Marybell Moreno had the unenviable task of replacing longtime coach Debbie Skaggs as Santa Monica High School’s (SaMoHi) new Lady Viking Softball coach. Skaggs was not only beloved by the community, she also retired after a championship year, leaving some big shoes to fill.
Coach Moreno’s competitive, confident, and positive demeanor made her ready for the challenge of following Skaggs. Just as coaches of the past who were faced with the daunting task of replacing a legend before them, like Phil Bengston who replaced Vince Lombardi, Gene Bartow who replaced John Wooden and Mike Brown who is now replacing Phil Jackson, Coach Moreno was chosen to replace Coach Skaggs. It was a tough transition for all of them – but Coach Moreno welcomed the challenge as a great opportunity.
Skaggs spent the last 25 years at SaMoHi building a respected ladies’ softball program – finishing her coaching career like these other coaches did; at the top. She won SaMoHi’s one and only CIF Championship in softball. She then left her legacy to Moreno.
Her first year, Moreno was aware of the task before her, but wasn’t going to dwell on it because the team was now hers and she had a job to do. She knew that the future was now hers to build. She finished 15-11 overall and 10-0 in League.
“We want to win the CIF Championship every year. That’s the dream of every year, but it took Coach Skaggs almost 25 years to do it,” SaMoHi’s Athletic Director Daniel Escalara said. “A lot goes into winning a championship”.
Moreno has a very positive approach to the game of softball and to life in general. From the start, she instilled the message that each player had to do her part to win. Each of them had to take responsibility for how they prepared and how they played; to be willing to make the play or do what is needed to win. It became the motto of the team and she continued to express it to them the entire year.
“She came in and got us started right away. There was not any discussion about the transition. It was business as usual and she got right down to practice and work. I really liked that,” said senior Kelsey Hom, who will be playing for Brown University next year. She played on last year’s team and felt that there were many problems with the transition but it was nothing Moreno didn’t handle. “I really liked her as my coach.”
Moreno attended SaMoHi and played for Skaggs. She also coached some of the girls as the junior varsity coach, so she knew the system and what to expect, but the change going from junior varsity to varsity was still going to take some adjustment. She and the players had to get to know each other.
“There are 16 players, each with their own personality and it’s up to the coach to figure out how to best deal with each of them. Varsity players do not need as much work in the fundamentals. They pretty much know how to throw and field so most of what I had to do was to get them playing together as a team,” Moreno said.
She said it was difficult for her at times to convey the type of softball she wanted to play. “It can’t always be hit the ball as far as you can and run.” She explained that depending on the team, sometimes it is better bunting and slapping the ball – putting it in play. It’s up to the coach to determine that, and sometimes it was hard to get some of the girls to go along.
For two months, while most high school teams were training and working out together, the Lady Vikings were closed out because they didn’t have a coach. It was a difficult time for the seniors and returning players.
“When she was finally hired as our coach we were all glad. But then it was hard and difficult to get used to a new style of coaching. Her on-field practice was different. She is also more laid back than Coach Skaggs was. But she taught us to be a team and to rely on each other. I think she did a great job and I’m looking forward to next year,” junior Kelly Ricard said. Ricard was asked to go from second base, where she played during the championship season, to catcher. She ended up becoming one of the league’s best catchers.
“It was a fun year, but definitely different. We lost six starters. They were some of my best friends on the team, but Marybell did an amazing job with what she was given,” said Meghan Bradley. “I think her age and being relaxed also might have had a lot to do with how the team responded to her. We were used to Coach Skaggs who was older and more intense and because of that she was able to make us do what she said a lot easier than Coach Moreno could.” Bradley, a four-year starter, was a big part of the team that won the championship last year and led the team in hitting this year.
“I think we had a good year. We came together as a team,” said Moreno. “Like Coach Skaggs, I believe that insisting on strong values and providing structure is very important for a coach to instill in a team. If a player doesn’t make it to practice I don’t care what their batting average is – they should be disciplined. I believe in holding everyone to the same standards.” This stance of hers, she suggested, did get her some reproach from parents but said it did not bother her.
“She’s been very dependable and professional. She worked hard and her heart is committed to the program. I’m glad she has this year under her belt and we’re all looking forward to next year,” Escalara said.
SaMoHi Lady Vikings are losing five seniors this year, but the good news is they have 11 players returning, and Coach Moreno will be one more year beyond the shoes she was expected to fill.
“I’m looking forward to building from this year,” she said.