Sports

Vanessa Ciocatto: a force for the Lady Highlanders

By Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

For the La Habra softball team, Vanessa Ciocatto is a shining example of how hard work and dedication can pay off.

Vanessa Ciocatto  pitches for the highlanders.  Ciocatto pitched a complete game striking out five and walking one against Arcadia.
Vanessa Ciocatto pitches for the highlanders. Ciocatto pitched a complete game striking out five and walking one against Arcadia.

Because of her strong performances in the pitching circle this season, and some offensive help from her teammates, the Lady Highlanders are poised to make another deep postseason run.

One of those strong outings was against Arcadia last Thursday in the first round of the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs, a game in which Vanessa went the distance and struck out eight batters in a 5-1 victory.

“I want to go further than last year, so I knew I had to bring my A game,” she said. “I knew I had to come prepared and not underestimate [Arcadia] because it was a wild-card team.”

The senior has been a crucial part of the Lady Highlanders program even during her freshman season, but her role increased starting during her sophomore year, when she had to fill in for then-senior Kayla Klein, who started the season with an injury.

This year, she’s stronger than ever and though she has a few less wins than during her junior season, head coach Frank McCarroll says she’s pitching better this season.

“She hasn’t quite had the run support that she had last year, which has made her role bigger,” McCarroll said. “Every game we play, she gives us a chance to win and will continue to do so, but her leadership, she’s really stepped into the role of being a captain. Being a senior, it’s her year, her team and she’s looking to finish off a very strong high school career.”

However, the road to get to this point was not the easiest path for Vanessa, and it was during her freshman year that she felt she really started to hit her stride.

Before that season, she relied on her role models, her parents, who stuck with her and believed in her even when coaches told her she couldn’t be a pitcher.

“My parents have always stuck by me through everything, I went through a point when I was 13-14 where I wasn’t very good at pitching,” she said. “A lot of coaches told me I couldn’t be a pitcher, I got turned away from travel ball teams.”

But when she entered her freshman year, she said playing on junior varsity and pitching in every game was an integral part of her progress.

The other major part was her new pitching coach, Stacy Nelson.

“She was the turn around in my pitching career,” Vanessa said. “She pitched at Florida and on the Olympic team and worked with me on a new pitch, an off-speed curve which has helped me tremendously.”

While that hard work has helped her on the field, it’s also been recognized at the next level, as Vanessa signed with Delaware State last fall.

A familiar face, her catcher from her travel ball team, helped Vanessa feel more comfortable with her decision, as well as the fact that last year, Delaware State brought in nine freshmen from California. The early signing also gave her a chance to focus on performing her best during her senior season.

“I really wanted to lower my ERA this year and focus on locating my pitches well because once you get to the next level the hitters get better and the strike zone gets smaller,” she said.
Those extra efforts have been needed in a season in which the offensive numbers have been a bit down in comparison to last year’s playoff run.
Her determination has led to some big wins for the team this season, including a 3-1 victory on the road at Sunny Hills last month.

“Going into that game there was a lot of tension, we had to win,” she said. “That week I hardly got any sleep and I knew going into that game that it started with me, for both sides it started with pitching and I had to set a tone, especially with it being my senior year, I didn’t want to go out with a loss.”

That combination of hard work, dedication and determination has gotten Vanessa far in her high school career, but the senior is determined to accomplish one more goal before moving on to the next level.

The Lady Highlanders fell one game short of an appearance in the Division 4 championship game last season and to add another challenge to Vanessa’s already lengthy list of challenges, the team moved up to Division 3 this season.

But despite the potential increase in competition, she will look at this challenge like she has all the others.

“I use this analogy that the field doesn’t know who is going to win, it doesn’t care who you’re playing or what the front of the jersey says,” she said. “So I never underestimate anybody and I trust in my stuff and get it done.”

In addition to playing for a highly respected high school program, Vanessa also offers pitching lessons when she’s not in the classroom or on the field.

During her first semester this school year, she achieved a 4.0 GPA for the first time. She also enjoys the forensics program, though she doesn’t plan on going into that field in college. Instead, she plans on going into special education.

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.