By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
The longest active tenured softball coach in the Santa Clarita Valley is hanging up her cleats. Valencia softball head coach Donna Lee has run the program since its birth in 1994 and has created a powerhouse.
After considering retiring for the past few seasons, Lee has finally decided to call it a career with the Vikings following the 2022 season.
“For years and years, I said it was my last year,” said Lee. “I had nine seniors; this was my biggest graduating class. I just thought this was time.”
Once the Vikings completed their season, Lee made the announcement at the team banquet.
Lee leaves behind a legacy with an astounding 545 career wins, 14 Foothill League titles, two CIF championships and one national title.
The Viking legend went to Taft High School, where she was a standout third baseman playing alongside her twin sister Debbie Hetman Skaggs.
Donna would go on to play at San Francisco State before returning home to coach at Taft. Lee served as the Toreadors’ varsity softball head coach as well as the junior varsity football head coach before heading out to Valencia.
Lee then took the Vikings’ job, being tasked first with building a varsity program from the ground up.
It wouldn’t be an overnight process and she knew it, but luckily Lee and her players believed in the process and kept improving year after year.
The skipper recalls being close in so many games with Hart and Saugus before the Vikings would fall short. But about four years in, she knew the program was on the cusp of something great.
In about a decade, Lee was developing stars, sending quality talent to schools like UCLA, UC Davis and Tennessee.
In 2001, the program won its first Foothill League title and the dynasty began. The Vikings would go on to dominate the league and win 10 straight Foothill League championships, with Lee’s fingerprints all over the master plan.
Valencia looked to take the next step midway through the dynasty.
The 2005 season saw the Vikings lose the CIF championship game before being booted early in the playoffs the next year. Lee made it her goal to find the missing link and get her high-caliber team over the hump. She believed more inclusivity and camaraderie would be the answer.
“I knew we were talented but just needed to make sure we had each other’s back,” said Lee. “Biggest thing in sports is knowing your sisters on the field and that you’ll do anything for them.”
The next year, Valencia lost just one game in its 2007 national championship season. The team featured future softball stars Amy Moore, Jessica Spigner, Kristen Aidem and ace Jordan Taylor.
Taylor was the catalyst in the circle that year. The senior went 32-0, finishing the year with a ridiculous 0.19 ERA. The ace blanked Hart in her final outing for Valencia, allowing just three hits and fanning 13 in the 2007 CIF championship game. The Vikings won the battle, 1-0.
Spigner matched Taylor’s dominance at the plate and led all starters with a .438 batting average, 41 hits, seven doubles, three triples and four home runs on the year.
“Ms. Lee was able to get every drop of potential out of me as a player,” said Spigner. “I really valued her as a coach. She was motivating, encouraging and challenging. She was tough and she really got the most out of us. She pushed us in practice, every single one.”
Spigner made the team her freshman year but wasn’t playing as much as she hoped to. The young slugger nervously met with Lee to discuss her role and remembers leaving the conversation determined and motivated to work even harder.
“We definitely had the talent,” said Spigner. “But I think she gave us the next level of motivation and determination to get to that next level. She was a tough coach, she was very challenging, there was no giving up. Playing for her for those four years was a very monumental experience. It’s impossible to not learn something from her.”
Spigner says Lee also pushed or perhaps punished the team on infield drills.
“She was a tough coach and challenged us to the max, especially when it came to fielding her ground balls,” said Spigner. “You either learned how to field them or the ball would hit you in the shins.”
Taylor would head to Michigan, Spigner went on to Tennessee before transferring to Arizona, Moore headed to the University of Pacific and Aidem went on to Michigan State.
Lee’s rosters have featured countless collegiate and national players over the years. But even with all the stars and talent, Lee knows they could have all the talent in the world and not do it by themselves. All the big stars believed in the team-first mentality their coach worked to instill.
“Those are not just the players that brought success, it was the team,” said Lee. “They really surrendered the ‘me’ for the ‘we.’ If you can do that you can win anything.”
Cal State Fullerton commit Cheyanne Marxer is part of Lee’s largest graduating class in 2022.
Marxer led the Vikings to the playoffs in her senior year after batting .477 and knocking in 33 RBI.
“She definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me who I am today,” said Marxer.
The future Titan got to spend an extra amount of time with Lee after an injury sidelined her for her junior season. Lee checked in with Marxer right after her surgery, as she cared for her players as family.
“When times get hard she’ll help you work through it,” said Marxer, “while at the same time she brings the fun into it. She wants you to be a better softball player and a better person.”
Even with all the accolades, championships and pro-level talent she’s produced, Lee’s favorite memories are just the simple moments of being on the field with the players. The skipper loved getting to know her team, seeing them improve on and off the field and teaching them they can do anything they can set their minds to, something she believes is the best part of coaching.
“[It’s] instilling belief in the kids that they can do anything that they put their minds to,” said Lee. “Once you believe that, you can do anything.”
The coaching legend will remain on campus and continue teaching health at Valencia. Lee plans to fully enjoy her retirement and do the traveling she never could in her nearly 30 seasons with Valencia softball.
The retirement feeling still hasn’t hit her yet, but come August when Lee is only needed in the classroom, she knows she’ll feel it with full force.
Lee will still be there at every home game supporting her former players and new head coach Sean Pollard.
Pollard, a longtime assistant coach, is inheriting a ready-to-win team and will look to lead them to their 16th Foothill League title. Any milestone from here on out will be the first without Lee, but it’ll be won by a program forever known as the “House that Donna built.”