Nessa Esparza, fastpitch softball club team president. Photo by Calyse Tobias.
Nessa Esparza, fastpitch softball club team president. Photo by Calyse Tobias.

When freshman Nessa Esparza attended the OPERS Fall Festival in 2014, there was something that was really lacking, something that’s central to who she is — a space for a softball player. More specifically, a competitive team that she could join.

Esparza has played softball since she was 10 years old. She played travel ball for more than five years with dreams of playing in college. Utah State University offered her an opportunity to join its NCAA Division I program, but didn’t offer her a scholarship.

She understood she might be playing softball without a scholarship at UC Santa Cruz, but she hadn’t considered not being able to play at all. After approaching a booth at the Fall Festival last year to ask if UCSC had a softball team, they laughed in her face.

“I was far away from home and I had dedicated my life to softball. I knew I had to do something,” Esparza said. “Throughout the first quarter I created multiple flyers about softball and created a meeting which 15 girls attended. I told them I was a freshman and was creating the very first ever fast-pitch softball team”.

Esparza contacted Kevin “Skippy” Givens, UCSC’s club sports director, during the beginning of winter quarter to propose the first-ever fastpitch softball team. Givens said no club softball team has been established since the late 1970s, when UCSC students formed a women’s slow-pitch softball team that played in the local parks and recreation league.

“When Nessa approached me, the timing and climate for accepting new sports clubs was ripe,” Givens said. “We were eager to add women’s sports, and softball jumped on with women’s lacrosse and soccer, which had both been operating underground for over four years.”

Givens and Esparza estimate a cost of nearly $9,800 total to ramp up the team this year. Expenses include registration fees, insurance, uniforms, gear and a pitching machine. All fees will be paid through fundraising, donation letters and player fees.

The UCSC women’s club softball team will compete in the National Collegiate Softball Association in a conference against southern California clubs. Northern California currently only consists of two other club teams, Stanford and UC Davis, so the team will be forced to travel to southern California to compete against UCLA, USC and CSU Fullerton. The season begins in January 2016 with specific game dates to be determined.

Games and practices take place at Harvey West Park under the guidance of co-head coaches Alysha and Kaysea Cook. Kaysea is a senior at UCSC majoring in environmental studies and will graduate after this quarter. Her sister, Alysha is a financial advisor in Santa Cruz. Both have experience in coaching softball camps and various youth leagues.

“Kaysea found out about the fastpitch team and was thinking of trying out, but she’s a senior and she decided to go ahead and coach because Nessa asked her to,” Alysha said. “Then Kaysea brought me on as a coach. We have both played almost our whole lives and have spent many summers volunteering with youth leagues and coaching U14 teams.”

Givens, Alysha and Kaysea agree that Esparza, now a sophomore, has gone above and beyond to make her dream of playing softball a reality by flyering to make students aware of the club, scheduling meetings with potential players and creating an official proposal for Givens to demonstrate why the addition of a softball team is beneficial. All of this was completed by Esparza, with some assistance from Givens.

“This club is starting from scratch but I found amazing coaches with more dedication than I could hope for,” Esparza said. “I know the school isn’t that big on sports, but we all have passion for something and just because our passion is not the majority doesn’t mean we should be shot down. I live and breathe softball. It’s my love and I can’t live without it.”

OPERS has also added six total sports clubs in the past year to the existing 43 competitive and noncompetitive clubs. Last year’s additions include women’s softball, women’s lacrosse, women’s soccer, judo, tennis and surfing.

“The highest priority is to give students who are passionate about something an opportunity to pursue that,” Givens said. “We recognize that when students are in a club and have ownership of that club, that’s oftentimes the most profound experience they have on this campus, more so than they will experience in the academic realm.”