St. Anthony senior Tiare Jennings received a huge honor last week when it was announced that she is Gatorade’s California Softball Player of the Year after what was looking to be a record-setting senior campaign. Jennings was hitting .710 with 19 RBI, 18 runs, six HRs and a 1.483 slugging percentage through eight games this year.
“It was very emotional and I’m super happy representing myself and Long Beach and St. Anthony,” said Jennings.
She got a call at 6:30 a.m. from her dad, Nacio Jennings, who was working security at the Long Beach Port when he found out his daughter was receiving the honor. “He called me from work and said, ‘Check your email.’”
Jennings has signed a scholarship with perennial powerhouse Oklahoma; the Sooners won the NCAA title in 2016 and 2017 and were runners-up in 2019. They’ve made the College World Series the last four years in a row and have only missed it once in the last decade. Jennings is a player of that caliber, widely ranked as the top infielder in the country and slotted as the No. 2 recruit in the entire country for the 2020 class by Extra Inning Softball.
Jennings said the award was a nice emotional boost because she and her family will be a long time getting over the loss of what was setting up to be a truly remarkable senior season. The Saints were 8-0 and looking like overwhelming favorites to win this year’s CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship, possibly as a conclusion to an undefeated season.
“I’m definitely in the grief process,” said Jennings. “We’ve been looking forward to this season since we were freshmen, we had so many talented seniors and then a great incoming freshman class, including my sister Tele. We were looking forward to winning a ring together.”
Instead, Jennings has been fielding congratulatory texts and social media posts from teammates and future teammates at the NCAA level. A community-minded student-athlete, Jennings was a member of St. Anthony’s campus ministry, carried a 4.25 GPA, and had volunteered locally as a youth softball coach.
Jennings is such a humble athlete that she said she wasn’t aware of her eye-popping statistics until after the season was cut short. She knew her team had been blowing people out but admitted she was surprised by how well she was performing.
“I don’t ever look at stats,” she said. “I don’t do anything to boost those, I’m just trying to win. But I saw the stats after the season and I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, I guess I am kind of good.’”
In addition to being a stellar player, Jennings also represents a lot of different traditions. For one, she’s multiracial and of Samoan, Filipino, Mexican, and Caucasian descent. She takes pride in representing cultures that aren’t well-known for playing softball.
“There’s not many Polynesian players out there and I want to influence the younger generation to think about softball,” she said. “We’re family-oriented and close-knit, and we have a lot of power on the field.”
She also represents small Catholic schools, as opposed to the much larger Trinity League powerhouses that most elite athletes attend, if they go the private route.
“Not everyone knew about St. Anthony and we said we’d make it our goal to make it known,” she said. “Because it’s a small school you’re with this group for four years, you hang out every day and it’s a family feeling.”
Even rarer, Jennings represents the multi-sport athlete, a dying breed across the country, especially for athletes who are so talented at one sport.
“I’m really happy that I kept playing volleyball, it’s one of my favorite sports,” she said. “It’s so different from softball, but it really helped me with leadership skills and I had so much fun doing it–we ended up winning a CIF championships. It’s so much louder and faster than softball, which was fun.”
While Jennings is excited to get to Norman and start competing for a spot on the field, and excited to compete for national championships at Oklahoma and one day for a spot on the USA national team, she’s taking this moment to take a deep breath.
“The one thing that’s really nice is we’re never home to get this much family time,” she said. “Getting to see my family so much before I leave for college is great. I’m really thankful for it–but at the same time we need to get out.”