By Rick Assad
Alyssa Valenzuela leaves nothing to chance in anything and everything that she does.
The results so far have been that the Burroughs High senior usually comes out ahead.
As a two-year starter on the varsity and one season on the junior varsity softball team and also being the Associated Student Body president, Valenzuela knows what it takes to be an athlete and do well in the classroom.
“The most difficult part of being an athlete is not being able to control anything but yourself,” explained Valenzuela, who has been elected ASB class president three years in a row by her peers and has been named Scholar Athlete Achievement Award winner after maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average or better during her sports season. “No matter how hard I train or how mentally prepared I am, I can never guess the outcome of the next play. As athletes, we can’t be in control of everything and we can’t be perfect. I have learned that I must trust the work I put in before the game and I must simply maintain my focus on what I can control and how I can make an impact in that present moment.”
Valenzuela takes her responsibility as president seriously.
“ASB has definitely been a highlight of my high school career. As Senior Class president, I was excited to plan prom, homecoming, a powder puff [football] game and various other senior events,” she said. “Therefore it has been a challenge to plan these major events with the uncertainty surrounding us. ASB is an extremely interactive group on campus with the student body, so getting connected with the students virtually and maintaining that bond is more difficult than ever.”
Valenzuela continued: “However, it is my priority to give my class an amazing senior year despite the circumstances,” she noted. “Our Senior Class Office has really been getting creative for second semester activities. Overall, I want to make the most out of the situation and make this year special for the class of 2021.”
Athletic ability and brains aside, Valenzuela, who is the primary shortstop and also plays utility, puts in the necessary time.
“I did not expect to be anywhere where I am today with the twist that 2020 threw, but I am extremely proud of the tireless effort and work I put into the classroom and on the field,” she stated. “Burroughs has always been a very competitive softball program and I have been especially fortunate to have earned a starting spot on the team. Looking back on my years in high school reminds me of many great memories and I really hope that I am able to make more as my senior year comes to a close.”
The one major obstacle to the softball season is the presence of the coronavirus, which shut down the spring season last March.
As a junior, Valenzuela did extremely well after batting .371, posting a .405 on-base percentage and had nine runs batted in with one home run and nine runs tallied over 11 games.
“COVID-19 has immensely impacted our team. Last year we were just starting to get fully adjusted with Coach Doug [Nicol’s] philosophy and we were ready to shock the world and take some wins,” said Valenzuela, who hit .462 with a .475 on-base percentage and nine runs scored and five RBIs across 21 games as a sophomore. “I think both my junior and senior teams would have presented a huge threat in our [Pacific League]. Now we are doing what we can. We do Zoom workouts and Zoom meetings twice a week [Tuesday and Thursday] to stay connected, but I am anxiously waiting for the day when we have the greenlight to be back on the field.”
Nicol knows exactly what Valenzuela brings to the dance. “Alyssa is one of the most coachable players I have ever had the opportunity to coach,” he said. “She is literally a coach’s dream. She is like a sponge. She has an incredible work ethic and is always eager to learn new fundamental skills and techniques.”
Plus she sets the pace for the others according to Nicol. “Also, she is a great leader. All the girls in our program look up to her as a great example on the way it’s supposed to be done,” he said. “One of the great joys of coming back to coach was having the opportunity to coach Alyssa. She has so much pride in going to Burroughs and being a part of the school community. She’s just a great kid.”
The season hasn’t yet begun, but Valenzuela, who also played opposite hitter on the junior varsity volleyball team as a freshman and sophomore, is looking to make a splash.
“My expectations for this season are that it will be definitely out of the ordinary. For myself I truly want to embrace every second that I have on the field,” she said. “I won’t be given the opportunity to play Burroughs softball after this year, so I want to make the most out of it. I am hoping to compete in my final Burbank-Burroughs rivalry game as well. Overall, I think that the coaching staff and my teammates will make this year fun regardless. I hope that we stay intense, competitive and truly gritty, but having an absolute blast while playing.”
Those magical encounters with the Bulldogs still give Valenzuela goosebumps.
“One of the games that stands out to me is my sophomore year’s home Burbank-Burroughs game. We were down by two in the bottom of the sixth. The stakes were high and I was up to bat,” she said. “I got on base and made my way to third. Then there was a fly ball to left field. I tagged up and scored the winning run [5-4] in front of screaming fans. This game was one of the most exciting games that I have ever been a part of and the anticipation and energy pouring in from the dugouts, the field and the stadium was insane!”
Remaining level-headed is just one key to being a winner according to Valenzuela.
“Honestly, I keep calm while playing softball by remembering how much I love the game. No matter how tight the game is or the intensity around me, I am always pouring into the energy on the field,” she said. “At that point I know that I have prepared all that I could for that exact moment and remember I just have to leave everything on the field.”
Valenzuela added: “When I was younger I used to be extremely superstitious – anywhere from the food I ate before the game or if I would put on my right sock before my left one, but now not so much,” she said. “However, before each game, my team and I have a ritual where we lock pinkies and set positive intentions for the game ahead.”
Valenzuela said having people close to her by her side is also helpful.
“l believe that everything happens for a reason and that no matter what life throws or doesn’t throw at me, I take it as a step leading to where I am meant to be,” she said. “Leaning on my family also has greatly helped me get through rough patches as well.”
But one individual truly does stand out.
“My dad [Richard] has been the most helpful regarding my softball career. He has put countless hours into pitching with me in the backyard, driving me to tournaments and supporting me in becoming the best player that I could be,” she said. “He was a college [Chico State University] football player [inside linebacker], so growing up with his influence has left a positive mark on my work ethic in my softball career. My dad motivates me to work hard in every aspect of my life and I would not be the player I am today without him.”
An assistant coach on the softball team has also been instrumental in Valenzuela’s development.
“My coach [Sara Larquier] has seen me grow over the years and I am so happy that she has been a part of my softball journey for every step of the way,” Valenzuela said. “She has truly shaped me into the player I am. Not only has she heavily influenced the physical aspect of the game for me, but she has helped build my mental toughness on and off the field.”
It’s been nothing but a beautiful dream so far for Valenzuela. “For me, the best part of being on the Burroughs softball team is the high competition and team camaraderie,” she noted. “Growing up playing in the Park and Recreation Leagues, my now teammates used to be my greatest rivals. I remember that my dad always used to say that it will be great to see all of us come together and finally play in the same uniform. Now that we are, the team chemistry is amazing! With coach Doug being as supportive and ambitious as us, I couldn’t be happier with my team.”