Heralded catcher continues career
For The Madera Tribune
Madera Coyotes softball player Valerie Ornelas points to the ‘F’ for CSU Fullerton after she signed her National Letter of Intent to play softball at the school. With her, from left, are sister Natalie, mother Laura and father Smiley Ornelas.
Madera Coyotes catcher Valerie Ornelas entered her senior year with a chance to etch her name into the softball record books and then her season ended 12 games in.
Although she set one of those records, Ornelas was saddened her senior season came to a sudden halt, although she signed a National Letter of Intent to play softball next season at CSU Fullerton in November.
“No one is going to know how we could have done,” she said. “There was so much we could have done. We were all doing well. It was super special for us. We were 12-0 and on a hot streak. We were on that peak and it was going to take a lost to get off that high. We were going to battle and give everything on that field because we didn’t want to lose.”
Ornelas was second on the team with a .472 batting average with three home runs, five doubles and 13 RBIs, all team-leading marks. She also scored 15 runs and was hit by a pitch six times.
She set the school record for home runs in a season with 12, breaking the old mark of 10. She also finished six RBIs short of the school career record and had a chance to break the single season RBI mark.
“I wanted to prove something for myself and give back to the coaches and be the senior and be the leader on and off the field that Coach (Judy) Shaubach and Coach A (Melissa Armiento-van Loon) deserve,” she said.
Ornelas is also part of a Madera Coyote softball senior class that has all five players playing in college next season with four attending four-year schools and three going to Div. I schools. She, along with Camile Nunez, Joslynn Davis and Sofia Perez, is also a four-year varsity player.
“That was awesome,” Ornelas said. “We grew up together. It’s amazing to know three other of my teammates are signing to play softball. We’re going to be able to live out our dreams. It’s amazing in Madera because you don’t see that a lot.”
Ornelas was the first of the four to commit to a college. For her, it was between Fullerton and Fresno State.
“I wasn’t really looking at Fullerton,” she said. “I wanted to go to Fresno State. I went to a camp my eighth grade year and nothing came from it and turned my focus to Fresno State. It’s a great program and the pride of the valley. That’s where I wanted to go. I switched summer league teams and my dad and I sent an e-mail to let Fullerton know we switched teams. They came out to a couple of games and invited me to a recruiting commit camp. I went and did awesome. They wanted me to go back for an unofficial visit. I went and I loved it. It was the summer going into my sophomore year. We didn’t want me to make a decision because I had a big tournament coming up. I didn’t want to wait. I knew that’s where I wanted to go. I didn’t feel the need to go to a big program because I felt I could make a difference at a smaller school. I committed and that was it. It was between Fresno State and Fullerton and I don’t regret anything.”
Ornelas grew to love the environment the current coaches were creating and have created.
“When I first went there, the head coach was in her third or fourth year,” Ornelas said. “It was fairly new, but she was creating a more competitive environment. They went being a top 200 team to a top 50 team. It was a huge jump in the ranking and it was because of the coaching and the expectations. The whole coaching staff is down-to-earth. When I met the girls, it was more of a family environment. I didn’t want to go somewhere where I was just a number.”
Ornelas committed heading into her sophomore year, but then the NCAA instituted a rule banning contact for colleges to underclassmen. So, Ornelas didn’t hear from Fullerton until her junior year.
“Once I committed, they let me do my own thing. I let them know how I did in travel and I gave them updates,” Ornelas said. “I went a whole sophomore year without talking to my coach.”
Ornelas, along with Nunez, officially signed her National Letter of Intent with the rest of her travel team in Huntington Beach in November.
“My travel team, the Firecrackers does a really big organizational signing every year at one of their workout places,” she said. “It was really cool to have that signing atmosphere. It was a lot of my friends signing. There were 50 girls signing at once and we were all going to amazing schools and able to be happy for each other because we worked our whole lives for this.”
Being a four-year starter, Ornelas hopes she and the rest of her senior teammates left a legacy for other players to look up to.
“We have definitely set in a discipline thing,” she said. “We didn’t try to go in like we are seniors and we worked hard. It was more like we were playing for each other. We’re not going to play to our standard, but hold everyone to their own high standard. We’re going to play the best you can possibly can. We want them to know that this program and these coaches deserve 100 percent 100 percent of the time.”
She also hopes she set a good example for her two younger brothers, who are both accomplished baseball players.
“I’m trying to set an expectation for them,” she said. “I don’t expect them to go and play baseball forever. I do expect them to play the game and at a higher standard. I want them to know what is expected. You’re going to get an education and strive to be the best in whatever you do. I really hope by me going and being disciplined, it creates a path for them to go about.”
Because of her tightness with family was another reason she chose Fullerton.
“It’s far enough from home to where I don’t have to go home every weekend,” she said. “If I felt homesick, I could drive home or catch a bus. I didn’t really want to go far. I went to Alabama for a week and hated it. I didn’t like the weather, didn’t like the bugs, the humidity and was two plane flights away from my siblings.”