from Westridge."
Yin said she weighed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities offered her at Foothill with the chance to finish school at Westridge and found her decision to be relatively easy.
Sure, Westridge is a fine private school, she considered, but a diploma from Foothill is nothing to be ashamed of.
"The name of the school [on your diploma] doesn't really compare to being able to end high school on your own terms," she said.
So far, Yin has been a good fit at Foothill. The Knights have six returning starters from last season's team that won the Century League for the 11th consecutive season.