By Ray Hamill — College of the Redwoods continued to generate excitement around its sports teams on Monday, with the announcement of another huge recruiting class.
A total of 10 local stars signed letters of commitment to play for the softball team next year, including eight combined from McKinleyville and Eureka, the two teams who battled it out for the Big 5 championship over the weekend.
“A significant day” for the school’s athletic department is how long-time Athletic Director Bob Brown described it to a large gathering of friends, teammates and family in the CR gymnasium.
“This one was like a kid in a candy store last week,” Brown said of softball head coach Maggie White, who landed the largest one-day recruitment of local stars in her 23 years with the program. “I know she’s super excited.”
White has reason to be.
Four of the new recruits are key members of McKinleyville’s Big 5 championship winning team, including pitcher McKenzie Gonsalves and infielders Jaycee Morais, Grace Rosebrook and McKenna Turner.
Joining them will be the Eureka quartet of Sadie Wilkinson, Karyn Jensen, Raime Young and Briana Graham, all of them all-league candidates for the Loggers.
And rounding out the impressive class is Del Norte’s Laycee Coopman and Fortuna’s Paige Johnson, the latter of whom recently signed a letter of intent to play volleyball for the Corsairs as well.
“Family’s big to me and I wanted to be close to home,” Johnson said when asked about her decision to stay.
Many of the other players echoed the sentiment.
The incoming class will add plenty of depth and competition for places for the Corsairs, who are also expected to return several freshmen from a team that finished third in the Golden Valley Conference this past season.
Many of the current CR players were on hand to welcome the new signings.
“We have a strong freshman class, and if we can get them to return, it’s going to be a good year for us,” White said.
The CR head coach is very familiar with all of the new players, having watched them play locally for years, often side by side.
“I watched McKenzie in her first game as a freshman, and in her first at-bat — I think it was her first at-bat — she hit a home run,” White said. “And I remember thinking, I hope she can play for me some day.”
Gonsalves has been lighting up the Big 5 for the past four seasons, both at the plate and in the pitcher’s circle, and has been playing alongside her cousin, Morais, since they were both seven, a partnership they will now continue into college.
Morais will also follow in the footsteps of her mother, Tiffany, who played volleyball at CR back when White was first coaching at the school in the late 1990s.
Rosebrook, who also starred in both soccer and basketball at McKinleyville, has a GPA of 4.2, and is one of the smartest players on the field of competition in all three sports.
“They’re not just a bunch of good softball players,” White told the gathering. “They’re good students.”
Turner too has been inspirational for the Panthers, returning with a bang this season after missing each of the past two years with a torn ACL suffered in basketball.
Johnson, meanwhile, brings a wealth of experience in the game and is a fundamentally sound all-around athlete.
“For the past two years she has played a solid first base for us and has been our No. 3 hitter, batting over .400,” Fortuna head coach Eric Helms said of Johnson. “Her love of the game will meld well with what CR already has coming in next year.”
Despite her team’s struggles this season, Coopman has played well in the infield and at the plate.
White has been aware of the Del Norte senior and her talents for some time, having coached her aunt and current Del Norte head coach Jackie Heuberger.
White also is excited about the addition of Wilkinson, another player who knows the game well and someone who has been pivotal behind the plate for the Loggers throughout her high school career.
“Sadie is a leader,” White said. “You can tell she’s a leader.”
All of the new players are expected to have an impact offensively.
“There’s a lot of hitting there,” White said of the group. “And confident hitting.”
Perhaps none more so than Jensen, who has been tearing up the Big 5 this season, hitting her fifth home run of the year over the weekend.
“She’s got a bat and it’s only getting better,” White said of the Eureka senior, who is hitting a very impressive .507 on the year.
Young has also been a force at the plate, with a .430 average and a co-team-high nine doubles.
Graham, one of five seniors honored before Saturday’s league-deciding doubleheader, is hitting .211 with 11 RBIs.
The big day of signings was the second for CR this year, following on from the six all-league local boys basketball players who signed letters of commitment to play for new Redwoods coach Ryan Bisio in early March.