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Olympic great Michele Granger setting a gold standard with Granite Bay softball program

Grizzlies already are on the upswing, and sights are set high
By: Bill Poindexter/Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
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There are high school coaching positions available every year. Many are sought by young college graduates ready to step into the professional working world.

But when the softball position became available at Granite Bay — well, an applicant like this doesn’t come along often. Talk about striking gold.

Few high school coaching applicants have thrown the first pitch in Olympic softball history and pitched the gold-medal game in a 3-1 win over China, as Michele Granger did in 1996 in Atlanta. Few high school coaching applicants (really, are there any?) have been inducted into the Amateur Softball Association and International Softball Federation Halls of Fame, as Granger has. Few coaching applicants can contact softball pitching idol Lisa Fernandez to talk about the finer points of teaching a changeup, or renowned University of Arizona coach Mike Candrea for tips on hitting drills, as can Granger.

And here she is, coaching the softball team at Granite Bay — with no immediate plans to up and leave, either. (Parents of middle and elementary school-aged softball players in the Granite Bay zone can collectively roar now.)

Granger, her husband and their four children are firmly planted in the Granite Bay home they’ve been fixing up since they purchased it eight years ago.

“I plan to be there the next nine years,” says Granger, whose oldest daughter will be a freshman in the fall. When she graduates, the younger daughter of the NCAA record-setting All-American at Cal will enter high school. … Yes, they play softball.

The program already is on the upswing. The Grizzlies were 7-6 overall and 2-3 in the Sierra Foothill League before playing Nevada Union on Tuesday, one game behind Woodcreek for third place. That’s a big improvement over last season’s 3-19, 0-12 slate, but it isn’t nearly where Granger wants to take this team.

“I’m not a big fan of wandering through life mediocre,” Granger says while searching for her son’s missing jersey on a game day in Lakeside Little League. “My measure of success will be when we’re playing the game the way we’re capable of playing.”

On the field, Granger is encouraging and positive, constantly instructing, reminding. But after a 7-1 loss to Del Oro earlier this month, the Grizzlies shook hands with the Golden Eagles and took the field for a 20-minute infield-outfield session.

That had never happened in the softball life of senior center fielder Karina Muniz, one of the leading hitters on the team at .417 before the Stephanie LeDoux Tournament.

“It makes sense because we did mess up so we need to fix it right here, right now,” Muniz says. “Personally, when I found out she was an Olympic gold medalist, I was kind of intimidated, but I was really excited because that means she has a lot of knowledge about the game.”

The Grizzlies routed Rocklin 15-4 two days later.

“She does routines in practice that are helpful to us,” says senior outfielder Amanda Befort. “We’re improving every game. She decided one day to hit two balls at the same time to us. It was very interesting, and it helped us do more than one play at a time.”

Granger says it’s about more than winning and losing. It’s about being prepared to do the job and understanding one’s job. She wants her players to feel comfortable executing their skills.

“We’re going to work to that level, because I believe I have the athletes to compete, but they have to believe it,” Granger says.

Granger has been there and done that; more so, she’s been around the world and done that. Granger knows — knows — there are consequences for making mistakes at the next level: college softball.

“They don’t have time to teach every little thing,” she says. “Hopefully, I’m one of the tougher coaches these kids will ever have. I would like them to understand what they’re capable of. When we go through a game and we get beat but we’re playing to our capability, that’s when I’ll feel like we’re on our way. I ask a lot of them. They deserve to have everybody out there focused on every pitch.”

Granger has a sense of urgency because there is one. She says high school girls — unlike boys, who can grow several inches over a summer and gain their coordination — have to be college ready by their freshman year and “on somebody’s radar.”

“They plan out their money so far in advance they’ve left out the kid that excels later,” Granger says. “I saw this in college. It’s not just athleticism. It’s work ethic. It’s mentality. Most of that stuff doesn’t dramatically change. A kid that doesn’t hustle as an eighth-grader doesn’t suddenly hustle in college. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps your focus in our games. That’s the stuff people are looking for.”

