Two big-time pitchers who also did some hitting grab the top honors among juniors and sophomores while a player who wowed many with her leadoff hitting skills gains the same honor among freshmen. We also are proud to announce our state medium schools and state small schools players of the year.
For more on Ms. Softball State Player of the Year Jessica Oakland, CLICK HERE.
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Congratulations to the following five players also who also have been selected this week as Cal-Hi Sports State Players of the Year. Thanks to associate editor Harold Abend for doing the writeup on the freshman.
Kai Minor (Lutheran, Orange)
When we saw Kai Minor of Orange Lutheran at this past season’s Michelle Carew Classic in Anaheim, there was no question she was the best freshman in the tournament, and quite frankly one of the best freshman we’ve ever seen in three decades of covering high school softball in California. Her Lancers lost 2-1 in the title game to host Canyon, but Minor showed she was not only the best freshman in the tournament but one of the best players period after her overall performance in the five-game Carew Classic earned her Co-Most ValuablePlayer honors. Now it has culminated in her being named the 2022 State Freshman of the Year.
“Thank you so much. It feels really good to be honored,” said Minor this past Sunday morning after wrapping up a camp at Oklahoma with the next destination the prestigious IDT Tournament in Boulder, Colorado where she will join her OC Batbusters 18U travel ball team.
Eric-Paul Johnson, who covers high school sports for the Southern California News Group Inland Empire newspapers and websites, and who has seen four Ms. Softball winners from Norco in the last nine selections, as well as countless other top softball talent in Southern California, took it a step further in talking about Minor.
“She was the best player I saw this season,” Johnson remarked.
Playing against some of the toughest high school competition in the nation, Minor had a .532 batting average and a .579 on-base percentage. The Lancers’ leadoff hitter also collected seven home runs, six triples, five doubles and had 20 RBI despite not really being a power hitter. Her 50 hits and 40 runs scored were tops in the state for freshmen on a state ranked team after 21-9 Orange Lutheran finished No. 26 in the final expanded rankings.
Based on the situation, the super-speedy Minor, who can slap or take a full swing with power that comes from excellent bat speed, and who is almost impossible to retire if she makes contact, also had 22 stolen bases. Not surprisingly the 22 thefts came in 22 attempts and was the top mark for any freshman from a ranked team.
The ultimate contact hitter only walked 11 times, but she also only struck out on 12 occasions in 30 games.
“I feel like it’s about keeping it simple,” Minor said. “If I need to get a single I can slap it, and if I need to drive in runners I can do that when called on.”
Kai excels in the classroom as well where she carries a 4.0 GPA.
Minor is the second straight state freshman of the year from Orange County after Brynne Nally of Garden Grove Pacifica from last season. She is also the first softball state player of the year in any category from Orange Lutheran.
Recent State Freshmen of the Year: 2021 – Brynne Nally (Garden Grove Pacifica); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Ramsey Suarez (Temecula Great Oak); 2018 – Cydney Sanders (San Marcos); 2017 – Nicole May (Pleasanton Foothill); 2016 – Kinzie Hansen (Norco); 2015 – Danielle Williams (Pleasanton Amador Valley); 2014 – Taylon Snow (Chino Hills); 2013 – Zoe Marrott (Moraga Campolindo); 2012 – Amanda Lorenz (Moorpark); 2011 – Tera Blanco (Huntington Beach Marina); 2010 – Ali Aguilar (Orangevale Casa Roble); 2009 – Nancy Bowling (Simi Valley Royal); 2008 – Dani Gilmore (Woodland Hills El Camino Real).
Ryan Maddox (Clovis North, Fresno)
If it weren’t for an injury that knocked out Ryan from the CIF Central Section D1 playoffs, who knows how far the Clovis North team would have gone in the first-ever regional playoffs? As it was, the Broncos lost in the section quarterfinals. That realistically prevented Maddox from being Ms. Softball, but in looking over all of the other juniors she still did more than enough to be State Junior of the Year.
After finishing in a close second to Norco’s Mya Perez as a sophomore, Maddox went 20-2 in the circle for the 21-3 Broncos. She also had a 0.36 ERA and struck out 264 batters in 136 2/3 innings. In a 1-0 win over Clovis West, the Golden Eagles got one hit but all 21 outs in the game were on strikeouts. Ryan also had two no-hitters.
