By Maggie Pilloton
Karen Yoder lives and breathes softball.
After a successful playing career at West Valley College (Saratoga) and the University of New Mexico, she continues her passion for softball through coaching.
Yoder, in her eighth year as skipper of the UC Davis softball team, is grateful for the opportunity to coach such talented, young athletes.
“I coach to help the next generation,” Yoder says.
Yoder earned her first head coaching position at Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay) after two seasons as an assistant there.
Stints at North Carolina-Greensboro and Napa Valley College brought her eventually to UCD.
Yoder became part of a significant transition for Aggie athletics.
Hired in July 2004, Yoder immediately became an important facilitator in shifting the softball program from Division II to Division I. That lofty designation was attained in 2008.
Yoder gained valuable experience and, most importantly, resiliency during the transition.
She says it was a challenging process, especially because the team wasn’t able to participate in the postseason during the transition, but it was one well worth going through. Yoder says she will always be indebted to the athletes who played during that time because they displayed selflessness that won’t be forgotten.
“I can’t even put into words how grateful I am,” Yoder told The Enterprise. “They had no chance of playing in the postseason. That’s saying something. When we won (the Big West championship) in 2010, they were a part of that.”
In 2012, the Aggies have an exciting mix of talented freshmen and consistent upperclassmen. Yoder says pitching is a large part of the success of this team. In particular, Justine Vela, a freshman from Bakersfield, has emerged as the workhorse and Yoder sees huge potential in her. Another freshman who is making her mark as an everyday starter is Cassandra Ginnis.
“We currently have two freshmen who are everyday starters, Cassandra and Justine, who contribute on an everyday basis,” Yoder continues. “What they bring to the table in terms of competitiveness is what you hope for as a coach.”
UCD (15-24) is cruising along with a 5-3 conference record, sitting in third place in the rugged Big West.
Yoder always has advocated maintaining academic excellence while playing a sport. She wants to celebrate not just game-winning hits but also the achievements inside the classroom. She wants to give as much praise to those who do well in their classes as those who have excellent days on the field.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for women on this team to be competitive, get a great education and represent one of the best schools in the nation,” Yoder points out.
In addition to Yoder’s coaching at UCD, she also is the executive head coach of the Davis Lady Demons, a team in the Amateur Softball Association of America. She assists three teams, two of which are for players 12 and under and one for older girls. Although Yoder doesn’t run any of the teams herself, she has meetings with other coaches, giving them insight about strategy and philosophy.
Yoder also is active with the Davis Youth Softball Association. She says she loves to give back to the community and help future softball stars, including her 3-year-old daughter Natalee, who she hopes will play DYSA next year.
Yoder and her husband Shawn, a general contractor, also have kids Jenna and Michael.
To reinforce the importance of staying connected to the community and how powerful their influence can be, Yoder took some of her Aggie players to the recent DYSA Opening Day. She wanted her players to see the rewarding opportunities that are being given to young athletes in this sport; to see how fulfilling giving back can be.
“Shaking hands with those girls was incredible, because their dreams are just starting,” Yoder recalls. “It reinforces what you do. This is what it’s all about.”
It’s why Yoder has shown a constant commitment to her players and her community. Her passion for the game has given her several opportunities to do something she has always loved to do.
“I’m extremely passionate,” Yoder says, smiling. “I will coach until that passion is gone.”
— Maggie Pilloton is a UC Davis junior and sports intern at The Davis Enterprise. She can be reached at (530) 747-8049.