Cypress' Pohl Is Setting Her Sights Higher : Prep softball: She returned to coach her alma mater by chance. But she has found her niche, and now aspires to work on the college level.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The coach isn't staying.

That thought flashed through Julie Adams' world last week on a postgame bus ride. Everything seemed right for Cypress High School's sophomore shortstop. She had already won a Southern Section 5-A softball championship, she had a new coach she adored, and she was excited about the new season.

And then Coach Diane Pohl let it slip: She's a short-timer.

"I just kind of looked at her like, 'What? You can't leave me,' " Adams said.

She can, and she will, because Pohl's dream is to one day lead a Division I college program, an aspiration that is probably just a matter of time. She was a standout catcher at Iowa, named the school's softball player of the decade, and, by chance is now coaching her high school alma mater. What are the odds that the defending 5-A champions would be without a coach?

"If it had been any other high school, I probably wouldn't have taken it," Pohl said.

It was never her idea to coach this year, anyway. After being a first-team All-American catcher at Iowa--where she batted .345 over her career and set several hitting and base-stealing records--she was injured her senior season, and decided she needed a break from school. She came home for a semester to get a part-time job and relax. Then the coaching job opened up in November.

She's only 22 and figured she needed the experience, anyway. But the lack of a degree would severely hinder her chances of landing a coaching position at the Division I level.

"After getting this little taste of coaching, I know this is what I want to do," Pohl said. "I always thought I wanted to be a coach, but now I know that's what I want to be.

"I expected it to be a lot like it is. I expected it to be challenging, but I also expected it to be fun. I feel helpless sometimes because I want to get out there and play. It's strange not to be out there between the lines. And it's challenging to work with all those different personalities and to put those personalities together to form a team that bonds."

A team that clicks. A team that wins.

She'll return to Iowa in the fall to complete her major in leisure studies and her minor in theater arts, then return to Southern California to complete her internship. She knows she'll coach at Cypress next year, which will be Adams' junior year.

"As soon as a Division I job comes up, I'll take it," Pohl said. "I mentioned to my girls that after next year, I would leave and a couple of them said, 'What are you talking about? There's no way you can leave.' There's already a bond.

"I won't feel like I'm abandoning them because what I've taught them they will carry with them, but I think there will be a difficult time separating myself from them when and if that time comes. A lot of things can happen in two years."

A lot can happen in six months.

Janelle Frese coached Cypress last year and, after winning a Southern Section 5-A championship, resigned for personal reasons.

Monica Jimenez was that team's leading pitcher. She had a 0.17 earned-run average and 237 strikeouts--and only 36 walks--in 202 innings. The senior already has a scholarship to Utah.

But she's not playing this year. Personal reasons.

These are the types of things that can happen. The Jimenez episode is especially frustrating for the team. That was apparent when Pohl, discussing the pitcher's remarkable numbers, added with a sigh: "And I'm not getting her back."

She is left with two pitchers, freshman Tynel Humphries and sophomore Kim Lumsdine. Everyone on the team understands the importance of playing defense this year and scoring runs. Lots of runs.

But Jimenez isn't the only one who's not returning. Neither are shortstop Azure Caldarella--again citing personal reasons--and center fielder Nina Welsh, who had back surgery.

All Pohl knows, and says, is the team "didn't seem as happy as they should have been after winning a championship."

No one ever said it would be easy.

Adams was 11 when her father used to drive her to watch Cypress High School play softball. To watch Diane Pohl play softball.

Pohl was a three-sport starter and a three-time all-county selection in softball. She not only played in high school, but also on Gordon's Panthers, a standout local club program. Her four years at Iowa under Gayle Blevins--who commanded such respect from her players that Pohl decided she wanted to coach--have given her a good understanding of what makes a solid program.

Adams said she has noticed more attention to detail in this year's practices. Her coach says there's a reason. It starts with the coach's agenda.

"People who are going into coaching to be coaches are more serious about what they're doing," Pohl said. "This is my main objective. . . . I think I'm taking more time in organizing practices and drills than other people because this is what I want to do as a job.

"If (the coach is) teaching--and coaching on the side--it's more of a second job to them and a fun time."

Not that there isn't an emphasis on fun at Cypress. The team has already had a karaoke party--and Pohl recorded it to hold over her players' heads--and there will be more bonding later this season when they camp overnight on a beach trip. Pizza parties are a mainstay.

"My greatest memory of high school wasn't the games we won and lost, it was the things we did as a team after the game," said Pohl, whose Cypress team won the section title in her senior year, 1988.

Everything Pohl liked as a player is going into this program. At 22, she is not that far removed from the athletes she's directing. She wants to challenge her players in much the same way club programs do.

"I think there's a lack of good coaching at the high school level because it's so time consuming and they don't pay you very well," Pohl said. "So I think you get coaches who are inexperienced and don't put in the time they need to, and the high schools rely on the girls to play travel ball in the summer and what they learn there to carry them through high school."

Pohl notes that, for travel players, high school softball often is not as competitive as summer clubs are. "That's one of the things I'm trying to do, keep it at that same competitive level, working drills and plays and all the things they do in summer ball that they don't do in high school," she said. "When I played, (high school) was a step down."

It is an approach that has already proven popular with her players, who have been under her direction for only four weeks.

"I just hope she's there through my senior year," said Adams, who started at first base last year as a freshman. "I really enjoy her as a coach. I think she's going to be a real asset to the Cypress High School softball program.

"I'd hate to see her go, but being a Division I coach like she wants to be, that's the ultimate thing. That's the best thing for her if she gets the opportunity. In the long run, you want to think of others, but you have to do what's best for yourself."

A lot can happen in two years.

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