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Memory of Coach Inspires Players

May 19, 2003|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Chelsea Bow still visits the gravesite twice a week. It has been more than four months since Stephanie Hocking, an assistant coach at Riverside King, died after battling a rare cancer. But the impact of Hocking's life is still felt by the team she left behind.

Or, more appropriately, the team she never left at all.

The defending Southern Section Division III champions have had a season filled with adversity, but after Hocking's death, everything else seemed minor. After struggling early the Wolves (16-8) reeled off 12 consecutive victories to win the Sunkist League title.

Victories in a season filled with loss.

"We were pretty devastated," said junior shortstop Anna Beardman, whose shoulder surgery for bursitis in mid-March ended her season. "It was hard at first. Even though I don't want to say we moved on, we've been able to keep going.

"It's tough, but we got through it."

Some have gotten through it easier than others, but no one has had a more difficult time than Bow, a junior outfielder who considered Hocking her best friend and mentor. Bow played on Hocking's travel team, the Dynasty, and they even played slo-pitch coed softball on the same team, along with Chelsea's mother, Holly.

"I just really connected with her," Bow said. "She understood me, and we would sit and talk.... Her advice was always good."

So was the example set by Hocking, a pitcher who graduated in 1997 from Riverside Ramona as Stephanie Skamnes. She played at Iowa State, but returned home after one year to care for her mother, Sandi, who suffered from kidney failure.

Stephanie was also homesick for her brother, Scott, and wanted to build a relationship with her future husband, Trevor Hocking.

She enrolled at Riverside College, where she excelled as a goalie in water polo, a sport she had never played until the 1998 and 1999 seasons. She was offered a scholarship to play soccer at Cal Baptist, but she declined.

She was finishing her general education classes at Riverside on her quest to become a teacher when she died Jan. 11 while playing in a softball league game. The death was apparently from a cancer-induced blood clot.

To a girl, King players talk of Hocking's desire to forge ahead despite the cancer that was discovered in August 2000, after giving birth to her son, Hunter, now 3.

She had difficulty losing the birth weight, and doctors diagnosed her with terminal adrenal cortical carcinoma, which strikes about one in 2 million people. She was given six weeks to live, but after receiving much chemotherapy and having a kidney removed, she continued to coach the junior varsity team and, last season, assisted with the varsity.

"She was the bravest woman I have ever met," said Beardman, who wrote a poem about Hocking that hangs on the equipment shed. The team is trying to get the field named for her, and also keeps a photo of Hocking in the dugout.

During King's league championship season last year, in only its third year of existence, Hocking worked with the outfielders, pitchers and catchers, and was also responsible for calling pitches for standout Heather Booth.

Catcher Heather Gutterud, who will play next season at Columbia, said Hocking never had a mean word to say.

One time, a former coach instructed Hocking to dress down the outfielders during a particularly tough day of trying to catch fly balls.

"She was waving her finger at us and saying, 'You guys, I'm supposed to be yelling at you but can't do it, so act like you're being yelled at,' " recalled Bow, who said Hocking helped make her a better player.

King players have had to offset the difficulties of losing Hocking, as well as three returning starters to injuries and illness: Beardman, sophomore second baseman Mia Sarah Cesena (broken leg) and senior outfielder Lily Cornejo (appendectomy).

Amanda Mendez and Brianne Hoquist filled in the hole left in the middle of the infield, and freshman Lindsay Horta has stepped in to replace Booth, who went to Notre Dame.

They are now in position to make a run at another title. They haven't lost since dropping consecutive games to Simi Valley Royal and Corona Santiago in the Santa Ana Foothill tournament.


Biggest game of the season? There's a good case for last Friday's game between Anaheim Magnolia (9-15) and Anaheim Century (7-11).

Neither was eligible for the playoffs without receiving one of the Orange League's three automatic playoff berths.

Magnolia won, 4-0, as Megan Sutherland had a triple and scored the decisive run in the fifth inning.


Southern Section playoff pairings for all six divisions will be announced today. Wild-card games are Wednesday and first-round games are Friday.

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