Reyna Gil entered her first year of college wanting to continue a family tradition and play one last season of competitive softball.
Now, after already seeing her senior season at Sunrise Mountain wiped out by COVID-19, she would love the opportunity to play just one game of college softball. Gil signed to play at Paradise Valley Community College next spring.
In the last week of June, word leaked out that the Maricopa County Community Colleges District recommended canceling athletics at its schools for the 2020-21.
In response, a change.org petition to Governor Doug Ducey and the MCCCD gathered more than 15,000 to stop the cancellation. Steven R. Gonzales, MCCCD Interim Chancellor, will host two virtual forums for athletes, parents, coaches and the community to voice their concerns from 5 to 6 p.m. July 8 and 9.
“Having that passion for softball, it would mean so much for me to play with new people and some people I know and such a great coaching staff,” Gil said.
Gil has a bit of a unique reason for signing with PVCC. She said she only wants to play one year at the school to follow in the footsteps of older sisters Alicia and Cynthia, before transferring to Gateway Community College in Phoenix to concentrate on studying to become an occupational therapist.
Recent Centennial graduate and volleyball player Kacey Stewart is in a similar boat. The setter originally did not plan to continue her career in college but she changed her mind and signed to play for Phoenix College.
“I was really drawn to Phoenix College not only because I love downtown Phoenix but also because my sister goes there and we were going to have some classes together. And the coach and girls were all very welcoming,” Stewart stated in a Twitter interview.
More often than not, though, athletes look at junior college programs to catapult them to the right university for their sport and their career goals.
From the 18 schools West Valley covers, 36 athletes in the Class of 2020 signed with MCCCD programs. Three sports make up an overwhelming majority of these signees — baseball (15), girls volleyball (9) and softball (7).
Ten baseball players, five softball players and four girls volleyball players now wondering what will happen with their careers played for Peoria Unified School District teams.
“I want these kids to stay in town. It’s more cost effective and I believe in these coaches. Why would you send a kid to an out of state junior college,” Liberty baseball coach Chris Raymond. “I don’t understand how baseball got cut short nine months away. A lot could happen in nine months.”
Raymond said he was playing “Fortnite” with some other coaches June 24 when he first heard about the recommendation to close these programs down. He was staggered.
The coach has a large stake in the sports staying. Five of his Class of 2020 Lions — Jace Derosier, Paul Kelley, Kyle Lewis, Tyler McCaughey and Trevor Saire — signed with the Maricopa schools.
“To me, Arizona is one of the best JUCO systems. It seemed like a real shot in the gut. Former players I work with coach in the JUCO system,” Raymond said. “I grew up here and you’re talking a really top-shelf system. I think it’s one of the biggest blows I’ve ever heard of to sports.”
In particular, Raymond said, he thinks back to his time as Sunrise Mountain’s pitching coach. In 2013 senior Joel Kuhnel was the Mustangs’ No. 3 starter.
He went to Central Arizona College — a non-Maricopa school that already announced it will play this coming season. His performance at Central Arizona sent Kuhnel to Texas-Arlington and on the path that peaked with his debut for the Cincinnati Reds in September 2019.
While Raymond’s top Liberty 2020 players — Kyle Lewis and Trevor Saire — are in limbo as well, the coach wonders about another diamond in the rough. He will not compare outfielder McCaughey to Kuhnel, but he said the 6-2 former hockey player has a world raw abilities in baseball after taking it up a year ago.
“I’m telling you right now, this kid has huge potential,” Raymond said.
Sunrise Mountain baseball still has a pipeline to junior colleges. Garrett Moltz and Jacob Stockton signed with Paradise Valley while Lance Wall latched on at Glendale.
Pitcher Tyler Davis signed with Yavapai College in Prescott, which has won national titles. Yavapai officials have not decided what course they will take.
Gil and Mustangs teammate Summer Pells planned to team up again at Paradise Valley.
“Once school ball was ended I was a bit broken hearted,” Gil said. “I was only going to be there for one year and make it my last, best year for softball. I’m heartbroken that it might not happen.”
Stewart is a bit more sanguine about the whole process.
She said if Phoenix College decides not to have volleyball she will not play anywhere else.
“Honestly for me it has been easier because I wasn’t originally planning to play in the first place. I will obviously be really bummed out because I was looking forward to playing with my teammates and get to know everyone,” Stewart stated.
The possibility of no junior college softball is tougher for Gil’s father, Marcos, to take. The former Arizona Christian University coach and director/coach of the L’il Saints club has ties to the junior college game that goes beyond his daughters.
Nine girls in his club just graduated and four signed with Maricopa community colleges.
“Four decided they wanted to stay local and JUCO was the right match. “And the Arizona Softball Foundation helps these kids with scholarships specifically to junior colleges. I remember the donors that helped my other daughters. The meet every year and do wonderful things for local students.”
Coach Gil implored the MCCCD to reconsider its decision and not go after the ‘low-hanging fruit,” in this situation. Like Raymond, he does not understand why a decision was nearly made nine months out when no NCAA college has come to a similar conclusion.
“Junior colleges don’t get a lot of interest usually. So it’s good to see people understand where we’re coming from,” Reyna Gil said.