Watch Program SCV NEWSMAKER OF THE WEEK:
Donna Lee, Head Coach
Jordan Taylor, Starting Pitcher

CIF Champion Valencia High School Softball

Interview by Guest Host Cary Osborne
Signal Sports Editor

Sunday, June 10, 2007
(Television interview conducted June 5, 2007)

Signal: What has life been like for both of you since that game?

Lee: I'm floating. Definitely floating. A lot of attention. I think Jordan, with graduation and stuff, probably is just going from one thing to the other. What do you think?

Taylor: Quite hectic.

Signal: Well, it's not just CIF title; it's the state title, a national title. Are you guys the greatest team in Santa Clarita Valley history?

Lee: I think so. I definitely think so. I don't think there's been a team of our caliber in our schedule and with our record. There have been some good teams out in Santa Clarita Valley, but I think right now, in 2007, ours is the best of Santa Clarita history.

Taylor: Of course. (Laughs.)

Signal: The way the game played out, it seemed like — and I hope I'm not rubbing salt in the wounds, but if you played that team 100 times, you'd beat them 100 times. It seemed like it wasn't a good matchup for them. What do you think about that?

Lee: I think it's tough when you know that the other team is so much better than you are. I mean, (Hart is) a very good team, don't get me wrong. But I think we got into their head. Once they realized they were playing us, I think we had already, (going into) the game, we were leading 1-0, because the fact that they hadn't beaten us much in the last five years.

Signal: They were extremely hot going in, beating the No. 2 team, then the No. 16 team, and then obviously you are the No. 1 team in the country, so it seemed like nothing better could have been going for Hart at that time.

Lee: I'm sure they wish they were playing somebody else.

Signal: Alyssa Ishibashi chops that single to right field in the fifth inning and scores the first run. Jordan, do you feel at that point it was over?

Taylor: Yes, because we have a really strong defense. Usually, one-run games — it's always close but yes, definitely.

Signal: Describe the sixth inning for us. You had runners on first and third with two outs. What was going through your head?

Taylor: Obviously, they had their really good hitters out — Caitlin Stiglich, she's a really good hitter, so obviously I was a bit nervous, but we have a strong defense, so we got out of it.

Signal: Caitlin singled off of you in the first inning, as well; did that go through your head?

Taylor: No, not at all.

Signal: Are you intimidating?

Taylor: Am I intimidating?

Signal: Yes.

Taylor: I guess you can say that.

Signal: You have that reputation, don't you?

Taylor: Yeah.

Signal: Why?

Taylor: Because I don't smile too much on the mound. It's just — people get the wrong impression of me. They think I'm really mean, but you can't be a little, meek mouse on the pitching mound and be successful.

Signal: We got the feeling last year that your rivals probably didn't like you too much.

Taylor: (Yes.)

Signal: Is that accurate?

Taylor: Yes, it's very accurate.

Signal: Why is that?

Taylor: The only impression they can get from me is from on the mound, and obviously I don't seem like a very nice person on the mound.

Signal: Is she a nice person, Donna?

Lee: As soon as she walks over that circle, she's a great person. But I'll tell you, I wouldn't want to hit against her, and she's a lot more animated on the mound this year than she has been in the past, I think.
    If you look at last year compared to this year, I think she had a lot more fun this year. But you know, you always have fun when you win, and maybe things would have been different if we had a loss here or a loss there. But you really got to see a little bit of her personality, even in the final game — jumping up and down, and that one inning, when (she) got the strikeout — she just tore off the mound and jumped into the dugout. It was great.

Signal: Was there a difference this season from past seasons in the way you coached?

Lee: I think I was a lot more relaxed. I realized that I had a really senior-laden team, and I didn't really need to be really a hard-butt. I don't know if you can call it a "hardass" — whatever you want. I think I really needed to let up and realize that guess what? This is her final year in high school. We'll be fine.

Signal: Jordan is nodding.

