Morgan “Mo” Groves came into her senior season of Vintage High softball with 63 varsity games under her belt, hoping her experience would help the Crushers win a league title and playoff game for the first time since she was a seventh-grader.
It wasn’t all she was thinking about at the time, though. Playing a role in the school’s version of “West Side Story,” she had to miss four of the Crushers’ first five games. With the musical wrapping up March 15 and the next softball game two days later, Groves wasn’t supposed to miss any more of her final high school season.
But all spring sports were postponed that Friday the 13th due to concerns over community spread of the coronavirus, and canceled three weeks later. There went Groves’ chance to win a Vine Valley Athletic League title and make a North Coast Section Division 1 playoff run.
“It was really difficult to cope with all of it,” she said Monday. “However, I am glad that I got one game in with my team. I also got to spend time with them at practice every day since practices were before rehearsals and shows. I feel that personally and as a team we had some unfinished business. We were beginning to look like a really strong team and we had goals of going after a league title and beating Napa in Big Game. I was also really looking forward to having a successful last season and a senior night.”
But the improvement she had made from her freshman year (11 for 63, 5 RBIs, no homers) to last year (28 for 69, 32 RBIs, 8 homers), her extensive travel-ball experience, and her astronomical GPA had already helped Groves earn another four seasons of softball – with Pomona-Pitzer’s NCAA Division III program in Claremont.
“Before my junior season, I began focusing a lot on my swing. I hit my stride during travel ball, which carried over into high school,” she explained. “Having a weight training class also helped give me more power to hit the ball farther.”
From a table set up with an elaborate array of decorations, cake and college attire in her front yard Tuesday afternoon, Groves autographed a celebratory signing form – having already signed her letter of commitment – in a coronavirus-style signing party. Friends, teammates and faculty were invited to drive by and honk their horns to congratulate her, as only principal Sarah O’Connor, head coach Robert Poppe and athletic director Cam Neal were allowed to join the family for pictures due to required social distancing.
“Knowing that I did get to spend time with my team while I could, having a really good junior season, and knowing that I will continue to play in college has made it a lot easier to cope,” Groves said. “But I am definitely sad that I didn’t get to spend my final season with my team and coaching staff, and will miss them all.
“Knowing that I will potentially have four more seasons of softball has certainly made everything a little easier, and is really exciting. It’s nice to know that I didn’t play my last game without even knowing it, like many others did. I have more softball to look forward to, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s been a dream of mine to not only play college softball, but to also attend a very high academic school. To have a dream like this come true during these tough times is a real gift. Not only has it made my college decision easier, it has also given me something to look forward to in the future.”
U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 college and university rankings has Pitzer College tied as the 35th-best liberal arts institution in the country, and it was recognized in 2015 as the eighth-hardest liberal arts college to get into in the nation.
Groves said she will major in Environmental Analysis at Pitzer, whose athletes team up with those attending adjacent Pomona College to field sports teams. The two schools, three other undergraduate colleges and two postgraduate schools comprise the seven Claremont Colleges, which are all within a square mile.
“Getting into Pitzer was just as hard for me as everyone else who got in,” Groves said. “Although I will be playing softball, I had to get into Pitzer on my own merit. I had to dedicate a lot of my time to keeping my grades and GPA up. I also had to take four AP and/or Honors classes both my junior year and senior year to be at the top of the applicants.
“Last semester I had a GPA of 4.8 and my cumulative GPA is 4.5. Along with grades, I had to have high test scores. This required a lot of studying, and retaking the SAT and ACT many times. My highest score was a 31 on the ACT. I had to dedicate a lot of my time to doing well in school in order to make it possible to attend Pitzer.”
Groves was also a key component in two straight girls basketball league championships. The Crushers won the Monticello Empire League in her sophomore season and the VVAL when she was a junior.
“Basketball certainly helped condition me well for softball season,” she said. “Softball is as much mental as it is physical and I think it really helped with my mental toughness, focusing in the outfield and at the plate. Softball also helped me keep my composure and focus during basketball. Experiencing those pressure-packed moments helped me keep it together during many pressure filled moments in basketball games.
