Casey Lester has watched a fair share of fellow teammates and friends sign their names on the dotted line, finalizing their commitment to four-year institutions to continue their athletic careers. Lester said she cried at every one of them.
Flanked by flowers, balloons, old jerseys and photos, the Gilroy High senior softball player sat in front of about 50 friends and family inside the Cesar Chavez Library on the GHS campus Tuesday. It was her turn to scribe her signature on her Letter of Intent to play for LaSalle University. With no surprise, it took all of five words into her touching, albeit brief, “Thank you” speech before the tears took over.
“I had so much more to say, too,” Lester said now laughing as her supporters gobbled up cake around her. “I just wanted to thank everyone who has had an impact in my life. My parents and the big influence they’ve had on me.”
Her dad, Dusty Lester, shared a story of the duo’s first trip to the diamond after Casey said she “wanted to go hit.” Dusty accidentally plunked his daughter in the head. The bean ball didn’t detour Casey, who played on back-to-back Gilroy Little League All-Star teams that qualified for the LIttle League World Series in 2006 and 2007. The team finished fifth both years.
“I’ll miss getting off of work and going straight to coaching her and her teammates,” Dusty said.
Lester, a three-time Tri-County Athletic League first-team all-league center fielder, with aspirations of attaining a fourth at the conclusion of her senior season, said she felt a sense of relief to finalize her decision.
“I got to a point last year where I didn’t think I was going to go to college for softball because everything was falling through,” Lester said. “I was so frustrated. But I just feel great now and so happy with where I’m going.”
Lester said she knew from the moment she began playing softball at the age of 10 she wanted to attend college outside of California. La Salle – and its Division I softball program – is located in Philadelphia. The team’s name, the Explorers, seems that much more serendipitous. Lester got the attention of La Salle head coach Brianne Brown at a tournament in Colorado last summer.
“I fell in love with it on my official visit in September,” Lester said. “I’m so excited. The group of girls is so tight-knit and that’s the type of team I wanted to go into – family oriented.”
The Explorers play in the Atlantic 10 Conference, which includes other teams such as Temple, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s.
“We are so excited to have the addition of Casey to our La Salle softball family,” manager Brown wrote in an email. “From the moment I saw her play on the field in Colorado, I knew that she was the type of player that would excel in our program. Her speed and general athletic ability would easily catch any coach’s eye, but her passion and work ethic towards the game of softball put her at another level. We are excited to bring her talent to Philadelphia and are looking for her to make an impact in the Atlantic 10 immediately.”
Gilroy High athletic director and softball manager Julie Berggren credited Lester, who is also the Commissioner of Athletics for the GHS Associated Student Body, a member of the Link Crew, is in advanced sports medicine and was named homecoming queen, for her leadership qualities.
“She just been a pleasure to have in my leadership classes and on the field,” Berggren said. “She’s an amazing vocal and physical leader. You can’t ask for a person who is more of a team player.”
With a 3.8 grade point average and desire to go pre-med, her academic goals, plus her involvement in sports medicine at GHS is fuel to Lester’s career hopes of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
“She’s come through clutch for me this year,” head athletic trainer for GHS Jennifer Spinetti said. “She will definitely be hard to replace. It will take two or three people to do the job that she has done.”
As a junior, Lester, out of the leadoff spot, compiled a .477 batting average in league play, despite missing time with a late-season injury. Her travel ball career includes four seasons with the Gilroy Chaos, two with the San Jose Strikkers and four seasons with the 18U San Jose Sting Gold.