Source: Los Angeles Times
The women of the Cal State Dominguez Hills softball team clasped hands as they walked the outfield of the Assembly Athletics Complex in Denver.
They had just lost 6-1 in the final game of the NCAA Division II championship series to Rogers State of Claremore, Okla. After a historic spring that saw CSUDH win its first NCAA West Regional title, as well as compete in a championship series for the first time in its 40-year history, the teammates enjoyed a moment of unity.
All season, the Toros (45-24) stuck together.
“There’s 20 of us girls … and I can tell you not once did we have any sort of drama,” said Raquel Jaime, a senior infielder. “Our chemistry was there. We were there for each other on and off the field.”
That bond proved crucial early. Well before the championship series the last two days in May, team members traveled from their campus in Carson to Rohnert Park for a California Collegiate Athletic Assn. series against Sonoma State. On March 3, their flight arrived in Oakland, where they boarded rental vans for the last leg of the journey. They stopped at a plaza near Oakland International Airport before traveling north.
Alyssa Olague, a junior pitcher, went into a Starbucks with a group of teammates and coaches. Jaime and the rest of the team munched on sandwiches at a nearby Subway. As she ate, Jaime peered through the window of the sandwich shop and saw a group of men clad in sweatpants and hoodies shattering the vans’ windows and removing belongings from the vehicles.
Shocked, the 2022 NCAA Division II championship series most outstanding player, ran outside to confront the thieves. Then she said her instincts set in and she backtracked. By the time she grabbed her teammates, Jaime said, the men hopped into a car and sped away.
“I had to just memorize the license plate,” Jaime said. “It was what it was at that point.”
After the Starbucks run, Olague said she and a couple others went to the gas station in the plaza. Oblivious to the theft, they walked out laughing. That laughter stopped once they saw their crying teammates standing by the trashed vans.
“You’re having one of these amazing memorable trips with everyone … and something kind of ruins it,” Olague said. “Your heart kind of sank to your stomach in a sense because you didn’t know if your stuff was stolen, if any of your teammates’ stuff was stolen.”
Olague lost virtually everything. Softball equipment. Wallet. Passport. Glasses. Contacts. Laptop. Chargers. She and others on the team had to freeze their Social Security numbers and print out alternative forms of identification for the flight home.
Among Jaime’s stolen items were the keys to her car, for which she had no spare. She said a locksmith charged $300 to replace the keys. No one was physically hurt, but 13 bags with softball equipment and personal belongings were stolen, according to a GoFundMe page started by parents, alumni and community members to help the team.
Money from the page that has raised $1,495 is directly deposited to the softball team through the athletic program, said coach Jim Maier. The university also supported the team by providing iPads, keyboards and other materials.
Maier said the Oakland Police Department did not respond to the coaching staff’s calls, but that didn’t change the fact that the Toros had a game the next day. They returned the mangled vans to the rental car agency and exchanged them for new ones. They bought new equipment at a local store. Then, CSUDH played the series, winning three of four games against Sonoma State.
“I asked the team what they wanted to do … and they wanted to play,” Maier said. “They went up there and put that behind them and played really well.”
The Toros’ resilience continued into the postseason, but in the end, Rogers State proved too much for the young Cal State Dominguez Hills team that featured six true freshmen and lost three seniors after the season.
While players were disappointed they didn’t win a national title, they know how to move forward.
“After [the theft] happened, I would just say that our team could overcome anything at that point,” said Ashley Wies, a sophomore pitcher. “Any challenges faced our way, we can overcome if we have one another.”
Wies said she’s grateful for the on-field loss because the team can spot areas where it can improve for next season. Olague echoes that sentiment.
“You feel the hurt,” Olague said, ”but you also feel that fire.”
During that stroll across the Assembly Athletics Complex after they lost the championship series, returning players told departing seniors they would come back to win it all.