The words spilled from Michelle Schneider's lips just as the tears welled in her eyes.
"I'm quitting the team," she told her varsity soccer coach. "I just can't keep up with my schoolwork."
It was a sentence as foreign to Schneider as anything she had spoken, and it took all her strength to lift the phone and pronounce the words.
A three-sport athlete at Los Alamitos High School, Schneider is much more accustomed to competing, excelling and celebrating. Stopping short is for opponents, and she is usually around long after her competition has faded away.
Currently starring at shortstop for the Griffin softball team, the talented junior is coming off a regular season in which she batted a team-high .415 with three home runs and 24 runs batted in.
In the Griffins' 9-0, first-round victory over La Quinta in the Southern Section Division I playoffs Friday, she drove in two runs to pace the Empire League champions.
Schneider's excellent softball season has helped her forget about the tug-of-war between academics and athletics that caused her to sit out her first sport since she started high school at Los Alamitos.
A league champion doubles tennis player last fall and a varsity starter in soccer and softball since her freshman year, Schneider knows she made the right decision three months ago, but that doesn't mean she has to feel good about it.
"I don't like to think about it," she said. "That was the hardest thing I had to do."
A preseason injury put Schneider on the sideline for the first few games, and while she watched, her schoolwork began to mount.
"After practice, we would go in for meetings, and by the time I got home, there was not enough time left for studying," she said. "Grades are very important to me, and I had to put school first."
Schneider carries a 4.3 grade-point average, an example of her off-the-field determination. Notre Dame and Stanford appear at the top of her list of college choices.
Next year, she plans to restrict her athletic load to tennis and softball, while increasing her academic load of honors classes. When Schneider begins college, she figures to leave behind the racket and focus on softball.
In the meantime, Schneider will attempt to guide Los Alamitos back into the Southern Section championship game, where it lost to Simi Valley, 1-0, last season. In that game, the Griffins were single-handedly beaten by, of all people, Sara Griffin , who pitched a shutout and scored the game's only run with a homer over the left-field fence.
"We would see Simi Valley in the semifinals if we both get that far," Schneider said.
Griffin is still playing for Simi Valley, but Los Alamitos has a squad full of them, which Schneider said is the team's strength.
"We are one of those teams that is good one through nine in the lineup," she said.
Schneider is careful to not look too far ahead. To get another shot at Simi Valley, the Griffins (22-4) must get past Buena today in the second round and either Foothill (22-6) or Kennedy (21-5-1) in the quarterfinals.
"I think we are peaking right now," Schneider said. "Our pitcher (Deborah Wilson) has not been real healthy until lately, and that's a good sign."
Because of Schneider, it's the opposing pitchers who are starting to look queasy.