Bill Plummer III

Arioto uses lessons learned from redshirt year to pay dividends as a senior

by Bill Plummer III June 11, 2012 in Softball

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What a difference a year makes, especially for University of California senior Valerie Arioto, the winner of the 2012 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award.

Last year, Arioto was at the WCWS, but she couldn’t play after suffering an injury in the spring of 2010 when she slid into second base, breaking a leg.  She simply had to watch from the dugout.

“At first, it hit me hard and I was pretty upset,” said Arioto.”But as time went by and I realized how much support and help I had, some of my worries went away.”

With Arioto sidelined after being named a first-team All-American (.355 batting average and a 1.43 ERA in the circle), some wondered how the Bears would do on the field without her.

“I knew this was going to test our team to see who else was going to step up and pick up the slack of Val not being there,” Cal Head Coach Diane Ninemire said. “We had so many hopes and dreams for her because of the value that she brings to this team in so many different ways. For any athlete who has an injury and high hopes, especially being a senior wanting to leave a legacy, I’m sure it was devastating for all. It was devastating for all of us.”

But Arioto made the most of the situation of her redshirt year, working on her conditioning and traveling with the team as if she was still a starter. She would help anyway she could, leading a cheer, offering advice to a teammate or even scorekeeping.

“Most of the season I couldn’t walk, but I tried to help out the coaches and girls when I could,” Arioto said.” With the talent and great girls we had last year, I didn’t really need to do much.”

“She found ways to participate and give that I don’t think she even realized she could,” Ninemire said of Arioto’s dedicated presence last year. “I think the whole experience, as bad as it was, ended up giving us a lot of good things.”

“It was physically hard recovering and rehabbing my leg, but I think it was more mentally challenging,” Arioto said. “I had a lot of support from my teammates and family, so I began to see my redshirt year as a learning experience. I think it helped me grow as a player and as a person!”

One of the more difficult parts of last year was when Cal made it to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, a feat not achieved in Arioto’s time in Berkeley until this year. Yet, she couldn’t play and watched as the Bears went 1-2 in the WCWS and 45-13 overall in their 11th appearance in the event.  Not being on the field was difficult to say the least for the outgoing Arioto.

“It was definitely hard - I wanted to play so bad,” Arioto said of watching the postseason from the dugout. “But again, I got to see the game from a different perspective and learn a lot about the game, which a lot of players don’t get to do until they are done playing or coaching.”

After six months, she got back to full strength during the summer, including winning a pair of gold medals with the USA National Team, including hitting .438 and leading the team in RBI. She also posted an outstanding 1.063 slugging percentage in the World Cup of Softball and then was part of the USA team that won a gold medal in the Pan American Games in Mexico, driving in the go-ahead run en route to an 11-1 USA win. She hit .368 overall for the USA National Team in 24 of 26 games, scoring 19 runs and driving in 21.

“I had a great time playing this past summer,” Arioto recalled. “The coaching staff is the best and the girls on my team are the best in the world. I got to travel and play softball, not much could be better. I got to experience some once-in-a-lifetime things!”

After winning two gold medals during the summer, Arioto returned to Berkeley in January and made it through practice without suffering another injury. She has had an outstanding year now that she’s healthy again, helping the Bears to an impressive record and a No. 1 ranking heading into the World Series in Oklahoma City.

She was named the 2012 Pac-12 Player of the Year and in California’s two wins over Arizona State to clinch the Pac-12 title, Arioto smashed a walk-off homer in the first game, then hurled a shutout in the second game, fanning 11.

Then, in the first game of the Super Regional against Washington, she went 2-for-3 with two RBI and hit homer in a 5-0 win over the Huskies while playing first base.

She’s one of the key reasons the Golden Bears entered the Series ranked No. 1 with a 56-5 record.

The first University of California player to win the Lowe’s CLASS Award, Arioto certainly has embodied the characteristics of the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award-character, classroom, community and competition.

“The Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award means a lot to me because it’s so encompassing,” said Arioto. “I’m honored to have been chosen by the fans and the committee with so many other gifted, intelligent and giving student-athletes in the same pool as me. I never could have gotten here without my coaches, family, friends and teammates.

“Redshirting last year gave me perspective. At first it was really hard, but my coaches, family, friends and teammates and the great training staff at Cal helped me through it. Not only am I really happy when I’m playing but I ‘m also a much more patient hitter.”

Arioto has already completed her degree requirements and majored in American Studies with an emphasis on social and cultural history of technology and entertainment with a GPA of 2.52. She was the Student-Athlete of the month in January of this year and is considering a career in the media, event planning or the media.

This summer she will resume playing for the USA National Team, then give pro fast pitch a try.

Besides the character she displayed by coming back from the injury, she has played an integral role in the team’s adopting of a little girl, Bebe, with pediatric cancer through the Friends of Jacyln, which is a non-profit, charitable organization that improves the quality of life for children with pediatric brain tumors and their families. Arioto also has volunteered for Special Olympics, serving lunches to the homeless of San Francisco, sponsoring local families every Christmas and participated in multiple 5Ks in honor of former Cal student-athlete Jill Costello who passed away from lung cancer at 22.