Guiding program to No. 1 national ranking is too much to ignore as Norco’s Rick Robinson collects statewide honor. His career, which spans 18 seasons and began at nearby rival school, is not too shabby, either. Randy Willis, Jim Pingree also earn accolades.
Contributing: Mark Tennis, Paul Muyskens
What seems amazing is there have only been two 30-win seasons in the history of softball in the Inland Empire portion of the CIF Southern Section. The thing that’s not surprising is both have come from teams coached by Rick Robinson of Norco.
Robinson’s 2009 team featuring Teagan Gerhart (now at Stanford) went 32-2 and won the CIFSS Division I title, but was edged out for all the top honors by an Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) team that went undefeated.
After a 6-4 victory this season over Big VII league rival Santiago of Corona in the CIFSS D1 title game, Robinson’s girls had a lot to celebrate.
The victory assured them of the top spot in California and subsequently State Team of the Year. On Monday, in a ceremony that included local dignitaries and members of the ESPNHS Softball staff, Norco was officially given its gear as the No. 1 team in this year’s POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings.
It also was announced at the ceremony that Robinson has been named the ESPNHS Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
Since 1974, the year Cal-Hi Sports chose to start naming a state coach of the year for softball, Robinson is only the third coach from the Inland Empire to be honored. The other two have also come from the Big VIII -- Jo Ann Byrd of Corona in 2000 and most recently John Perez in 2006 from Santiago.
Despite having only two seniors and playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, the Cougars, led by Nebraska-bound pitcher and slugger Emily Lockman, performed like a well-oiled machine.
After the big year in 2009, the Cougars had two 20-win seasons but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs both times.
“Emily was the only one left over from 2009 when she played third base. We’d had two good years since then but I think there was a little pressure to do better. The girls felt they underachieved. Coming into the season they had an attitude of having some unfinished business.”
The team started the season with wins at the prestigious Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, Arizona, and the TNT Tournament in Torrance. They suffered one of their two losses to Orange Lutheran in the opener of the Michelle Carew Classic.
The second loss came in league play to Santiago, but the title game win gave Robinson’s girls two-out-of-three against Santiago and ended the season on a 10-game winning streak.
Lots of contributors
Besides her prowess and endurance in the circle where she pitched every game, Lockman also batted .389 with four home runs, 33 RBIs and 22 runs scored, and she had a ton of help.
“We had 10 different players with game winning RBIs,” remarked Robinson, a social science/U.S. government teacher at Norco. “Even Heather Smith, our other senior who hadn’t been a big hitter previously, had two game-winning RBIs at the end of league. Kylie Reed had a career year, Taylor Koenig hit for great power, and we had sophomore Ashley Goodwin transfer in. She was the missing piece.”
Reed, a junior shortstop batted .550 with 66 hits and 40 runs scored. The 66 hits was one of the state’s top outputs. Koenig, another junior that played third base, hit .372 with nine home runs and 39 knocked in. Goodwin hit .323 and played a sparkling second base.
A little goofy
“Sometimes it frustrated the heck out of me because this team was a little goofy. They played little games and were singing, and never really looked that serious before games, but it worked for them.”
“The important thing is realizing they’re teenage girls and making the game fun for them. The game has to be fun because it’s a long season and you don’t want to burn the girls out. We started doing PE practices in August in 110-degree heat.”
In his 18-year career (394-138-2 record) that began at Centennial of Corona, Robinson has had some great teams. He won one CIFSS title at Centennial in five years there, and this year’s championship is his third at Norco to go with five league crowns. Before coming to Centennial, he assisted JoAnn Byrd at Corona for several seasons and one of the teams there won a CIFSS title as well.
So which team has been his best?
“It’s hard to compare because in 2009 we were still at 40 feet. Teagan was overpowering, had over 300 strikeouts. Emily is not as overpowering with 155 strikeouts but just as dominating. This team is probably a little better one-though-nine offensively.”
“It really helped having three coaches, two that pitched in college, all throwing live in practice.”
One of those coaches that pitched in college is Rick’s sister, Beth Windham. The other is Nicole Angene, a recent Fresno State graduate. The third coach is Nicole’s father, Dave Angene, an assistant to Robinson all 13 years at Norco.
Best players ever
Gerhart and Lockman are certainly near the top of the list, but Robinson has had some other top talent.
Nicole Sappingfield, 2010 graduate, is currently at Michigan. Kaylyn Castillo was the catcher on last year’s Arizona State national championship team, and is currently an ASU graduate manager. Daniella Urincho, a 2003 alum, pitched for Brigham Young.
“Daniella started the process for us getting to where we are now.”
Where they are is with Robinson having five girls returning that are already verbally committed to a D1 school.
Reed is committed to Cal, Koenig to Tennessee, Goodwin to Ohio State, and Savannah Clark to Colorado State. Even Lockman’s little sister, freshman Abby Lockman, has verballed to Tennessee.
