PHS’ Brookelyn Gutierrez to play softball for PLU
When COVID-19 hit, Brookelyn Gutierrez didn’t miss a beat.
The Porterville High School softball player knew her junior season was lost, but instead of only mourning it, Gutierrez used all of her downtime to improve her skills and perfect her game.
Now with her senior season beginning, Gutierrez can go into it knowing she will also be playing somewhere else next year.
In early March, the infielder signed to play softball at Pacific Lutheran University, in Tacoma, Washington. The Lutes are an NCAA Division III program that plays in the Northwest Conference.
“It’s just so incredible,” Gutierrez said. “I look back to when COVID first hit. I would not be here today if I did not have the opportunity to do all that work on my own time when there wasn’t any games or anything like that.”
Gutierrez has never been one to shy away from doing the work to get her where she wants to be.
Growing up, she played soccer just like everyone else in her family until she came across a softball game on TV that sparked her interest. She tried out for her seventh grade team but didn’t make the squad.
Rather than quit the new sport, Gutierrez quickly joined the Porterville Magic softball team to develop her skills. She made the softball team the next year and then made the varsity Panthers team the year after. But still, she wasn’t done working.
“I still feel like I didn’t know very much about the game,” she said. “I had the basic skills down -- catch the ball, throw the ball, hit the ball -- but situationally, I feel like I wasn’t really a varsity mentality player.”
Gutierrez said she learned a lot from PHS head coach Jennifer Schoonover and also joined a Bownet organization out of Fresno for more serious coaching and competition to improve her skills. She now plays for Rocket out of Clovis.
Seeing the work Gutierrez has put in from her freshman year to now has amazed Schoonover.
“She’s honestly just blossomed into this all-around athlete,” Schoonover said. “Her footwork’s improved. Her strength. Her IQ of the game. As a player she’s a leader now. She’s no longer the one that can sit back and watch someone else lead. Now she’s the leader. She’s the captain. And the girls look up to her. They respond really well to her. And she’s just improved so much. And that’s all on her and what’s she done over the summer.”
During the winter, Gutierrez kept working and that’s how she got noticed by Pacific Lutheran. Gutierrez said she was going to go to a camp at Northwest Nazarene University, her No. 1 choice and where she first got into, but the December camp was postponed due to a spike in COVID cases in Idaho. The postponement worked in Gutierrez’s favor since more coaches would be able to attend in January, including PLU head coach Traci Barrett.
“She was interacting with me a lot more than I would’ve expected from any coach,” Gutierrez said. “And kind of just following me around the whole camp. And then at the end she gave me her card and said to look around at the school and see what I thought.”
Gutierrez took Barrett’s advice, did some research and applied to PLU. She was accepted in February and verbally committed to play softball at that time.
During her junior year, Gutierrez told Schoonover she wanted to play in college. Knowing all the work Gutierrez and her family put into making this happen is incredible to Schoonover.
“That’s amazing,” Schoonover said. “I think that’s a huge reflection of her, her parents and what they’ve decided to make of this time at home in COVID. And that’s to not give up. And keep grinding. She’s been working with her travel ball team as well, I don’t think they ever really stopped….I think she’s just never stopped. She’s always had that, ‘I want to do something better than what I’ve done here. I want to do more.’”
Gutierrez said she expects that playing at the college level will require more focus but what she definitely has already is the drive.
“Being driven, I’m solid there,” Gutierrez said. “I cannot wait to start the season and get to meet so many new people and live in a new state. Such a good environment. I’m really excited to start.”