Taylor: Oh, yeah. The past years, she has been a little bit strict. We had some boot-camp moments going on with conditioning, and obviously this year was still tough. But no, she was a lot more relaxed.

Signal: I want to read something, Donna. This was apparently passed out to the Valencia High faculty from former softball coach Greg Hayes. One passage reads, "In the past, Donna has felt her own share of pain, hurt and disappointment, but Donna picked herself off the mat each time. She persevered, dared to dream again, kept the bigger picture in focus, and built an even stronger program that resulted in this year's championship team." What was he talking about, "hurt and disappointment"?

Lee: Well, you get so close into the game of baseball-softball — I mean, you can be in reach, but then you lose it. I think a lot of times we were in reach, but we just couldn't grab it, and you have to pick yourself up. You have to stand tall and say, "Guess what? We'll get there. I don't know when we're going to get there, but we'll get there."
    We've talked about it as a team, that maybe we had to go through that to get to this; that if we didn't have the past history of making it to the finals and last year's disappointing loss in the second round, I don't think it would have felt this good. What do you think, Jordan?

Taylor: Yes, definitely.

Lee: Everything seemed to click this year.

Signal: For those who don't know, you guys made it to the championship game in 2005 against Royal and lost 2-0, and then last year, was it the second round that you guys lost to Bishop Amat. Jordan, what makes her (Lee) such a good coach?

Taylor: She definitely pushes us — not just after the games, at practices, at commissioning — she definitely pushes us to our limits. She makes practices very game-like and makes sure that nobody lets up and everybody works hard 100 percent of the time.

Signal: What makes Jordan such a good player?

Lee: I would say, probably very similar to me in that she's a student of the game. She really knows her hitters. She studies her hitters. When she throws the pitch and she notices someone off balance, hey — she's going to go right after that. So not only is she a quality pitcher as far as being the No. 1 pitcher in the nation; it's not just her mechanics, but it's also the mental side of it.
    (At) the Santiago game, she (had) runners in scoring position — I'll tell you, she became a different pitcher. She'll get a strikeout when she needs it. And that's what great pitchers do. Great pitchers, if they have the bases loaded and they have one out, they're going to nail that girl with a strikeout. She's a great pitcher.

Signal: At the quarter-finals against Marina, that was a 10-inning game and you guys waited forever to score for her; there were many threats in that game. How difficult was that game for both of you to go through?

Taylor: It was very tough.

Lee: It was. Oh, yeah. When (catcher) Amy (Moore) went back after that passed ball, I just thought, oh my gosh. You know, we talk about baseball-softball being a game of inches; that definitely was a game of inches. She throws it to Jordan ... she's got to do it herself, and for Amy to have the knowledge of only being a sophomore to realize, "I've got to do this" — and she threw herself at the plate and got her.

Signal: And Amy, a sophomore, calls her pitches, correct?

Lee: (Yes.)

Signal: Was that the two of you (Taylor and Moore) working together, or was that all her?

Taylor: Definitely (working together). For the most part, Amy usually gets the pitches right, but a lot of times, she doesn't see something I do. So there's definitely shaking off pitches going on, but for the most part, she's really good behind the plate.

Signal: You throw six pitches, right?

Taylor: (Yes.)

Signal: What are they, and what's your best one?

Taylor: I have a fast change-up, curve, rise, drop and screwball; my favorite pitch is my curveball, just because it breaks a lot.

Signal: But your fastball is what makes hitters most scared, right?

Taylor: (No.) I don't throw fastballs.

Signal: No fastball? Really?

Taylor: I don't throw fastballs. That's the big difference between baseball and softball — for softball, you can't just get it in because they'll hit it. (In) softball you always want to have ball breaking and moving away from the hitters. So usually, I throw a lot of curveballs.

Signal: Gatorade announced you State Player of the Year. Of all the honors you've won, where does that rank?

Taylor: That's pretty big, definitely. Obviously the CIF champion is up there. But as far as individual awards go, that's definitely the biggest one for me.

