Player Spotlight: Candace Vallegra
Simpson University Sports News - Republished with permission
By Ray Hacke, Auburn Journal Correspondent
Bear River grad offers a big bat, unique perspective for surging Simpson softball team
Candace Vallerga is a mother figure to her Simpson University softball teammates.
It’s not just that, at 23, the Bear River High graduate is older than most of her fellow Red Hawks who haven’t yet reached their 20s. The former Candace Wermes is also a married woman who occasionally opens up her home to teammates so they can enjoy a home-cooked meal, use her washing machine if they’re short on quarters or even just relax and watch a movie.
“All the players on the team call me ‘Mom’ or ‘Grandma’ — the coaches definitely call me ‘Grandma,’” the bubbly, chatty Vallerga said. ”Sometimes they call me ‘Big Mama.’
“They even call my husband ‘dad’ sometimes.”
Vallerga’s motherly instincts carry over to the softball diamond, where teammates frequently lean on her for emotional support.
“When the younger players get down, she makes sure they don’t get too low,” Simpson coach Wayne Stower said.
Now a senior at Simpson, Vallerga is a major reason why Simpson’s two-year-old softball program is rapidly developing into a powerhouse. Last season she hit .340 and shared the team lead in home runs as the Red Hawks finished second in the California Pacific Conference and came up one win shy of the NAIA’s national tournament.
This season Vallerga is batting .270 with five doubles, a triple, 12 RBIs and 10 runs scored for Simpson (31-16), which is atop the Cal Pac Conference at 13-1 and needs just two wins to secure a trip to this year’s national tournament, slated for May 20-26 in Decatur, Ala.
“We have the potential to do really well at nationals,” Vallerga said. “The No. 1 team in the country is Cal Baptist, and they run over everybody. Our team held them to three (runs). We just need to keep it up. Hopefully we’ll keep doing really well and make it to nationals.”
Vallerga is so valuable to the Red Hawks, according to Stower, that when she hurt her right shoulder earlier this season, the coach moved her from third base to the outfield to keep her bat in the lineup, where she hits fifth. Vallerga now splits time between third, the corner outfield spots (right and left field) and designated hitter.
“She swings the bat really, really well,” Stower said.
Vallerga has overcome a slew of injuries to make her softball career last a full four years. She originally went to Vanguard University in Southern California, but blew out her knee at her first softball practice and had to redshirt her first season.
“I was very upset,” Vallerga recalled. “I was all excited about playing college ball, and then I couldn’t my first year. It was hard.”
Vallerga came home to the Foothills and spent the next two seasons at Sierra College in Rocklin, where she earned All-America honors following her freshman season in 2007. She re-injured her knee in 2008, but still managed to earn an All-Big 8 Conference honorable mention.
“Considering all my injuries, I’ve gotten quite a few awards,” Vallerga said. “It’s very nice. I’m always surprised when I get ‘em.
“Last year I broke my nose when I got hit in the face with a ball,” she added. “I still can’t breathe through my nose. I’m hoping to get that fixed after nationals.”
No matter how many injuries she’s suffered, however, her passion for softball has kept her coming back for more.
“I just pray to the Lord to give me strength every day,” she said. “I work hard and do my physical therapy and do it for the love of the game. I just love it so much.”
Following her second season at Sierra, Vallerga married her husband Garrett, whom she met in high school while playing beach volleyball at Folsom Lake. While Vallerga said juggling married life with being a student athlete has had its challenges. But she was grateful to have him there for support when both of her grandfathers – both of whom she was very close to – died within a month of each other last fall.
“It took a lot of prayers to get through,” Vallerga said. “I’m lucky to have a loving husband and great teammates, coaches and teachers to get me through it.”
Vallerga isn’t the only softball player in her family. Her younger sister Jenna is a sophomore catcher at Chico State.
”I’m jealous that she’s got two years left (to play softball),” Vallerga said, laughing. “But it’ll be great next year because I’ll be able to go watch her.
“I feel bad for my parents because they have to try to split our games up,” she added. “But they’re awesome, and they’re really fair.”
A history major with a 3.6 grade-point average, Vallerga eventually hopes to return to Bear River as a teacher and softball coach after she graduates next month.
“I love Grass Valley and have always wanted to go back,” she said. “I’m definitely a small-town girl.”
“She’s a great young lady and a joy to have on our team,” Stower said. “You always like to have someone like that on your team. I hope we can find someone to replace her when she graduates.”
Contact: Derrick Pringle, Jr.