It was Maddox’s batting, though, that was much improved from the year before. In fact, she got at least one hit in every game and will take a 24-game hitting streak into next season. Ryan also had a .506 average with 11 doubles and three homers. In one of the team’s three losses, 2-1 to Clovis, she struck out 19 batters in 12 innings and went 4-for-6 at the plate.
It was in 2019 at the PGF Nationals as a 14-year-old where Maddox became a target for major national programs. She has since committed to Arizona.
With her being State Junior of the Year, that also of course begs the question whether Clovis North head coach Courtney Dale had received that honor when she was playing at Bullard of Fresno. The answer is yes. Coach Dale was the 1995 State Junior of the Year. The only other ever from the CIF Central Section has been Megan Langenfeld from Centennial of Bakersfield in 2005. Coach Dale also was Ms. Softball as a junior, but it was Amanda Scott of Clovis who was Ms. Softball the next season. Ryan doesn’t have a local rival quite like that, but there will be others next season from elsewhere in the state.
Recent State Juniors of the Year: 2021 – Jessica Oakland (Mountain View St. Francis); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Nicole May (Pleasanton Foothill); 2018 – Kinzie Hansen (Norco); 2017 – Megan Faraimo (San Diego Cathedral Catholic); 2016 – Camryn Ybarra (Mission Viejo); 2015 – Mia Camuso (Redding Shasta); 2014 – Taylor McQuillin (Mission Viejo); 2013 – Johanna Grauer (Pleasanton Amador Valley); 2012 – Gabrielle Maurice (Modesto Beyer); 2011 – Melissa Taukieaho (Etiwanda); 2010 – Lauren Chamberlain (Lake Forest El Toro); 2009 – Taylor Edwards (Murrieta Vista Murrieta).
Cambria Salmon (Beaumont)
For the second straight year, a player who had been chosen as the IE Varsity Player of the Year by the Riverside Press-Enterprise has followed up by earning State Sophomore of the Year honors. Last year it was slugger Mya Perez of Norco. This year it’s Salmon, who has been one of the top ranked recruits in her class in the nation since she was a freshman.
Perhaps the best way to measure Salmon’s impact in Beaumont’s 23-5 season are to look at the losses. Four of the five were in 1-0 games against some of the best competition in the nation (including Los Alamitos and Norco). The fifth was 14-0 in a game that Cambria didn’t play or pitch in.
Another good way is the strikeouts. For Salmon, it was 309 in 160 1/3 innings (almost two for every inning). She also had a 19-4 record (remember all four losses were 1-0) and a 0.54 ERA. And with many top players, Cambria also was one of Beaumont’s leading hitters. She ended with a .338 average with a team-leading 19 RBI and five homers.
“There was a lot of pressure pitching in so many close games like that, but you just have to trust your stuff and continue to do the job you’re supposed to do,” Salmon told the Press-Enterprise. “Softball can be a game of failures, but if you do your part to the best of your ability, you can walk away with your head held high.”
Until the recent run of Norco players, there had only been one other Inland Empire area State Sophomore Player of the Year since 1975. That was Sarah Farnworth of Upland for 1997. She has since gone on to become Upland’s head coach.
Recent State Sophomores of the Year: 2021 – Mya Perez (Norco); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Savannah Pola (Santa Ana Godinez); 2018 – Sarah Willis (Norco); 2017 – Kinzie Hansen (Norco); 2016 – Vanessa Strong (Oakley Freedom); 2015 – Holly Azevedo (San Jose Pioneer); 2014 – Katie Kibby (Vacaville); 2013 – Alyssa Palomino (Mission Viejo); 2012 – Johanna Grauer (Pleasanton Amador Valley); 2011 – Gabrielle Maurice (Modesto Beyer); 2010 – Nancy Bowling (Simi Valley Royal); 2009 – Ally Carda (Elk Grove Pleasant Grove).
Riley Wickum (Sutter) Sr.
