The Millikan softball team is coming off a historic 2021 campaign, and the Rams are looking to maintain the program’s upward trajectory after an offseason coaching change. The Rams went 11-1 in Moore League play last season, sweeping rivals Lakewood and claiming an outright league title for the first time since 2004.
In steps new head coach Michelle Lehr, who is moving expectations even higher during her first year at the helm. She and assistant coach Mike Mathis were previously coaching at Kennedy High in La Palma, but made the move to Millikan in large part because they see a path to a CIF title with the Rams.
Millikan has two CIF softball championships in its history (1983, 2005) but Lehr is confident that this group can push for a third ring sooner than later. Before they pursue postseason glory, the Rams will look to secure a second consecutive Moore League title for the first time since the 1995-96 seasons, and Lehr is a firm believer in her squad.
“I feel like we’re stacked,” said Lehr about the team’s outlook. “If we don’t go the distance in CIF it will be a very disappointing season for me because I know we have all the pieces to make it happen.”
Lehr is a native of West Covina, but has extensive knowledge of the Long Beach community. After high school, the former catcher played for Long Beach City College before transferring to Cal State Fullerton. Lehr lived in Long Beach for nearly a decade and she has maintained a knowledge of the local talent pipeline. She sees Millikan as a preferred landing spot for the next generation of softball talent in the city, and has high hopes for sustained success with the Rams.
The future could be now with a balanced, talented, and experienced roster. The Rams have seven on their nine All-League selections returning off last year’s squad, covering key spots around the diamond. The Rams will be experienced in the circle with ace Victoria Byrum back, and she will lead a formidable one-two punch along with talented sophomore Ava Schaffel.
“Byrum is awesome. She is definitely going to be a force in the circle,” said an excited Lehr. “We know she’s going to be a league leader, but the crazy part is, Ava is right behind her. She’s standing like six feet tall, she hits for power, and she tops out at like 64 miles per hour when she pitches. So it’s not just Victoria, we have Ava right by her side. I believe that we have the top two pitchers in our league and having both of them at one school is a great problem to have.”
The starting infield is full of returning standouts, except for the catcher spot, where left-handed hitting Cami Lara has taken over. Lehr has been super impressed with her leadership and her ability to both receive and block the ball behind the plate.
Around the horn, the Rams will have sophomore Katie Knarr at first base. After a slow start to her high school career, she emerged as one of Millikan’s most dangerous bats down the stretch and she’s a threat to drive the ball every time she steps in the batter’s box. Madison “Shorty” Wright is back at second base, with leadoff hitter Emily Hanniff back at shortstop and middle-of-the-order bat Arianna Ramirez again holding down third base.
Ramirez, who is committed to play college softball at Southern Utah, will be one of the key leaders and power bats for the Rams this season. When asked what the strength of the team will be this year, she didn’t hesitate.
“Hitting,” said Ramirez, without missing a beat. “Hitting and defense, I’m really confident in our defense. But we also have great pitching, so. Our main goal is to win the Moore League, but we’re definitely thinking about going farther in CIF.”
The Rams have emphasized quickness and range in the outfield, led by speedster Erica Estrada who will take over in center field after playing mostly right in 2021.
Robin Garcia normally plays center field in travel ball, but will play in right field for Millikan to utilize her strong throwing arm. Left field will be a competition between a number of players; Natalie Lopez could play there or at several infield spots, Mikaela Pacheco showed off the best bat during the fall schedule, Zoey Galindo is one of the fastest players on the team and Cristin Duncan could be in the mix once she’s done with basketball season.
Morgan Zimmerman is the only freshman on the varsity roster this year, and will serve as a true utility player capable of filling in anywhere on the field.
Overall, the Rams don’t appear to have many holes this season. The Moore League should once again provide some compelling competition, but the new regime at Millikan believes the sky’s the limit for this group.
The Rams open Moore League play on Mar. 3 at Cabrillo and have their highly-anticipated showdowns with rivals Lakewood scheduled for Mar. 17 and Apr. 12 at Mayfair Park.
Projected Starting Lineup:
C – Cami Lara
1B – Katie Knarr
2B – Madison “Shorty” Wright
SS – Emily Hanniff
3B – Ari Ramirez
LF – Natalie Lopez / Mikaela Pacheco / Zoey Galindo / Cristin Duncan
CF – Erica Estrada
RF – Robin Garcia
DP – Ava Schaffel
UTIL – Morgan Zimmerman
P – Victoria Byrum / Schaffel