For a rundown of the other Cal-Hi Sports State Players of the Year for softball,
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Splitting hairs is getting to be a commonplace experience in the selection process for California’s longest-running and most prestigious individual high school softball honor.
Two years ago, it was Oklahoma-bound catcher Kinzie Hansen of Norco getting the nod (partly over her own teammate, Sarah Willis, a pitcher) and for 2021 it’s a catcher who again has been singled out — barely — over several other leading contenders. The catcher this time is top 15 national recruit (according to ExtraInning Softball) Jayla Castro of Rocklin (in the Sacramento area). She had the type of season for a championship-level squad always looked for to be the Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State Player of the Year and this week has indeed been named as the honoree for 2021.
There were a couple of obstacles that Jayla had to overcome in getting to the top position. First is that her Rocklin team wasn’t able to win a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section title since that section cancelled its playoffs earlier in the school year. Still, the Thunder won the title in one of the top leagues in Northern California (Sierra Foothill), finished 18-2 overall and were No. 12 in the final overall state rankings. Second is that the local Sacramento Bee went with co-players of the year for its postseason honors as Jayla shared that with her pitching teammate, Brooke Thompson (Boise State). We don’t have ties and are confident still choosing Jayla higher than her teammate because that’s what the league coaches did in naming her as MVP.
In Rocklin’s 18-2 season, Castro was its leading hitter (.500) and also led the team in hits (24), and home runs (8). She also had a .600 on-base average.
Defense isn’t often mentioned as a key part of the player of the year formula, but Jayla checked off on that box in a major way with just two errors this season, one in 2020 in the short season, zero in 2019 (25 games) and a .989 fielding percentage for her career. This season, she also threw out five runners on the bases.
Another aspect of the selection criteria that made it more likely to look toward Northern California for the top softball player position was that there was a lack of consensus for top honors in Southern California.
While the Gatorade State Player of the Year was Villa Park junior Sydney Somerndike, she lost in her last game (which was played after the Gatorade choice was made), which is why Upland’s Sarah Haendiges was the CIF Southern Section D2 Player of the Year (her team won in game Villa Park lost). Somerndike was the Orange County Register Pitcher of Year, but Huntington Beach’s Devyn Greer (a senior) was the Orange County Player of the Year. The L.A. Times Player of the Year, meanwhile, was Esperanza of Anaheim pitcher Emily Gomez, but Oklahoma-bound Hannah Coor was the Aztecs’ leading recruit and also had a strong season (7 homers).
Another NorCal player also was strongly considered for Ms. Softball and that would be St. Francis of Mountain View slugger Jessica Oakland. She belted 19 homers to lead the state for the 26-0 Lancers and has edged Somerndike as the State Junior Player of the Year. Oakland is a University of Minnesota recruit (which is great but it’s not UCLA or Oklahoma).
As you can see, it was very close and we acknowledge that someone else might evaluate the top group much differently and it also wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.
Castro is the first Ms. Softball State Player of the Year from the Sacramento area since 1999 when the honoree was pitcher Andrea Vidlund from Casa Roble of Orangevale. The CIF Sac-Joaquin Section has had more recent winners, though, including Nicole “Sis” Bates of Ceres just five years ago. Katie Cotta of Linden and Anjelica Selden from Vanden (Fairfield) also were back-to-back selections from the SJS for 2005 and 2004.
“I wouldn’t have been able to get everything I’ve had without the people pushing me to do it,” Castro said in a recent interview with Nick Pecoraro of Gold Country Media. “You’re not going to remember how many games you won, you’re gonna remember who you played beside or who picked you up in that seventh inning.”
Castro’s team-first attitude also should help her to fit in well at UCLA.
“Coming into this season, I just wanted to be that teammate you could depend on,” she said in the same interview with Pecoraro. “I wanted to be that person that if you’re in a slump, if you need advice, someone to work out with, someone to bring up your confidence, I got you.”
Well, Kayla, before you get too settled in Westwood, we got you, too, as the 2021 State Player of the Year.
ALL-TIME LIST CAL-HI SPORTS
MS. SOFTBALL STATE PLAYERS
OF THE YEAR
2021 – Jayla Castro, Rocklin C
2020 – No selection (pandemic)
2019 – Kinzie Hansen, Norco C
2018 – Payton Tidd, San Marcos P-OF
2017 – Taylor Dockins, Norco P-DH
2016 – Nicole Bates, Ceres INF
2015 – Taylor McQuillin, Mission Viejo P
2014 – Johanna Grauer, Pleasanton Amador Valley
2013 – Kylie Reed, Norco INF
2012 – Emily Lockman, Norco P
2011 – Lauren Sweet, Corona Santiago C
2010 – Jessica Hall, Chino Hills Ayala P
2009 – Keilani Ricketts, San Jose Archbishop Mitty P-DH
2008 – Jessica Spigner, Valencia P-SS
2007 – Jordan Taylor, Valencia P
2006 – Amanda Williams, Oakley Freedom P
2005 – Katie Cotta, Linden P-DH
2004 – Anjelica Selden, Travis AFB Vanden P
2003 – Lisa Dodd, San Diego University City P-DH
2002 – Alicia Hollowell, Fairfield P
2001 – Marissa Marzan, Fresno Bullard P
2000 – Jamie Southern, Clovis, P-INF
1999 – Andrea Vidlund, Orangevale Casa Roble, P
1998 – Amanda Freed, Garden Grove Pacifica, P
1997 – Amanda Freed, Garden Grove Pacifica, P
1996 – Amanda Scott, Clovis P
1995 – Courtney Dale, Fresno Bullard P (Jr.)
1994 – Sara Griffin, Simi Valley P
1993 – Sara Griffin, Simi Valley P
1992 – Leah O’Brien, Chino Don Lugo P
1991 – Jennifer Brundage, Irvine P
1990 – Karen Jackson, Roseville P
1989 – Lisa Fernandez, Lakewood St. Joseph P
1988 – Michele Granger, Placentia Valencia P
1987 – Michele Granger, Placentia Valencia P
1986 – Michele Granger, Placentia Valencia P
1985 – Jackie Oakley, Huntington Beach Ocean View P
1984 – Samantha Ford, Newhall Hart P
1983 – Shawn Andaya, Lodi P
1982 – Kandy Foust, Santa Maria Righetti P
1981 – Tracy Compton, Santa Maria Righetti P
1980 – Tracy Compton, Santa Maria Righetti P
1979 – Mary Lou Ramm, Chula Vista Hilltop P
1978 – Teri Young, El Segundo P
1977 – Karen Andrews, San Diego Henry P
1976 – Jan Jeffers, Lompoc P
1975 – Barbara Reinalda, Cerritos Valley Christian P
1974 – Barbara Reinalda, Cerritos Valley Christian P