For most individuals, the 2013 All-Pacific League softball team selection is evidence they took a step in the right direction in their games.
A trio of locals walked away from the season with first-team honors. Crescenta Valley offensive leader Hannah Cookson and pitcher Olivia Thayer were both selected to the top squad, along with Glendale High first baseman Alia Zavala, who completed a drastic turnaround in her final high school year.
It's Cookson's third consecutive first-team all-league honor, despite a career-low offensive output as most teams chose to pitch around her than be stung by her bat. She was still spectacular for the Falcons and led her team in all power numbers with a .871 slugging percentage that come on the heels of eight doubles, seven homers and four triples. She also posted a team-best .505 on-base percentage after drawing a team-high 12 walks and hitting .435 (37 for 85) with 34 runs batted in and 31 scored.
Although Cookson led her team in free passes, Crescenta Valley Coach Mark Samford was surprised Cookson, who batted .731 (49 for 67) with 16 home runs, 53 RBI and 41 runs in 2012, got as many chances to hack as she did.
"I don't know why they pitched to her," said Samford, who's announced he won't return to the team next season. "Given the year she had last year, she had plenty of pitches."
After being named an honorable mention a year ago, Thayer shot up to the first team in another strong year in the circle for the Falcons. The junior went 12-9 with a 1.75 earned-run average and 81 strikeouts to 21 walks this season. She did give up 78 runs on the year, but only 30 of them were earned.
"She pitched against some really good teams," Samford said of Thayer. "Her record shows our inability to catch and throw sometimes. I thought she really matured through the year."
Zavala, who played first base and spent all four years on the varsity squad, posted a team-high .540 batting average with 28 hits and 14 runs batted in. She was also a defensive anchor at first base, with 90 putouts and a .960 fielding percentage, for a young Nitros team that had its fair share of defensive struggles.
"It's ironic because in her first year she batted .090," Glendale Coach Christine Paknik said. "Each year she has progressed, she cleaned up at the end of the year and had the most RBI on the team.
"Her offense was a surprise this year and she worked at it every year, that's the story you want to sit by and watch. Not a lot of kids move up like that each year."
The Falcons had two more second-team players, while the Nitros had one of their own. CV shortstop Hailey Cookson and third baseman Taylor Hill each got the nod, along with Glendale shortstop Rachel Bartamian.
There could have been a good argument for Hailey Cookson to jump up to the first team after she led the team in batting average (.467, 43 for 92) and added 24 runs, 12 RBI, four doubles and three triples. The sophomore shortstop also added .576 slugging and .479 on-base percentages.
Hill, a junior, added to the Falcons' feared offense. She hit .380 (30 for 79) with 18 runs, 13 RBI, three homers and two doubles. The honorable mention from a season ago also recorded .519 slugging and .449 on-base percentages.
Bartamian got a promotion from honorable mention to the second team this year. The junior batted .380 with 11 runs, eight stolen bases and seven RBI. Defensively, she posted a .940 fielding percentage.
There was one glaring absence from not only the first team, but the second team as well, as Hoover senior Kaitlyn Williams — an all-league first-team pick the past two years — was the Tornadoes' lone honorable mention as a senior.
It was the lowest Williams had ever fallen on the all-league list — after garnering second-team accolades as a freshman — in her finest statistical season offensively.
Hoover Coach Rich Henning blamed the allotment format for determining all-league players. The top-four teams in league receive two first- and second-team players, with the league champion also getting three first-teamers. The fifth-place squad gets one first- and second-team slot. The sixth-place finisher also picks up a second-teamer.
"Our record this year didn't reflect anything, so the best shortstop in the league got shortchanged," Henning said. "She's arguably one of the top five players in the league, in my opinion, and probably 90% of the coaches would have voted her a first-team player if they had the chance."
The Louisiana Tech-bound player had a career- and team-high .528 (28 for 53) batting average and RBI total (27). She also scored 19 runs and recorded .943 slugging and .606 on-base percentages with eight doubles, four home runs and four stolen bases.
Williams joined Nitros senior Meghan Spencer (.410 batting average, 12 runs, nine stolen bases) and Falcons junior Whitney Craig (.344 batting, 15 RBI, eight runs) as honorable mentions.