On being honored
“Being named State Coach of the Year makes you feel great, a real honor and thrill. Sometimes people don’t realize how much time we put in on and off the field. The real reason I coach, though, is I want to see the kids achieve their goals – and turn into great adults.”
More Cal-Hi Sports State Softball Coaches of the Year
Medium Schools: Randy Willis (San Marin, Novato)
After taking the job and winning his first CIF North Coast Section title when his daughter transferred to San Marin as a senior, Willis told the athletic director he’d stick around for a little while longer. That was 15 years ago.
Now, after announcing his retirement at the beginning of the season and after his girls beat Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland 13-8 in the NCS Division III title game, the 65-year-old Willis is leaving on top.
Not only does Willis go out with his sixth NCS championship (first since the Redwood Empire and East Bay reunited in 2009 with the current playoff structure) and ninth Marin County Athletic League title, but with a 303-84 career record (24-1 this season) and a statewide coaching honor.
“That’s not going out with a bang or even an explosion, this is an A-bomb,” said the affable Willis, whose goal at San Marin was “to have fun, have more fun, and have way more fun.”
Willis is the third coach from the NCS and first from the Redwood Empire to be named medium school coach of the year. Past NCS recipients were Michelle Biglow of Oakley Freedom in 2002 and John Rebstock in 2007 from Brentwood Heritage.
Small Schools: Jim Pingree (Santa Catalina, Monterey)
With just three playoff divisions, it’s much harder for a truly small school like Santa Catalina to win a title in the CIF Central Coast Section. That’s what the Cougars did and for that their coach is receiving a statewide tip of the hat.
This year’s team returned to the CCS Division III championship game after losing in last year’s final and captured the school’s first section title with a 5-3 win over Soquel.
One of Pingree’s key players was his daughter, Alex, who is headed to UC Santa Barbara and pitched in all 24 of the team’s wins with a 0.35 ERA.
Pingree also has been named the Mission Trail Athletic League Coach of the Year after his team went undefeated in league play for the second year in a row. In six years at the school, he has gone 72-33-3.
State Softball Coaches
Of The Year
(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)
2012 — Rick Robinson, Norco (30-2)
2011 — Scott Smith, Hollister San Benito (29-1)
2010 — Teri Johnson, Union City James Logan (25-5)
2009 — Tony Dobra, San Pedro (28-4)
2008 — Duane Zauner, Lake of the Pines Bear River (29-3)
2007 — Mary Jo Truesdale, Sacramento Sheldon (29-1)
2006 — John Perez, Corona Santiago (26-5)
2005 — Art Banks, Roseville Woodcreek (28-6)
2004 — Pete Ackermann, Westlake Village Oaks Christian (34-1)
2003 — Rob Weil, Garden Grove Pacifica (31-2)
2002 — Brad Griffith, San Diego Mira Mesa (35-1)
2001 — Gary Walin, Thousand Oaks (24-5)
2000 — Jo Ann Byrd, Corona (28-4)
1999 — Jim Liggett, Belmont Carlmont (35-4)
1998 — Joe Given, Salinas Notre Dame (30-2-1)
1997 — Alan Dugard, Irvine Woodbridge (34-2)
1996 — Nancy Acerrio, Chula Vista Hilltop (27-2)
1995 — Marie Dean, Fremont Washington (27-0)
1994 — Joe Gonzalez, Tustin Foothill (25-7)
1993 — Jill Matyuch, Covina Charter Oak (29-0-1)
1992 — Jeff Carlovsky, Escondido (26-2)
1991 — Kevin Newman, San Jose Gunderson (33-2)
1990 — Susie Calderon, Huntington Beach Marina (28-5)
1989 — Sharon Coggins, Ventura Buena (28-2)
1988 — Rich Kerr, San Lorenzo Arroyo (29-1)
1987 — Bob Regpala, Stockton Lincoln (30-0)
1986 — Dick Barnes, El Monte Arroyo (22-1)
1985 — Neils Ludlow, Woodland Hills El Camino Real (19-0)
1984 — Aaron Ishikawa, Stockton Lincoln (37-1)
1983 — Carol Hamilton, San Diego Madison (23-1)
1982 — Rich Spiekerman, Lodi (29-3)
1981 — Leslie Steffen, Hanford (20-4)
1980 — Bob Bush, Santa Maria Righetti (29-0)
1979 — Barbara Weding, Santa Rosa Montgomery (26-1)
1978 — Peggy Linville, Fairfield Armijo (23-0)
1977 — Betsy Ward, Huntington Beach Marina (17-0)
1976 — Janet Balsley, Chula Vista Hilltop (17-0)
1975 — Sally Carmen, Downey Warren (19-1)
1974 — Sandi Behrmann, El Segundo (undefeated)
Comments or corrections? Email Mark.Tennis@espn.com.