Just 10 Months Removed From Battling A Rare Liver Cancer, Norco’s Taylor Dockins Is Leading The Nation’s No. 1 Team •
Photos By Patrick Takkinen of SoCalSidelines.com
In the middle of last summer, anyone connected with Norco High’s softball team could not have cared less about what was going to happen during the 2017 season.
Head coach Rick Robinson was heading to a travel ball tournament in Boulder, Colo., when he learned that, while also on the way to the tournament, his senior-to-be pitcher at Norco, Taylor Dockins, had to go to the hospital due to abdominal pain. In fact, an acute increase in pain that had been bothering her for close to nine months.
It wasn’t long before stunning news was received: Taylor had been diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma. She quickly came back to California and had surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles on July 6.
“After we came back from Colorado we had to have a team meeting (involving the Norco players),” Robinson recalled. “I’ll never forget the look on their faces. Just stunned silence.”
Dockins spent a little more than two months recovering after the surgery, but was okay to practice and begin getting ready for the 2017 season.
Though the surgery to remove the tumor was successful, post-operation tests revealed the cancer had broken into blood vessels — posing a threat that it could return to her liver or other areas of the body. As a result, Dockins will need to be tested every two months for the remainder of her life. According to a story in The Press-Enterprise newspaper that’s based in Riverside and serves the Inland Empire Region of Southern California, scans from a February checkup came back 100 percent clean and showed her white and red blood cell counts at normal levels.
“She takes everything in stride,” Robinson said of Dockins. “She told me in the hospital bed not to worry, that she would pitch this season.”
Heading into May, Dockins had struck out 145 batters in 150 innings with a 0.74 ERA and was leading the team in hitting at .493 with two homers and 23 RBI.
“A few months ago I was just praying to step foot on the field again,” Dockins said. “To see how far I’ve come makes me so proud.”
Even if Dockins didn’t have her brave fight with cancer prior to her stellar season, she’d still head into the postseason as the leading candidate to be the Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State Player of the Year and the consensus national player of the year.
However, It’s not as if Norco’s 2017 team is all about Dockins. With the entire roster returning from last year’s squad that went 27-7, and lost to eventual champion Mater Dei-Santa Ana in the CIFSS Division I semifinals, the Cougars have been riding high as an unbeaten state and national No. 1 team.
“My teammates have had my back since the beginning, and I’ll always have their back — on and off the field,” Dockins said. “They work so hard behind me and I can’t be more thankful. I’m not perfect, so if I make a mistake pitching, I know they will go all-out to make an amazing play or pick me up on offense.”
Even with so many returning players, Norco wasn’t the preseason No. 1 team in the state. Last year’s No. 1 team, Mission Viejo, has a lot of top Division I talent, as does Los Alamitos, which was the preseason No. 1 team in one national poll. And Norco hasn’t taken an easy path, either. The Cougars attended and won a pair of elite tournaments, the Dave Kops Tournament of Champions in Arizona and the Michelle Carew Classic in Anaheim.
“You never know how the ball is going to bounce, so sure I am a little bit surprised we’re still unbeaten,” Robinson said. “Considering we were in both the Carew and TOC, (a loss) could have happened in either place. It’s happened only four times when a team has won both.”
At the TOC, Norco crushed defending CIF San Diego Section champ San Marcos 12-0 and then beat La Habra 2-0 in the final. The Highlanders had upset Mission Viejo earlier in the event and then beat Los Alamitos in the semifinal.
At the Carew, the Cougars did get to play Los Alamitos in the semifinals and won 1-0. They defeated another nationally-ranked Southern California team, Orange Lutheran, 4-0, in the final.
Believe it not, one of the main concerns Robinson has in the upcoming CIFSS Division I playoffs — which will be tougher than ever due to competitive equity placement — is how the girls will do if they fall behind. Through May 2, the Cougars had yet to trail an opponent at the end of any inning all season.
“I just hope we don’t lose our focus if that happens,” Robinson said. “We have been telling them that every game is different and that each day is the start of a new day.”
Dockins has signed with Cal State Fullerton and will pitch for the Titans next season. Still, most of the lineup continues to be underclass-oriented for Robinson.
Sophomore Kinzie Hansen, who was the 2016 Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year, leads the team with 31 RBI to go with a .479 average and three homers. She also has committed to Oklahoma.
Sophomore Paige Smith, another national recruit who has orally committed to Ole Miss, has four homers with 22 RBI and a .361 average. Another with four homers is junior Sierra Marshall (Loyola-Marymount), and junior Mikayla Allee (Tennessee) is one of the leaders in runs scored with 29. Senior Naomi Hernandez is batting .467 with 31 runs scored.
Others on the team with college commitments include senior Gianna Marquecho (Cal State Monterey Bay), senior Jennifer Johnson (Hartford), junior Toni Camarillo (Bryant) and junior Bianca Gonzalez (Army).
Robinson doesn’t have to look far to find one program from Norco’s league, Santiago-Corona, that has pushed his girls consistently to be at the top of Southern California. The Huskies, in fact, have five CIFSS titles compared to four for Norco (although Robinson has a fifth when he previously coached at Centennial-Corona in 1996).
“The biggest thing is that for so many years our game with Santiago was built up so much that no playoff game had the same intensity,” said Robinson, whose teams at Norco have won CIFSS crowns in 2003, 2009, 2012 and 2015. “We used to tell teachers that on Santiago Day, the players in class were going to be pretty much useless.”
Although Santiago is no longer being led by head coach John Perez (who like Robinson also is a former State Coach of the Year), Robinson hopes the rivalry continues.
“We’re not close or anything, but I was disappointed that he left (he’s now at Carnegie-Riverside),” Robinson said. “I miss him because those games are what it’s all about.”
After knowing about Dockins’ situation and her hard-to-believe positive attitude, Norco is certain to be the postseason fan favorite.
“I really hope my team can up the hard work and keep having fun,” she said. “That’s what’s making us win. We have great team chemistry and I’m excited to see the outcome of the year.”