By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Ask the Redwood Empire’s large-school softball coaches who this spring’s Athlete of the Year should be and you’ll find the answer largely split along league lines.
North Bay League coaches favor Katy Kibbe, who pitched and slugged a young Rancho Cotate team to a 14-0 league record and a North Coast Section Div. 2 playoff run that ended with a 1-0 loss to eventual champ Concord.
“Without her, we don’t even accomplish half of what we did,” said Cougars coach Dave Johnson, calling Kibbe “probably the most important player I’ve had” in 10 years at Rancho because of how young the rest of the team was. Kibbe, her team’s only senior, led the NBL with nine homers and was 19-3 as a pitcher.
Sonoma County League coaches were most impressed with Analy’s Megan Winters, who hit .453 and struck out nearly 200 batters while holding opponents to a .129 average. Coaches in both leagues called her change-up the toughest pitch to hit in the Empire.
“She’s a heck of a player because her motor doesn’t stop,” Windsor coach Dennis Lucchesi said of Winters, who made All-Empire as a centerfielder, shortstop and pitcher in four years at varsity. “She plays through injury. She’s just a tough kid and looks like she enjoys the game out there.”
To get an idea of how important Winters’ pitching was to Analy, you need only look at last season’s first two games, in which she did not pitch. With Winters playing shortstop because of a broken finger that bothered her all season, the Tigers lost by scores of 19-1 and 14-2.
Kibbe said the win she was most proud of was a nonleague win over East Bay powerhouse Heritage. On a hot day in a highly competitive tournament, she pitched the Cougars to a 1-0 win over the Brentwood-based Patriots, who finished the season 22-3.
Both players described their excellence in softball as something their families nurtured from an early age.
“I was probably 4,” Kibbe said of when she started playing. “My dad and older brother played baseball, and my mom loved it, too. It was sort of set in stone that I would play.”
Winters watched both of her older sisters, Hannah and Alex, grow up playing softball at Analy and Sonoma State. The family lives across the street from a softball field in Rohnert Park.
Winters’ dad “inspired me and made me work and was always the one who pushed me,” she said. “He’d try to come home from work as soon as he could just to help me.”
Winters also credited Analy softball coach Nick Houtz, and his wife, Hiedie Conner. “I’ve known my high school coach ever since I was a little kid,” she said. Conner, who works the snack bar at Analy games is “like our team mom.”
Her high school career over, Winters plans to play softball for two years at SRJC before transferring to a four-year school as she works toward a career in nursing.
“I really like helping people, and I’ve always loved science ever since I was a little kid,” said Winters, whose mother is a nurse.
Kibbe will play at the University of La Verne, near Pomona. The Division III school plays in the same conference as Cal Lutheran, where Kibbe’s former teammate Shonna Christianson plays. Christianson was The Press Democrat’s 2011 Athlete of the Year for large school softball.
“I just ended up liking the school,” Kibbe said of La Verne. “It just so happened that it was in the same conference.”
Kibbe and Winters both said they were honored to share the award. Winters played summer ball locally for the first time this year, joining Kibbe on the Petaluma-based Easton Elite.
“Me and Katy became really close,” Winters said. “I look up to her.”
Eric Wittmershaus is The Press Democrat’s online sports editor. You can reach him at 521-5433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
Katy Kibbe, Rancho Cotate, P, senior
Megan Winters, Analy, P, senior
Allie Corrids, Petaluma, 3B, senior
Mikaela Francis, Maria Carrillo, SS/1B, junior
Keilani Fronda, Rancho Cotate, OF, junior
Ashley Ludlow, Casa Grande, P/OF, senior
Chelsea Martin, Petaluma, SS, senior
Katie Smallcomb, Ukiah, SS, senior
Dana Thomsen, Petaluma, P, junior
Brittney Veler, Maria Carrillo, LF, sophomore
TJ Watts, Petaluma, C, senior
Victoria Diab, Montgomery,OF, senior
Hailey Eisenhauer, Cardinal Newman, P/SS, senior
Michelle Ginn, Casa Grande, SS/3B, senior
Shelby Holzworth, Maria Carrillo, 1B, junior
Morgan Rasmason, Windsor, CF, senior
Kristine Ricossa, Rancho Cotate, SS, sophomore
Lindsay Rocha, Sonoma Valley, C/CF, sophomore
Angelica Terrel, Windsor, C, sophomore
Hailey Young, Ukiah, OF, senior
Gina Barnacle, Petaluma, 1B/P/DH, junior
Lauren Bastoni, Windsor, SS, senior
Kayla Douglas, Cardinal Newman, 2B, sophomore
Hayley Komrij, Montgomery, Util., sophomore
Johanna Peelen, Santa Rosa, P/OF, freshman
Maria Ragusa, Analy, CF, junior
Stephanie Sack, Casa Grande, CF, senior
Ashley Vail, Sonoma Valley, 3B/SS, junior
Alison Wendler, Santa Rosa, C/1B, junior
COACH OF THE YEAR
Kurt Jastrow, Petaluma