Signal: Donna, how many times do you vacuum in a week?

Lee: Oh, gosh! I can't even believe you—

Signal: One of your friends told me you were the most intense person she knows, and that you're even intense in your housecleaning.

Lee: Oh, yes. ... Oh, this is not good that you're actually spreading this around. I'm a person who will either run or clean the house to relieve some stress or anxiety or anything. It really seems to calm me down.

Signal: And you were formerly a football coach?

Lee: Yes. When I was at Taft High School, the varsity coach I knew very well. .... He knew what kind of teacher I was, so he approached me and said, "Donna, would you take the JV program? ... They haven't won a game in three years. What do you have to lose?" And I thought, you're right. What do I have to lose?
    It was a great experience. I really cherish those boys in my heart. They were very overprotective of me because back then, the big thing with coaches was, "You can't lose to a girl, can't lose to a woman." So, whatever motivation they had, we made sure we overcome that, and we had two successful seasons.

Signal: How many wins?

Lee: The first year we were basically 5-6, and the next year we were 6-5.

Signal: That was a lot better?

Lee: Oh, heck yeah.

Signal: How did the boys respect a woman as their football coach?

Lee: Well, I knew some of the kids, because the junior high school that we were at, they were there also. So they knew that I was, as Jordan would say, pretty hard on them, and they knew what to expect from me. They knew that I wasn't going to give an inch.

Signal: Donna, you told The Signal both before the 2005 and 2006 seasons that you'd retire, and each time you changed your mind. How close were you to actually retiring?

Lee: I think physically, I was close, but mentally, I was very, very far from retiring. I think physically I thought, OK, I'm ready to give it up. But mentally I knew that my heart and my soul were still in it. I knew that I couldn't walk away. And it wasn't just about championships or anything. It was just about the love of the game. I knew that I wasn't ready. I still loved going out to practice every day; I loved getting ready for the games. When I lose that love, I think that's the time to say sayonara.

Signal: Many people probably speculated that it was a drive for CIF championship that kept you in.

Lee: No — I'll be back for another two or three years. We're losing seven seniors this year, and it's a rebuilding year next year. But believe me, we have a great core coming back, and our goal is to win the Foothill League again for the eighth time, and the girls coming back know it.

Signal: How did it make people within the program feel when you said you weren't coming back?

Lee: I would say for the most part I had a lot of support when I finally made my decision to come back. You know, there are always going to be those people who don't support you because of different various reasons, but for the most part, I would say the community and most of the parents were very, very supportive of me. I mean, the number of e-mails, the number of phone calls, the number of future Vikings who will be here were very, very elated that I was coming back.
    I still have kids (ask). "You're coming back next year, aren't you?" I (say) yes, I'll be back next year. I had parents at the CIF final (who said), "My daughter's going to be there in a year." I (say), OK, I'll be there. And there's always a great kid coming into your program. You keep saying, "I'm going to wait until she graduates."
    But I figure, when I wake up and I don't feel like going to practice or I don't have the love for the game, I think that's the time for any coach to step out. I'm not ready to step away from the game.

Signal: How many girls on the current team have Division I NCAA scholarships?

Lee: Five.

Signal: Jordan, how much credit does Donna deserve for those girls getting scholarships, and in the past? You have a pitcher in Christina Ross at San Diego State, and some others—

Lee: Jaysa, Ashley, both at UCLA. (Lee deserves) a lot (of the credit). High school experiences aren't always the best for softballers, just because it's not competitive. But this program is very, very competitive, and it makes it feel like college, because of how tough it is.

Signal: How would you describe your coaching style?

Lee: Well, my job as a coach is to get the kids ready for college. I always tell the kids, "Guess what? You start out as freshmen again next year." It's going to start all over again — the hard work and the time in the weight room and the time we spent at H.O.P.S. and times we did running. You guys are going to do that year-round now.
    My job is to get them ready so that when they actually go to college, their coach is going to say, "Man, you must have had a great high school coach." That's what I'm hoping for — I truly, truly am — that they look back on their time and say, "Gosh, Mrs. Lee really did get us ready for college."