GRANITE BAY SPRING SPORTS AT A GLANCE

Baseball
The Grizzlies (11-7-1) regained sole possession of first place in the Sierra Foothill League with a 5-2 record after beating Del Oro 14-8 Monday. Granite Bay finishes league play with two big three-game series — against Rocklin next week in a rematch of last season’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship, won by Rocklin — and Roseville from May 9-11. Granite Bay has a .312 team batting average, including Ryan Rosa at .408 (three homers), Andrew Wilson at .403 (two homers), Brett Bautista at .345, Oregon State signee Nate Esposito at .339 and freshman Vinny Esposito at .325. Jimmy Jack has hit a team-high four home runs.

Golf
Granite Bay wants to regain first place in the SFL after Del Oro won the league tournament at Sierra View Country Club. The Grizzlies have a win over Del Oro, and they meet again Thursday at Turkey Creek. Granite Bay has received solid golf from sophomores Bryan Wise, Brandon Baumgarten and Chuck Pedone, junior Alex Gibbs and freshman Mitch Martin. Now, senior Connor Hallisey has caught the lead pack. Hallisey didn’t play last season, as he pursued a soccer scholarship, according to golf coach Terry Stafford. Hallisey was named co-MVP of the SFL in soccer last fall for the unbeaten Division II section champs, he signed with Cal in February and began golf season shooting between 40 and 42 before shooting a 1-under-par 34 against Woodcreek.

Soccer
At 9-3 overall and 3-2 in the SFL, the Grizzlies are in third place with four games remaining, two against frontrunners Rocklin — at 3:30 p.m. Friday at home — and Roseville. The Grizzlies outshot the Tigers 14-4 but lost 1-0, and Rocklin scored in the 80th minute to beat Granite Bay 2-1. “Our big problem right now is scoring goals,” coach Chris Roberts said. “We have the best league in the area, in my opinion.” Christy Cooper has seven goals for a balanced Granite Bay team that has had 12 players hit the back of the net. Anna Goddi has six goals and is healthy again after being injured, and freshman Makenzie Brito has five.

Tennis
Granite Bay went 10-0 to capture the SFL championship. Beyond the league singles and doubles tournaments, the Grizzlies are gearing up for the Division II and Northern California team tennis playoffs. Rio Americano has won eight Division II titles and 10 total. Granite Bay has one section crown and has been the runner-up three years in a row. Granite Bay also wants to win a first-round match in the NorCal tournament for the first time. “We want to stay focused and worry about the bigger fish,” Grizzlies coach Rory Wood said. The Grizzlies are 20 players deep, led by No. 1 singles player Brad Wong, who was 5-0 at a preseason tournament in Fresno. No. 3 Matt Veneman is a team captain and has been a model of consistency, determination and grit, according to Wood; and No. 5 Blake Hunter is another team captain who was unbeaten in SFL matches.

Volleyball
Granite Bay, a two-time defending section champion, is 17-10 overall this season and running second to Rocklin in the SFL. Five of Granite Bay’s losses have been to teams ranked in the top 25 in the state, according to maxpreps.com: No. 2 San Jose-Bellarmine, No. 9 Rocklin, No. 12 Corona del Mar, No. 21 San Diego-Cathedral Catholic and No. 24 San Francisco-St. Ignatius. Matt Austin, Alec Naki, Bryan Berry, Carson Odegard and Kyle Howarth can all pound the ball over the net with sets by Jake Neptune.

Track and field
The Grizzlies have had several personal and school records fall this season leading up to their last two SFL meets against Rocklin today and Roseville on May 4. “Just about everybody had a PR of some sort” at the Woody Wilson Invitational on April 15, coach Jackie Nasca said. Sophomore Lauren Kinloch threw the discus 103 feet at the Wilson and then threw 106-11 the next day at the Glenn Poole Invitational at Oakmont to qualify for the Meet of Champions on April 30 at Hughes Stadium. Kinloch’s brother, James Kinloch, threw the discus 182-6 to place third at the Arcadia Invitational, and he won the Woody Wilson on a tiebreaker with a throw of 172. Triple jumper John Park was second at Arcadia and has broken the school record twice this spring, having jumped more than 46 feet. Decathlete Kevin Nielsen was second at Arcadia, setting personal records in all but one event, and he broke the school record in the 400 at the Wilson at 49 seconds.
- Bill Poindexter