As a junior, Riley was just nudged out as the small schools state player of the year by Marin Catholic senior Anabel Teperson. This time, even though Wickum’s team at Sutter moved up to medium schools based on its CIF divisional placement of D3, it didn’t matter. She’s the top choice for a state player of the year honor.
Wickum is the first-ever state medium schools player of the year from the CIF Northern Section. The section has only had one player of the year ever in either medium or small since 1985 when those selections began and that was Sutter’s Jessica Moore for small schools in 2009.
In her final game, Wickum struck out eight and scattered six hits as the Huskies nudged Central of Fresno, 2-1, to win the CIF NorCal D3 regional title. Some of her other previous playoff outings were a two-hitter (9 strikeouts) in a 2-0 win over Wheatland for the section title and a one-hitter (12 strikeouts) in a NorCal win against San Rafael. One of Riley’s top regular season games was collecting a season-high 18 strikeouts and going 2-for-4 with a homer in a 3-2 win over Sac-Joaquin Section D4 finalist Marysville.
For the season, Wickum finished 25-1 for the 30-1 Huskies (who were No. 25 in the final overall state rankings and were No. 1 for D3). She also had a 0.41 ERA and 303 strikeouts. As a batter, teammates Ella and Avery Jolley were the leaders, but Wickum was up there as well with a .470 batting average. She also had two homers and 35 RBI.
Wickum, whose next stop will be at Cal State Northridge, already has been selected Northern Section Player of the Year.
Recent Medium Schools State Players of the Year: 2021 – Brooklyn Carrion (La Habra Whittier Christian); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Lexi Webb (Oakdale); 2018 – Maile Newman (Torrance West); 2017 – Brooke Yanez (Ventura Buena); 2016 – Nicole Bates (Ceres); 2015 – Rachel Garcia (Palmdale Highland); 2014 – Kylee Perez (Martinez Alhambra); 2013 – Rachel Garcia (Palmdale Highland); 2012 – Nisa Ontiveros (Bakersfield Ridgeview); 2011 – Cheyenne Cordes (Fairfield Rodriguez); 2010 – Courtney Ceo (Lake of the Pines Bear River); 2009 – Jenna Rich (El Segundo); 2008 – Erin Arevalo (Manteca East Union).
Natalie Gleason (Capistrano Valley Christian, SJ Capistrano) Sr.
After a junior season in which Natalie was sidelined with a knee injury, her senior season is ending with the small schools state player of the year honor.
And what a senior season it was. Gleason led the Eagles to the CIF Southern Section D7 title and a 28-2 record. They didn’t quite end everything with a cherry on top due to an upset loss to Nipomo in the CIF SoCal D5 semifinals, but Gleason’s season was too much for any other small school players that were considered.
The Grand Canyon University D1 recruit blasted 18 homers to rank third in the state among reported leaders to MaxPreps. The also was third in RBI with 71 and second in runs scored with 64. Gleason also had 59 hits and a .711 season batting average. She didn’t pitch that much, but in 30 innings did add a 5-0 record with a 1.17 ERA and 41 strikeouts.
Gleason began her career for two years at nearby San Juan Hills and transferred to Capo Valley Christian not so much for softball but more to return to in-person classes more quickly due to the pandemic. She only played five games at her new school until this season and also had to overcome the sudden death of Firecrackers’ club coach Bill Hicks in 2021.
Before Gleason this year, the only other small schools state player of the year in softball from Orange County has been Christy Ring of Santa Ana Calvary Chapel in 1998.
Recent Small Schools State Players of the Year: 2021 – Anabel Teperson (Kentfield Marin Catholic); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Sydney Kuma (Easton Washington); 2018 – Lindsey Walljasper (Manteca Sierra); 2017 – Livy Schiele (La Jolla Bishop’s); 2016 – Kailia Searcy (Lancaster Paraclete); 2015 – Zoe Casas (San Bernardino Aquinas); 2014 – Grayce Majam (Pine Valley Mountain Empire); 2013 – Zoe Casas (San Bernardino Aquinas); 2012 – Cheridan Hawkins (Anderson); 2011 – Elizabeth Caporuscio (Lake Arrowhead Rim of the World); 2010 – Sammy Albanese (Palo Alto Castilleja); 2009 – Jessica Moore (Sutter).
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports