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Leverenz steps down as Auburn Riverside fastpitch coach
Memories tend to bump and jostle for space in the mind and heart of a veteran coach.
For Auburn Riverside’s Christine Leverenz, who after 16 years has stepped down as the Ravens fastpitch coach, many memories bubble up instantly.
The best of them even leave her a bit misty eyed.
Like seeing players such as Hannah Melick and Brooke Bray mature into team leaders.
Or looking on in awe at the sheer grit of an immovable Amanda Fitzsimmons.
“I have a couple of moments,” Leverenz laughed. “I get emotional about them. I watch kids grow and change and mature into these incredible kids. I watch them go through struggles, athletic and other.”
Though she will continue to coach Riverside’s volleyball program – a position she’s held since the school opened in 1995 – for the foreseeable future, leaving her baby is tough.
“It’s a bit bittersweet,” Leverenz said. “Because I built this and know I have to watch someone else take it over. I’m going to try not to be territorial, because it’s not about me … I’m growing and other things are becoming more important. Being a head coach in two sports for 17 years definitely takes a chunk out of your personal life. And it’s becoming more demanding every year, with having to work and run camps in the summer. I always tell my kids that family comes first, but I’m not sure I’ve always displayed that.”
Leverenz, a Federal Way native, was a three-sport athlete in track, basketball and volleyball at Thomas Jefferson High School. Back then, softball was not an option for female prep athletes, so Leverenz played club ball as a youth.
After graduating in 1979, Leverenz moved on to Washington State University, where she played varsity volleyball for two years. She graduated with a degree in physical education in 1983 and returned to the South Sound to begin her teaching and coaching career.
“I knew PE was always something on my horizon,” Leverenz said. “I knew I always wanted to stay involved in athletics in some way. When I looked at the possibilities I figured that was the best way to do that. And after I did that I thought I’d like to coach. Even back when I was younger I was – I don’t want to say bossy – but the leadership type.”
Leverenz did her student teaching at Auburn High School.
Her coaching career also started at Auburn as an assistant on the school’s volleyball and slowpitch softball teams for Nancy Zehnder.
After the Auburn and Federal Way school districts got a chance over several years to assess her skills as a substitute teacher, both offered her permanent positions. She turned down the full-time position in Federal Way for a part-time gig with Auburn.
Turns out, Leverenz had fallen for the district.
“I love the Auburn School District, so I decided to stay here,” she said.
In 1993, when AHS changed from slowpitch to fastpitch, she took over as Auburn’s softball coach.
“And then when Auburn Riverside opened, I didn’t even originally apply for the job,” Leverenz said. “I had nine seniors (at Auburn), and I just couldn’t see leaving them. I felt horrible leaving them as seniors.”
Riverside principal Bruce Phillips, however, talked her into accepting a teaching job and the Raven head volleyball coaching position.
“So my first year here at Auburn Riverside I taught and coached volleyball, while coaching Auburn fastpitch,” she said. “And the district let me do that, which was nice. They understood my commitment to those kids (at Auburn).”
Since taking over the program in 1996, Leverenz helped set a standard of excellence for Raven fastpitch that numbers six trips to the state tourney, including a third-place finish in 2004, and a fourth-place finish in 2009.
“As I look back it’s probably been the best experience in my life,” she said. “Looking back at it, I was just a baby. It was 16 years ago and I was just learning. Fastpitch was always home for me, so that was never out of my comfort zone.”
In volleyball, her teams have also found success, earning eight trips to the state tourney, including a second-place finish in 2007 and a third-place in 2009.
She calls her time as an assistant with Zehnder at Auburn “crucial” to her development as a volleyball coach.
“I took a little bit of her and a little bit of me, and that’s how I started the team over here,” she said.
Now, it’s time for Leverenz to concentrate solely on volleyball, with the Ravens and the Lake Tapps club team, for which she coaches beginning players.
Leverenz said she also plans to concentrate more on building a career in school administration.
“I got my masters in that this past year,” she said. “I like admin, I like the administrative side of schools,” she said. “I think that maybe I will take another path, and I need to clear my life to do that.”
But she will always have those memories.
And at the top, Fitzsimmons, who earned a scholarship to the University of Washington and is now a junior pitcher for Idaho State University.
“Amanda, by far, has been the most intense, focused, team-oriented, passionate young lady who ever played for me,” Leverenz said. “When she was a junior, she had a cyst on her tailbone.”
On the eve of the Ravens’ first game of the 4A state tourney, Leverenz said, Fitzsimmons had the cyst removed.
“So they go and they slice this thing up and leave it open,” she said. “They pack it, and she’s at the team meeting laying there medicated. I’m looking at my assistant coach and saying, ‘this isn’t going to happen.’ And we all knew back then we rode on Amanda’s arm.”
The cyst, however, was no match for Fitzsimmons.
“I’m watching her warm up, and the kid has no pain expression on her face,” she said. “I’m watching to see if she’s just faking it, and she’s just being tough. And she goes out and pitches the game of her life.”
Fitzsimmons’ performance on the mound in the tourney, despite her injury, helped the Ravens’ grab fourth in the tourney.
“I’ve never been so moved by anything in my life,” Leverenz said.