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Adrian Wilson

Softball coaches Lili Belton and Olivia Pino play in a collegiate softball game on Westcliff University’s team. Belton completes a back door slide safe at home to avoid the tag and score the run, and Pino makes a play by getting an out while playing second base. “They take it very seriously and what they bring to the program is skill and discipline, and kind of just this youthful experience,” head softball coach Alexandra Dobbs said. “I would say they are this perfect combination of sensitive and kind, but driven and serious.”

New Softball Coaches Lili Belton and Olivia Pino ‘Pitch’ in with Passion

March 4, 2024

All-around Athlete: Lili Belton Balances Collegiate Softball and Devotion to Coaching

Collegiate athlete Lili Belton is bringing a new wave of enthusiasm and expertise to the softball field this season as she steps up to the plate as one of the latest editions to the softball coaching staff.

Belton began her softball journey in middle school after her dad suggested she take up the sport, particularly since she had long been a fan of the San Francisco Giants. She said that she immediately fell in love with the sport and wanted to take it further than high school. But, her athletic experiences from college are not the only skills she adds to the team. Belton employs ideas from her academic studies to support her players and build relationships with them, according to second base and senior Brielle Lee.

“I really like how she incorporates sports psychology into softball,” Lee said. “She makes us do journaling at least once a week and I think that really helps us improve, and it’s something that I’ve never seen any other coach do before, so I really appreciate it. It’s a more comforting feeling than just knowing or focusing on the physical aspect.”

Belton played for two years in junior college before transferring to Westcliff University, where her sophomore season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she decided to further her education at California Baptist University and graduated in December 2023. With remaining eligibility in collegiate athletics, she returned to Westcliff University and is currently playing for her final year while coaching at Portola High.

“Going back and playing softball myself and then being able to end my day coaching these girls here has been super fulfilling,” Belton said. “When it has been challenging at practice — with not playing softball for a year and having to go back to the sport — these girls keep me going. I feel like I’m actually fulfilling that higher purpose that I’m striving towards.”

As a player, Belton’s experiences with different coaches along with moments of motivation depletion ignited her interest in studying athlete identity and athlete mental health, inspiring her pursuit of a master’s degree in sport and performance psychology. Belton picked up on what she did and did not like about how the different coaches she had led their teams, which helped develop her own coaching style, according to Belton.

“I realized that I know enough about the sport to make a difference in the sport,” Belton said. “As a player, you are so driven in living and breathing the grind so much that you do not think about the coaching aspects — you are thinking about ‘What can I do to be better for my team in that moment?’ I have to show up for myself while I play collegiately, but when I show up to practice, I have to be composed and show up for them because they love being here.”

With her educational background, Belton hopes to have an impact on the program that stems beyond athletic performance.

“I knew down the road that I wanted to not only coach but inspire people,” Belton said. “Those mental skills that I was able to learn brings a whole new light for me to the game of softball because aside from coaching them on the field and making them better people, I want to make their experience the best that it can be — if that means I have got to run them through a mindfulness meditation, some visualization before games or talk to them about confidence — so as they graduate high school, they at least leave the program with that.”

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Maya Tedini, Opinion Editor

Maya Tedini is the Opinion Editor for her second year on the Portola Pilot. She’s looking forward to working with the leadership team along with getting...

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Olivia Pino Steps Beyond the Home Base and Elevates the Softball Game into a Career

Coming from an athletic family of eight, new softball coach Olivia Pino’s siblings inspired her to begin exploring various sports such as travel ball, basketball, soccer, track and field and softball from a young age. However, her love of softball did not develop into a pursuable career until high school, according to Pino.

After receiving a softball scholarship to junior college in Monterey, where she played as a middle infielder for two and a half years, Pino took an opportunity to transfer to WestCliff University during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is currently studying to receive her master’s degree in business and a concentration in organizational leadership while coaching at Portola High.

“The girls, they just really have a lot of heart,” Pino said. “The passion that some of these girls have just reminds me again why I even started playing softball. It makes me hopeful, just like it makes coaching easier. When you have girls that are coachable and inspiring, it doesn’t feel like work when we come here.”

When Pino started coaching at Portola High, she applied skills and character which she took up from playing as an athlete and translated into coaching. She always relied on her two most important qualities of being respectful of every teammate or coach and being resilient. It was especially helpful for her to incorporate her mental strength and perseverance as a player to not give up after losses or a bad practice, according to Pino.

“I think respect is a key similarity between coaching and playing because even when you move from being a player to a coach, you still have to respect the game,” Pino said. “And instead of being a player in retrospect — of respecting your teammates and respecting your coaches — as a coach yourself, you are having to show that same respect back to the girls because we will never ask from them anything that the game doesn’t ask them.”

Pino has recently talked to several girls about playing in college and introduced the prospect of possibly even pursuing softball as a career, which many of the players did not know was an option for them, according to senior Erin Moody.

“The experience they both brought to the field — you could see the change it made for everyone,” Moody said. “You can tell that they take the game so seriously, and I think they were really able to implement that for the girls.”

However, Pino said she initially faced minor hardships in finding a coaching strategy that accommodated the diverse personality and skill levels of each player. It was important for her to gain a relationship with every member on a personal level to adjust her coaching style to make every player comfortable and motivated.

“We are able to hear these girls about their situations when it comes to their classroom and their friend groups, kind of like a confidant,” Pino said. “Just someone they can trust and that means maybe giving them some mentorship. And I definitely see a lot of myself and these girls — a lot of the drive that some of them have, just hungry to get better and wanting to be better.”

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Hannah Ko, Assistant Opinion Editor

Hannah Ko is the assistant Opinion Editor for her second year on the Portola Pilot. This year, she is looking forward to depriving herself from sleep and...

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