When she was 14, Brylynn Vallejos went up to her travel ball coach. The aspiring college softball player had seen the older girls on her team — the Nevada Lightning — get recruited, and find college programs. She knew she was good enough. Should she start sending emails? Who should she call? Which camps were the best?
“He would always just push me aside, and let the bigger, older girls or the senior girls get basically the first pick,” she said.
She was too small, he said. At 4-foot-11, and not even 100 pounds, she didn’t have the frame for it. Now, five years later, Vallejos a conference freshman of the year, a record-setting hitter and the leading star on a San Francisco State softball team headed back to the CCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
“I’m not used to .500 type ball,” head coach Alicia Reid said this week. “Being able to make that quick turnaround very quickly, it happened a lot sooner than I was hoping, so it’s exciting.”
When Reid arrived in June of 2017, the Golden Gators (38-18, 26-13 in CCAA) — who face Western Oregon at 11 a.m. on Thursday in Irvine, Calif. — had finished above .500 in conference play just once since 2006. Vallejos wasn’t just a fit from a talent perspective, but because of her temperament.
“My high school, we were always kind of the underdog,” Vallejos said.
Vallejos had committed as a junior, under former coach Lisa McKinney. No one else had recruited her. Even though Reid got on the recruiting trail the weekend after she was hired — wearing bookstore-bought gear — she didn’t see Vallejos until the fall, when she attended a Gators camp. Vallejos took two swings off the tee, and Reid knew she had something special.
“Know that you have nothing to worry about,” Reid told Vallejos. “You’re a player we still want, that I still want, that can be a big part of this program, and turning things around.”
Reid was an assistant at Humboldt State for five years, making the NCAA Division II championships three times and the finals once. An All-CCAA player herself with the Lumberjacks, Reid knew that successful programs were built on players like Vallejos.
Since being told she was too small to be on anybody’s radar, Vallejos had sprouted to 5-foot-6, and become one of the top players in the state of Nevada. As a four-year varsity starter, she hit .457 for Reno (Nev.), hitting .651 as a senior. In four years, she scored 140 runs, drove in 85 and hit 11 home runs.
Her speed, though, had been vastly underutilized. She stole just 20 bases in 21 attempts in four years.
“That blew me away,” said Reid, who saw something more, something that fit her high-pressure, slapping, bunt-and-steal offense.
Playing the outfield — which she’d done just once in high school — Vallejos began her freshman season with an eight-game hitting streak, swiping nine bases. The Gators, though, stumbled out of the gate, going 3-6 to start the season. As exceptional as Vallejos and the rest of her classmates were, there were still 11 freshmen on a 22-woman team. It took time for Reid’s teachings — getting her players to think like her — to take hold.
“I felt like we had a lot of pieces before we even had one day of practice in the fall,” Reid said. “It was just going to be about finding the correct pieces to that puzzle to give us the most consistent success.”
San Francisco State then swept Humboldt State on the road, kicking off an 11-game hitting streak for Vallejos and an 8-3 stretch for the team, heading into a showdown with Division II powerhouse UC San Diego.
“Me and the freshmen, we wanted to prove how good we were, and that we could play with them,” Vallejos said. “That’s what we did … we weren’t scared to play them because they were the top dog.”
They split the road weekend series, using the Tritons’ own style of offense to win 14-10 and 3-1, while losing 3-2 and 7-6.
“We knew, in the back of our minds, we had the potential to sweep this team,” Reid said.
San Francisco State went 24-5 down the stretch, hit a CCAA-best .325 and made the CCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. There, the Gators beat the Tritons again, 3-0, with Vallejos scoring the first run.
The coach who told her she was too small is no longer coaching. That travel ball team is no more. Vallejos is the CCAA Freshman of the Year, a first-team All-CCAA selection and the catalyst for a program’s resurrection, leading the conference in batting (.459), stolen bases (32), runs (54), hits (a program-record 94, 30 ahead of second place) and total bases (133, 15 ahead of second).
She committed because she loved the campus. She stayed because she loved the offense. She’s already made history along the way, and she’s a finalist for Division II Player of of the Year.
“It worked out nicely,” Reid said.