Young coach brings energy to Culver City softball program

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Senior Sophie Little played on the varsity softball team at Culver City high school for four years and will be going to Westcliff University in Irvine. (George Laase)

When you talk to Culver City high school’s head softball coach Raianna Dobbs, the first thing you notice is her energy and enthusiasm and a certain feel for the game of softball. That’s understandable because she was a high school softball star in Arizona which allowed her to receive a scholarship to one of the top softball colleges in the nation, Arizona State.

“I was not a starter, but I realized when I was a senior in college that I had amazing coaching, and I realized having all of these great coaches I felt like this cannot go to waste,” said Dobbs during a phone interview this week. 

“I was very fortunate that my parents paid for softball lessons so I felt like this knowledge can’t go to waste,” said Dobbs. “I knew that this was a tool that helped me get my college paid for, so I realized that I wanted to help players get that same opportunity.”

Gabby Guerrero played varsity at Culver City for four years. She was one of the best shortstops in the Ocean League.
Photo by George Laase

Dobbs started coaching at Culver City as an assistant coach in 2017 after working for over two years at the prestigious Urban Youth Academy in Compton. “When Culver City asked me for some help I could see that the sky was the limit for every single girl,” said Dobbs. “It’s been the most rewarding thing that I have ever done.”

The following year, Dobbs took the head coaching position. “I came in very gung-ho out of a Division I college program. I learned on the job, and I think I made a lot of mistakes my first year. I was 21, and I was just trying to figure things out from the beginning.”

“My whole goal coming into the program was to help them play in college if that’s what they wanted to do and to go to college even if they did not want to play in college and now all of the seniors are going to college and the majority of them will be playing softball.” 

There were seven seniors on this years’ roster who started with the program as freshmen, but the coronavirus ended a promising season, especially for such a large group of seniors “So yeah, this was supposed to be their year,” said Dobbs. “They were excited but I think at the end of the day we were able to sit down and we talked. We realized this was something out of our control. We can’t control that we lost our season.”

The coronavirus hit Culver City spring sports hard because all of the teams were expected to be very competitive. “My philosophy is we can control what we can control,” said Dobbs. “The girls are so resilient and there is a reason why. We just kind of shifted our focus on how can we prepare for what’s next. As sad as it was, they are determined to take advantage of every moment. Our focus is so much more than softball.”

Senior Ryan Merriwether will be playing softball at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore next year. Her college coach, Karla Powell had this to say about Merriwether: “Ryan comes from the LA area where her bat is well known. She has a very smooth and quiet swing and her quickness and athleticism makes her a dominant corner.”
Photo by George Laase

The 2020 Culver City seniors are Analya Mitchell, Ashley Baizer, Daisy Estavil, Gabby Guerrero, Lailah Bell, Michelle Franco, Nancy Navarro, Ryan Merriwether and Sophie Little.

The Culver City softball program has a long history of success that was started by John Sargent, and Dobbs realizes the she is responsible to carry on the tradition that Sargent started. “I think the reason why we have continued to be successful is the girls knew that they wanted to be the best. They wanted to work hard. I told them if they worked hard, they were going to be successful in softball and in life.”

The two years between Sargent and Dobbs the head coach was Javier Gabby Chacon. Dobbs assistant is Vincent Guerrero. “I was lucky to come to Culver City four years ago,” said Dobbs.

Dobbs will miss the seniors, but she said they are moving on to bigger and better things. “They created a culture four years ago. I believe the legacy that they are leaving will be continued at Culver City because of this senior class.”