The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

Softball coach’s debut season surpasses wildest expectations

During batting practice, a ball pops high into the air.

Softball players call out, but there’s no one to catch it. It hits assistant coach Shane Schumaker on the hand and everyone winces, but he takes it like a champ as if nothing happened.

The formerly tense, drill-filled practice is now filled with laughter instead. Coach Jessica Rapoza adds into the humor with her own one-liner, joking that Schumaker’s thumb is lying on the ground.

“The athletes keep me young,” Rapoza said. “They make me laugh everyday, and it’s a joy to be around them.”

This year was Rapoza’s first season leading El Camino. After ending the season with a 30-10 overall record, the Warriors won the South Coast Conference title and made it all the way to the Super Regionals.

In fact, the softball team’s conference title, won with a 17-4 record, is its first since 1989 and only the second in school history.

Coincidence? Everyone thinks not.

Randy Totorp, EC director of athletics, also a new addition to the college, believes “100 percent” that Rapoza and her style of coaching are major contributors to the Warriors’ accomplishments.

“I don’t take any credit for bringing coach Rapoza on campus, but I definitely am happy with the decision that the administration made when I was not here,” Totorp said. “She’s clearly been a fantastic addition to (El Camino).”

Joe Saldana, grounds and operations supervisor — who’s been working at EC since 1993 — has been following the softball team since and said “it’s nice to have a winning team” on the field he takes care of.

“It’s a blessing to have this happen during my time,” Saldana said.

Rapoza started playing softball early on when she was 9 years old, and it didn’t take long for her to decide that sports was something she always wanted, if not needed in her life.

“I wanted to play for as long as I could,” she said. “And I wanted to coach because I always wanted to be around sports.”

It’s common for aspiring young players to dream of playing in the big leagues. The same can’t be said when it comes to becoming a coach, but Rapoza already made that decision in junior high.

“I really looked up to the athletic director at my high school,” she said. “I felt like he had the dream job.”

After reminiscing about that athletic director’s trips to camps, clinics, and Hawaii, Rapoza said she enjoyed the idea of being able to work through the year and stay and teach around young people.

“I really looked up to him,” she said. “He was like my role model.”

Once Rapoza graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University, she said that she stayed on as an outfield specialist for a year and then played for the Arizona Heat of the National Pro Fastpitch League for a season.

She then started her coaching career at Santiago Canyon College before coaching at Santa Ana College for five years. After this season at EC, Rapoza will have ten years of coaching experience under her belt.

In this tenth year, Rapoza has not only led the Warriors through victory, but she was also named South Coast Conference Coach of the Year in April. She was then named Southern California Coach of the Year by the California Community College Fastpitch Coaches Association in the same week, Totorp said.

Outside of her life as coach of the softball team, Rapoza enjoys being with loved ones and being outdoors. At home, she also enjoys hosting barbecues with her wife and taking care of her two loved puppies.

“I like to be active,” she said in her neon-green top, blue leggings and bright-colored Nikes. “I like to go to the beach, I like to play sports and I like to hangout.”

Rapoza also teaches Kinesiology and Sports Psychology at EC, but at the end of the day it’s always softball for Rapoza.

“I’m obsessed with softball. I feel like I eat, breathe and sleep softball,” she said. “I’m constantly thinking about it, thinking of ways to make things better, watching softball on TV and talking about softball on the phone.”

A coach, to Totorp, is a mentor, role model and, at a community college level, the bridge for players who want to transfer smoothly into four-year universities.

“(A coach is) someone who helps (students) move through one part of their life to the next,” Totorp said.

To Rapoza, a coach is more than a teacher who solely pays attention to grades and batting average — a coach is someone who loves their students.

“(A coach) is someone who wants to be part of their life,” she said. “(Someone) who wants to be a mentor for them even beyond (graduation).”

When talking about career choices to her students, Rapoza stresses to aim for where the passion lies — words of advice she subconsciously took herself.

“Try not to do anything just for the money, because that’s what will burn and stress you out,” she said. “Try to do this for the love of it.”

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