Former Notre Dame prep standout Alyssa Jepsen raised eyebrows in local softball circles when she walked away from a commitment to play softball at Chico State on her high school graduation day.
After playing year-round for nearly 14 years, Jepsen said the desire that fueled her hard-nosed playing style was gone. The decision culminated a senior year in which she missed a month of the season with an illness, and experienced tragedy in her personal life when a close friend died.
Still, she could hear the whispers.
“Basically, people were saying I was a ‘flake,’ that I was a ‘quitter,’” she said.
Jepsen has become a rock.
After a one-year hiatus, she returned to her roots, resurrecting a career many assumed was over at College of San Mateo. Jepsen, a sophomore who earlier this week made an oral commitment to Division I Santa Clara University, is putting the finishing touches on a brilliant Bulldogs career that she hopes will end with a deep postseason run.
CSM (26-11) opens a two-day best-of-three game series against Shasta at Shasta on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“I didn’t love the game when I quit. Now I love the game again,” she said.
Jepsen was a junior when she helped lead Notre Dame to its first Central Coast Section title in 30 years in 2007, and then a share of its first West Catholic Athletic League title ever the next year.
Jepsen played shortstop last season, and is pitching regularly this season for the first time since she was 12 on the request of coach Nicole Borg.
Jepsen is 14-6 with a 1.98 ERA, and has hit .435 with five homers and 35 RBIs.
Her move to the pitcher’s circle followed a freshman season when she was an all-state selection and the Coast Conference North Division’s Player of the Year. This season, she barely missed out on POY honors, but was an All-American selection.
She’s emerged as a team leader, mentoring less experienced players, Borg said, noting that Jepsen’s willingness to pitch demonstrated her commitment to her teammates and her desire to win.
“Alyssa has always been willing to do whatever it takes to win and I know her teammates appreciate that, regardless of her honors,” Borg said.
Jepsen came to CSM after a year at Arizona State, where she turned down a late tryout offer a contact helped set up for her, a decision she now considers one of her biggest regrets.
“I’m the kind of person where if people push you to do something, you just kind of rebel,” she said. “I just didn’t want to be out there.”
In CSM, Jepsen has found a place she wants to be.
Jepsen credits Borg with giving her a second chance after she’d admittedly arrived with some baggage. Jepsen’s ultra-intense playing style rubbed many area coaches the wrong way.
She acknowledges checking out during parts of her senior year at Notre Dame when she was “uncoachable.”
When Jepsen arrived at CSM, Borg called her aside, promising her a clean slate.
“She told me, ‘I’ve heard a lot of things about you, and whether they’re good or bad, I’m not going to judge you based on your past. I’m going to give you a fair shot.’ ”
Jepsen has made the most of the opportunity.
“I needed to grow up and figure out what’s important to me, and by her kind of investing her time and her energy and her in confidence in me meant the world to me,” Jepsen said.
Jepsen was still at Arizona State when she decided to go out for softball at CSM. She and a longtime friend, Caitlin Steele, a former Carlmont catcher who left San Diego State, agreed to go out for the team together. Steele’s plans changed after she developed a shoulder injury.
“I always said that I just wanted to be a normal student, and that’s just totally overrated,” Jepsen said. “I wanted to be part of a (team) and I want to be known as a student-athlete. I was missing the game, and this was my second chance.
“For me to say that I want to prove people wrong, yeah a little bit, but it’s mainly for me, so that I not feel like a complete failure, and that I did everything in my power to live up to my potential,” Jepsen said.
“For being away for so long, I think I’m doing pretty well.”