Signal: You guys were 32-1 overall this season. What did you think was the turning point?

Lee: I think the turning point was in the Michelle Carew tournament, when we came back and beat Pacifica in extra innings. It was kind of a weird situation anyway, because Nicole Matson came up and hit it at a two-run homer — a blast —I mean, the girl finally picked up the ball when she was running to third base, and the umpire said she missed home plate, so we ended up tied 3-3 going into extra innings. And then international tiebreaker, Nicole starts out at second base and then I believe it was a passed ball, she advanced to third, and then Jessica Spigner hit a single up the middle, so we won it. We actually beat them three times this year.

Taylor: Twice.

Lee: I know, but we actually beat them three times, because we beat them in seven, and then we beat them in that extra eighth.

Taylor: Oh, yeah.

Signal: You went to Arizona and beat the No. 1 team in the country then—

Lee: Canyon Del Oro.

Signal: Describe the excitement of winning that game.

Taylor: (It) was a very big tournament, really prestigious. It was really, really good to start off the year that way. Everybody was very excited and it was a really good feeling, as soon as we won, just to know that we could play with the best and beat the best.

Signal: Did you ever look at rankings throughout the season worry about being the No. 1 team or the No. 5 team or whatever?

Taylor: No, not so much. It was fun to have those rankings, an allows-for-better-memories-type of thing. But we weren't worried about dropping or anything like that. It was just a good thing to have.

Signal: You compiled some interesting stats throughout your career — and your mother is the statistician for the team, correct?

Taylor: Oh, yes.

Signal: Did she know and talk to you about it?

Taylor: She would, every once in a while, say, "You only have so-and-so strikeouts until the record," and I'm like, "OK, thank you" — (as if) not enough pressure already. But no, she does the score books, so it's her little hobby on the side.

Signal: Last year you broke the Santa Clarita and Foothill League single-season strikeout record that belonged to Hart pitcher Samantha Ford, who is a local legend. I remember talking to you after the game, and you said you didn't even know.

Taylor: Yes. My mom knew, I'm sure. But I had no idea.

Signal: Does that sort of thing drive you or excite you? It seems you keep an even keel.

Taylor: It's, again, a good thing to have, but if you lose and you have all these strikeouts, it's not for anything. So it's a good thing to have, but it wouldn't make a difference.

Signal: You guys lost the 2005 championship game to Royal; Jordan was a sophomore, and current University of Hawaii pitcher Courtney Baughman was a senior. You decided to go with Courtney in that game because she was a senior, correct?

Lee: We had been trading off all season. Jordan, then Courtney, then Jordan, then Courtney and back and forth. It was Courtney's turn.

Signal: You fell behind 2-0 in the first inning and then she exited and Jordan came in and pitched seven shutout innings. Are you sick of people talking about that game, and people second-guessing you ?

Lee: I guess the speculator's job is to second-guess the coach. You know, the old analogy is, players win games, coaches lose games. I guess for the most part I won't live that down. But hopefully this championship will say, "Guess what? She did the right thing." ... But I think it doesn't just come down to pitching; you know, we made a couple of mistakes in the first inning.

Signal: People forget that there was an error.

Lee: We stranded runners in scoring position throughout. I think we had more base runners than (they did), actually, but we just couldn't get that big hit. Sometimes you have games like that. You live and learn.

Signal: As a sophomore, did that game really pain you that much? Or did you feel you had two other chances?

Taylor: Well, actually — during the game I don't remember much. Not many of the girls do. It's really weird, but after the game it was really sad, obviously, to say goodbye to the seniors. But definitely we were ready for next year and the year after that.

Signal: You lost in the second round last year; did you wonder at that point what you could do to get you any farther?

