Local Sports Hero - Vanessa Strong29 July 2016 Written by By Michelle Lassle
Published in August 2016 Articles
Despite being homeschooled all the way through eighth grade, Vanessa Strong did not hesitate to dive right into the mainstream school experience when she began her freshman year at Freedom High School, starting with athletics.
“I tried out for softball right away and made it onto the varsity team,” Vanessa said. Earning a spot on the varsity team as a freshman was something that Vanessa had been unknowingly preparing for since the age of six. Initially Vanessa spent her time on the soccer field, but when she expressed interest in trying softball, her parents signed her up for little league. Vanessa juggled both sports until five years ago when she broke her knee. “I was playing soccer and charging after the ball when an opponent tripped and hyperextended my knee,” Vanessa said. “Thankfully I didn’t need surgery, just to stay off of my knee for three months, but I was done with soccer after that.”
When it came to her spot on the pitching mound, Vanessa had some inspiration. “My aunt was a pitcher all throughout high school and taught me how to pitch,” Vanessa said. “Ever since then that was all I wanted to do.” Vanessa’s wish came true around the age of 10, and her talents and determination have kept her there. “I love being in control of the game; you’re in the middle of every play. I love being able to be in the game the entire time.” When she isn’t throwing pitches Vanessa is making plays at first base. “I think when you spend most of your time pitching, first base is something that is easy to pick up.” Regardless of what position she is in, Vanessa has a pure passion for the sport’s competitiveness, team atmosphere, and relationships that are formed.
In her freshman year Vanessa’s team was co-champions of the league and made it to the quarter finals of NCS. This year, however, she helped lead her team to be co-champions of the BVAL and NCS Division 1 champions. “Our team really came through,” Vanessa said. “In NCS we played difficult teams like San Leandro, Castro Valley, and Amador Valley. Then we went on to beat Foothill 1-0 in the eighth inning of the championships.” The Freedom varsity softball team is undoubtedly full of talented players, but Vanessa attributes this year’s amazing success to another motivating factor. “When our assistant coach Scott Lunger passed away last July we dedicated this season to him.” Sergeant Lunger was a Hayward police officer who was shot at a traffic stop. Although he is no longer with the girls, he left them with advice that truly stuck in their minds. “He always used to tell us that the season was a business trip,” Vanessa said. “So every game he’d say to finish up the business trip. That’s what we did for him with this championship.”
In addition to success as a team, Vanessa also yielded some accomplishments as an individual player. Her freshman year Vanessa received 1st Team All-League for the BVAL and honorable mention for NCS. This year she was the MVP of her team and the BVAL, and she earned 1st Team All-League for NCS. “I think a lot of my success this year came from my amazing defense as well,” Vanessa said. “They were incredibly strong, as was our catching and hitting. They really came through with big hits when we needed them.”
Outside of her school commitment Vanessa also plays travel ball for the NorCal Shockers, whose season begins once the school season ends. The travel ball team competes in tournaments held in various locations, participating in both qualifiers
and showcases. “Showcases are more like scrimmages so that college coaches can see you play,” Vanessa said. “Qualifiers on the other hand are games that we try to win to qualify for nationals.” If the Shockers qualify, they will compete against teams from around the United States in a week-long televised tournament held in Huntington Beach.
Vanessa’s softball schedule keeps her busy year-round, with school practices on Mondays and Wednesdays and games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Even though it requires a decent chunk of her time, Vanessa is still able to maintain a 4.0 GPA. “It can be tough to juggle everything, but you get used to the schedule and get in the swing of things,” Vanessa said. “You just need a routine.” The outstanding student athlete also participated in the California Scholarship Federation, which requires her to attend a certain number of meetings, do volunteer work, and keep a certain GPA. She also made the National Honor Society. When she has any amount of free time, Vanessa is still working to perfect her craft. “I’m usually at home working out or pitching to my dad,” Vanessa said. “My brothers play also, so we sometimes go out to the field and workout together.”
Going into her junior year Vanessa would like to build on this year’s success. “Next year I just want our team to be able to play to our full potential,” Vanessa said. “It would be awesome to make it back to NCS. I’m going to work really hard to help get us there.” As for her future, Vanessa hopes to eventually play at the college level. “College is probably where I would stop, but if I could take it past that, that would be amazing.”