Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tiumalu resigns as PG softball coach

Led program to school’s first-ever section title
By Jon Gudel - Sports Editor
Published: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 4:43 PM PDT
Just minutes after being eliminated in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs, head coach J.T. Tiumalu hugged his players and fought back tears. Even he didn’t know that would be his last high school game.

After winning the Division I section title with an upset of then-defending champion Sheldon in 2009, Pleasant Grove had been considered the consensus favorite to repeat. They didn’t.

The end was tough, especially because Tiumalu had coached his daughter, senior catcher Alyssa Tiumalu, for the final time in a high school uniform. Alyssa Tiumalu, who recently played in the Under Armour All-American Game with former Pleasant Grove teammate Ally Carda, will be attending UCLA on a softball scholarship in the fall.

Now Pleasant Grove softball faces the prospects of replacing two Tiumalus. J.T. Tiumalu, the third-year coach that led the program to three consecutive postseason appearances and a league and section title, resigned as the softball coach last week to accept a job in Southern California.

“I am heartbroken that I have to leave PG and move out of Elk Grove,” said Tiumalu. “We really love it here.”

Tiumalu, who designs cell phone towers, had been out of permanent work for a year-and-a-half and his contract job runs out in September. A potential job in San Francisco where he could work from home fizzled, thus forcing him to accept a position in Palm Springs.

“He’s done a great job,” said Pleasant Grove athletic director Jeff Caton. “He’s been here three years. He’s done such a great job. We’ve gotten to a level I didn’t really think was possible in such a short time.”

Tiumalu said he began searching for a new job about six months ago and had four phone interviews. He was flown out for an interview in Rancho Mirage, one of eight cities in the Palm Springs area, and was offered the job.

Said Tiumalu: “It is a great opportunity that I couldn’t ignore. I have to feed the family.”

What made the decision more strenuous, according to Tiumalu, was that his daughter, Brianna, a junior at Pleasant Grove, had just made the varsity cheerleading team.

In the end, he was unable to find work closer to home.

“I will miss everything about this community,” said Tiumalu. “I will miss the rivalries and competition. I just hope someday I can return to coaching at the high school level. It was the most rewarding job I have ever had. I just wish coaching paid as well as engineering. It would be a no-brainer.”

Aside from seemingly instant success once Tiumalu was hired in 2007, Pleasant Grove also became the top program in a city known for its softball. Sheldon, Pleasant Grove and Elk Grove have combined to the last four Division I titles.

A league rivalry was born with Sheldon and more recently a cross-town rivalry with Elk Grove developed last season. Elk Grove swept the regular season series – both one-run games – and then beat Pleasant Grove for a third time in the playoffs.

“PG-EG was becoming a nice rivalry similar to EG-Sheldon,” said Elk Grove softball coach Jeff Alexander. “J.T. brought smarts, intensity, and a strong desire to win to the PG softball program.”

Elk Grove and Pleasant Grove began a home-and-home non-conference series last season and Alexander said that schedule will continue in 2011.

Elk Grove is the defending Division I section champion.

“Teams get better playing good teams and it was a win-win situation for both of us to face pitching like Carda and (Elk Grove starter Shelby) Wisdom,” said Alexander. “He will be missed.”

In Tiumalu’s three seasons, Pleasant Grove went 66-20 overall and won its first Delta River League title last season. Six former players are playing college softball and 15 were named to the All-Delta River League first team.

Pleasant Grove opened last season as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation according to ESPN Rise top 50 poll.

“He loves the game. He loves the kids and he’s been successful,” said Caton. “We lucked out to have him here as long as we did. We’re going to miss him.”

Pleasant Grove, which went 20-7 overall and 10-0 in league last season, loses just five seniors. With four freshmen and two sophomores on the roster, they were one of the youngest teams in the Delta River League.

Carda, one of the top pitchers in the country who will join Tiumalu at UCLA in 2011, returns for her senior season.

Last year’s freshman class – Taryn Renowden, Lindsey Willmon, Morgan Carter and Amber Murray – was unquestionably the most productive underclassmen group in the section.

“I am happy I had a hand in helping many of these girls find love for the game and want to play at a high level,” said Tiumalu. “I am blessed to have been their coach. They made me look good. Their hard work and dedication was a reward to all involved with PG softball.

“The PG athletic department is in good hands with Jeff Caton,” he added. “He was always there to support our kids. I will miss everything about PG. Great people and great kids.”

Tiumalu plans to return to coaching at some point, whenever his new job allows him to do so. His 11-year old daughter, Kamryn, competed in the under-10 ASA National Championships last weekend.

He also has a 4-year old daughter.

“I am off to start a new chapter,” said the elder Tiumalu. “I would guess you haven’t heard the last from me as a coach.”

Pleasant Grove softball is also starting a new chapter. Caton said he plans to post the job listing on the Elk Grove Unified School District website by this week.

The listing must be posted for at least two weeks within the district before it can be opened to outside district candidates. District applicants are given first priority.

Caton said ideally he wants to hire a new coach by Oct. 1.

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