“Playing two sports also helped keep me fresh for both, and not get burnt out from playing the same sport and using the same muscles and skills all the time. Both sports also helped me become a better teammate, more outgoing and confident, and a better leader. I chose to continue to play basketball even though I would be playing softball in college because I love playing basketball about as much as softball. I also loved the teams, the community and my coach, Joe Donohoe. I played basketball my whole life, and couldn’t imagine not playing it throughout high school.”
Groves’ parents both played high school sports. Her mother, Marcey, wrestled and competed in track and field for Palo Alto High and her father, Brandon, played basketball at Manteca High. Both attended Chico State. Her brother, Kyle, is a Vintage freshman and a “very talented” trombone player, she said, who plays in Vintage’s marching band and Winter Percussion program and the Napa Youth Symphony.
Groves said she’s visited the Pomona-Pitzer campus five times – first just to take a look at the school. The next three visits were for softball camps that allowed her to meet head coach JoAnne Ferguson, her staff, and some of the players.
Ferguson was in her 15th season at the helm this year, which saw the Sagehens go 4-7 overall and 2-4 in the Southern California Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
“Coach Ferguson is a super positive, supportive and great coach,” Groves said. “The last time I visited was last March (2019), when I went on my official overnight visit. I got to spend the night in the dorms with the players, eat in the dining halls with them, go in the locker room with them, go to class with them, and watch their games. Everything was amazing. Their team dynamic is so fun and welcoming.
“The dorms are nice, the dining halls have surprisingly good food, and the locker rooms are very nice. The field is pristine and in a beautiful spot on campus. My visits to campus made me fall more and more in love with the school and the team.”
Shout-out to Sedgley
Groves has had three head coaches at Vintage – Vintage Athletic Hall of Fame and Cal pitcher Saanen Kerson as a freshman, former UC Davis player Cat Guidry as a sophomore, and current head coach Robert Poppe these last two seasons.
“Playing for three different coaches during high school was definitely a challenge,” she said. “Not only did I have to prove myself at tryouts all over again every year, I always missed them because of basketball, so I would have to try out and meet the coaches much later than everyone else.
She said her “saving grace” has been longtime Vintage assistant coach Keri Sedgley, a 1997 Vintage alumnus who has been a police officer for the city of Napa Police Department since 2005. Like Groves, Sedgley played basketball and softball for the Crushers and continued on in softball – at Solano Community College and Michigan’s Oakland University.
“She has been with me all four years and has really helped keep our program steady until we found a coach willing to stay,” Groves said. “Knowing the girls on the team also helped a lot after my freshman year because even if we had to deal with a new coach every year, we could rely on each other.
“As well as proving myself over and over, I had to adjust to each coach’s style of coaching. That was challenging because each coach was much different in their styles. I’m thankful that Coach Poppe stepped in as head coach my junior year and has continued to stay with us. He has been a great coach, along with Keri. I was really looking forward to playing for them another year. I’m really going to miss them and the team.”
Groves has played for no fewer than eight travel teams, one of them twice.
After starting with the Napa Junior Girls Softball League as a 10-year-old, she traveled with Napa Valley Express and Napa Xtreme. Once she moved up into the 14-and-under age division, she started playing for out-of-town teams – KG Hitters, the Batbusters and head coach Kiko Garcia, whom she said “shaped me into the outfielder and hitter I am today,” and then All American Sports Academy.
She then switched to Universal Fastpitch, which she helped qualify for the Premier Girls Fastpitch (PGF) Nationals and place ninth in the nation. After playing for the NorCal Shockers and Ohana Tigers, she returned to Universal Fastpitch to play for its 18U Gold team. Coached by Martin “P” Garcia, her Universal squad was recently ranked No. 7 in the nation by FloSoftball.
“Each team has helped me get farther and farther along in the recruiting process,” Groves said. “Showcases were very helpful, because there our coaches could talk to college coaches who wanted to watch us. Although all my coaches helped me, the main thing that got me recruited was my continued emailing to coaches, attending camps, and letting coaches know that I’m interested.
“I thank my family and friends for their continued support throughout this crazy journey and the endless sacrifices they have made for me. I also want to thank all of my coaches throughout my whole career. They shaped me into the player I am today. I wouldn’t be here, achieving my dream, if it weren’t for all of these people helping me along.”
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