Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera South softball player Taylor Valerio is all smiles after signing her National Letter of Intent to play softball at San Diego Christian College on Nov. 8. Sitting with her is Madera south softball coach Peter Gallegos. in back are Madera South coach Dan Ramos, father Steven Valerio, mother Monica Valerio and Madera South coach Jose Cuevas.
By finally putting pen to paper, Madera South softball player Taylor Valerio signed her National Letter of Intent in front of family and friends on the Madera South softball diamond to attend San Diego Christian College.
Valerio, who verbally committed to attend the El Cajon college after her sophomore year, put a year of waiting finally on paper Friday afternoon.
“It was the best feeling ever, having my softball friends out there who have been there for me and seen me grown for my years and my family who has always supported me 100 percent behind my back,” she said. “To sit in the chair showed everyone that I did it. I showed everyone that I could be there, go to college and sign.”
Valerio put years of hard work and determination into reaching her top goal — playing softball in college — and it didn’t go unnoticed by many.
“Students sometimes don’t realize what goes into playing a sport in college,” said Madera South athletic director Andrea Devine. “Who are the people you need to thank to be able to do that? It’s everybody from your family, your friends, parents, coaches, administration and counselors who look after you all the time, your teachers who nurture a relationship with you so you can get to the goals you want to get to. All of these people have helped Taylor, along with her own grit, hard work and commitment, because that’s what it takes to get to the next level. I commend Taylor on everything she has done on and off the field as a student-athlete, as a leader and as a member of the Stallion community.”
“I’ve coached Taylor for a long time,” said travel ball coach and Madera South assistant softball coach Alfonso Cuevas. “She is always working hard. She always gives me that smile. She is trying to do something for the team to help them win. If you want to get to this spot like Taylor, you have to have good grades and work hard like Taylor does.”
“What drove me was when people told me I couldn’t do it,” Valerio said. “I stood out there and took it to heart. I always pushed myself harder everyday. My dad told me all the time to never give up and always push to be the best you can. When everybody told me I put in the hard work was when I was out practicing at 8 p.m. with my coaches or late night practice doing infield. I was always working on something to do more to get to where I wanted to be.”
In addition, Valerio made sure to do all the little things along the way to not only make herself a better person and player, but also make her team better along the way.
“It’s self-evident that Taylor is a great player,” said Madera South head softball coach Peter Gallegos. “What word can I use to describe Taylor? It’s integrity. Basically, it’s doing something good when no one is looking. That’s Taylor on and off the field. When there’s something going on with players, she is the first one to help out. A lot of times, that’s what colleges are looking for, their character. That’s what Taylor is. She’s a hard-working, never-give-up player. Even when we were in critical situations, she never stopped fighting and never stopped believing in herself and the players behind her.”
Valerio was discovered by SDCC coach Sue McGrath during an academic showcase where players not only had to be good softball players, but also have a 4.0 grade point average and submit an essay.
“When I got a strikeout pitching (when I was at a academic showcase), I made sure everyone was into it, not just me doing the work,” Valerio said. “I went into that game and I didn’t know anyone, not my coaches, not my teammates. Once I got comfortable, I knew I had my girls behind me even though I didn’t know them. We just bonded really quickly.”
“What interested me about Taylor was her positive attitude on and off the field, her love for the game, how hard she hustled, her confidence on the mound, as well as, at the plate,” McGrath said. “Honestly, I was just there to watch her pitch, but when I saw her hit and run around the bases, I was pleasantly surprised.”
From there, it was only a matter of time before Valerio knew she wanted to go to SDCC. She had schools from Oregon, Florida and Ohio looking at her, as well as the University of Pacific, but after a visit to SDCC, she was hooked.
“The coach was really nice,” Valerio said. “She liked the way I was running the bases. When she invited me to her school, she really wanted me. I wanted to go, but I also wanted to make sure it was the place for me. When I went, I visited the campus, everyone welcomed me. The softball players talked to me like they already knew me. The classes are 8-10 people. You have a one-on-one with each of the professors. They want to make sure this is the right place for you.”
“Taylor fell in love with SDCC the first time she came down to visit,” McGrath said. “I am very excited to coach Taylor and watch her grow spiritually.”
After committing before her junior year, it was a long wait for Valerio to finally sign the letter of intent.
“It has been a long wait to sign,” Valerio said. “It’s been a lot of weight off my shoulders. I have been focusing on getting better. I have been trying to do the little things to show my coaches I am improving and maturing as I got older. I made sure my college coach knew where I wanted to go. I was sending her videos of me pitching and batting showing her I was interested in going to her school. She never gave up on me.”
Valerio will head to SDCC as one of the top recruits in the freshmen class. McGrath wanted Valerio to verbally commit after the first visit. After talking with her family, Valerio committed to SDCC and has been with the Hawks ever since.
“She offered a lot for me because she wanted to keep me,” Valerio said. “She wanted my mom to post it online after I made a verbal commitment to tell everyone that I was hers. She got me before anyone else did.”
Valerio plans to major in kinesiology to become a physical therapist.
Throughout her softball years, one constant at Valerio’s games has been her parents. They are especially glad Valerio chose to stay relatively close to home, rather than an out-of-state school.
“They were beyond relieved that I was close,” Valerio said. “They knew I wanted to go farther when I was younger, but understood that I wanted to be closer now. When I got the offer from San Diego, they wanted to make sure it was the place for me. Going into my freshman year, I know the girls and people at the school, they are more relieved that I’m not that far and not too close. They know they can just drive down just to see me and see me play.”
Now a few hours away, Valerio is happy that her family will be able to see her play and are not that far away when they need each other.
“It’s good to be a few hours away, but I wish I was a little bit closer,” she said. “When I was younger, I wanted to go far. Now that I’m older and maturing, I know I need my parents for everything. It’s going to be hard with my dad not being out there watching me because he’s been with me through everything. My mom and dad have been to every one of my tournaments. I know they are going to take their trailer down there and be there for every game to watch me so it will feel like I’m at home.”
McGrath said Valerio will pitch for the Hawks, but will also have a place in the line-up, as well as an opportunity to play other positions.
“She loves my batting and the way I run the base,” Valerio said.
Now that the signing is out of the way, Valerio has her senior season in front of her and has her sights on some jewelry.
“It’s making me strive more and leave my girls a foundation that they need to work hard, but have fun working hard,” she said. “They need to pay attention and need to listen to everyone. If any of the seniors speak, they need to take it in with respect and work on it. We’re telling them to help them grow. We (the seniors) have grown. We want to see the other girls to grow more. I want them with something they can grow on more. I want to get a Valley ring. This is our year.”