Taylor: Last year's loss in CIF was really tough, just because everyone expected us to be in that final game again. I'm not quite sure if the girls just expected to get there and they forgot how hard of work they needed to do to get to the finals — but it was a shocker, and obviously there were other little (reasons) we lost that game. But for the most part, it was really disappointing that we didn't do as good as last year.

Signal: People look to Jordan as the key to this team. But is there something else? Was there chemistry, other players, a motto or something that drove you guys?

Lee: I think in the off-season, we really worked on chemistry. We knew we had the talent to win the division, but you know, you can't always rely on talent alone. Sometimes you've got to be a little lucky. And you know what? I've talked to coaches in the past, and they may not have had the most talented team, but it's a team that really got along and (has) done a lot of thinking after that loss and thought, what can we do to make sure that we get this team a lot closer and to make them realize that? Guess what. They can go out No. 1, but they've got to work on it, too — not only their mental game but their physical game, also. So I think it's something we really realized as a team, and this is what we needed to work on.

Signal: Jordan, you'll be going to the University of Michigan with 76 wins, 14 no-hitters and 1,055 strikeouts. What would you say about that legacy?

Taylor: I don't know. It's just really good to have, because you had really good players come out of the Santa Clarita Valley, and to be among them is a really big honor. I only hope that I can be the same at Michigan, and just be the same player I am right now.

Signal: This valley is so softball-rich; we've had Samantha Ford, Crystl Bustos—

Lee: Tiffany Huff at Tennessee right now.

Signal: Tiffany Huff at Tennessee; Crystl Bustos was an Olympian. Where do you see Jordan in that mix?

Lee: Well right now I think she's probably the most dominant pitcher that Santa Clarita has ever gone and developed, number one. Number two, hopefully they bring the Olympics back so that she will get a shot at being an Olympian, also, because I think she definitely has the ability. It's just a matter of whether she's going to get the opportunity.
    I think she's going to make it, in fact, right away at Michigan. I know that her coach just can't wait for her. They're probably hoping that you can skip (the rest of) your senior year and just kind of get over there and pitch right away. But I think, this is not the last we've heard of Jordan Taylor, I guarantee you.

Signal: Why Michigan?

Taylor: It's just a very great environment, good education, great coaches, great overall tradition. It felt like home when I first got on campus. It was a very good environment.

Signal: Where are you from, originally?

Taylor: Castaic. Born and raised.

Signal: What's the farthest east you'd been before you started making your trips to Michigan?

Taylor: Well, softball takes you all over the country. Nationals — I've been in Oklahoma, Illinois, Indiana, went to Washington. I have family in Washington, D.C. and Oklahoma. So I've been all over the country.

Signal: A California girl in the snow.

Taylor: Yeah! ... I really like the snow; I wanted something different. I hate the heat. It's not a good combination for me.

Signal: You do so well in the heat, though.

Taylor: Oh, no, I don't.

Signal: With everything you've accomplished through your career, is there a favorite moment?

Taylor: Saturday night (the CIF championship) was my favorite moment by far. It just wraps up everything that I worked for, and to have it with such a great group of girls is just a really, really good memory.

Signal: (To Lee) Was it your favorite moment, as well?

Lee: Oh, definitely. I think there's a special bond between all of us that will last a lifetime. And whether it's 10 years from now or 20 years from now, there's a connection for all of us, and the connection was their 2007 season.

Signal: Is this a softball town?

Lee: Definitely! Of course Harry Welch would say it's a football town, but you know what? I say it's a softball town. What do you think?

Taylor: Yes.

Signal: Will we see a parade for you guys?

Lee: I think we'll have our own parade from here to Disneyland in our own limousine. We'll figure something out. We can hang out the windows. But I don't think Santa Clarita really needs to have a parade for us. We'll have our own parade.

    See this interview today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley. "Newsmaker of the Week" can also be seen 24/7 on the Internet at scvtv.com.


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