Citrus Valley senior softball star Ella Nadeau could be a walking billboard for Stanford University.

“Where people go to be the best they can be,” she said.

“The campus is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

“The coaching staff really sold me.

“You meet people there that are going to change the world.

“There are people who come from everywhere.”

It’s no wonder that Nadeau ⎯ whose mother, Heather, was a pitcher at Oregon State, her dad, Mike, is head baseball coach at nearby Cal State San Bernardino ⎯ said, “I chose Stanford my freshman year.”

Get ready for a duel at shortstop ⎯ maybe.

Yucaipa High product Sydnee Huff, who showed up as a freshman for a 22-4 Stanford team last season, plays the same position as Nadeau ⎯ shortstop.

“I’m ready,” said Nadeau.

She started the process real early. Up in the Northwest, her previous stop before showing up in the Inland Empire, there was the Acers, then onto Team Seattle, a squad coached by University of Washington staff members.

“Eight-years-old,” said Nadeau, noting her starting age. “That was when travel ball started for me in Washington.”

Nadeau had Stanford chosen by her frosh season. By the time she got to Citrus Valley, just before Christmas 2017, she was just 3 ½ years away from signing those commitment papers.

So what stood out about Stanford?

“What doesn’t stand out?” she said.

It’s an entire campus. It’s lit up as an international community.

Somewhere in between classes, Nadeau will be suiting up for the Lady Cardinal softball team.

What’s lost in all this celebration, says Nadeau, is “what takes place behind the scenes.”

All the weightlifting, training away from the field, “all the work you have to do just to get into this position.

“Stanford drove me to be a better student,” she said. “Academics has been my drive ⎯ especially for Stanford. I wouldn’t have taken all the [Advanced Placement] classes.”

She’s seen other athletes let opportunities waste away because of academic shortcomings.

“Letting their academics slide,” she said, “is not the way to go.”

Nadeau broke into Citrus Valley’s lineup with a bang during his frosh season in 2017, batting .561 (46-for-82), scoring 46 times. Believe it, or not, that represents the lion’s share of her prep career since she missed 2018 due to injury.

Last season’s abbreviated, COVID-interrupted schedule left her at .475 over 14 games (19-for-40), scoring 20 times for an 11-3 squad. It’s highly doubtful there will be a 2021 season.

On the other hand, she’s a Cal Cruiser, which is a Mission Viejo-based travel ball team. It’s considered one of the shiniest softball squads in So Cal ⎯ practices at Capistrano Valley High School. They’ve sent dozens into NCAA Division I ranks.

Driving to practice takes a while.

“It’s worth it,” says Nadeau, who estimates she plays anywhere between 60 and 80 games a year. That counts club tournaments, her high school commitment, plus friendlies.

She’ll log anywhere from 50 to 60 games each season at Stanford. “Maybe 80 games.”

Her mom, Heather, pitched at Oregon State.

There’s a few significant differences between recruiting these days and when Heather was taking that surge from prep ball into the collegiate ranks.

“There was no early recruiting back in my day,” said Heather. “You’re a senior, make your decision. That process has changed.”

Kids asked to make a college selection “as a sixth, seventh or eighth grader,” she said, “is asking a lot. They don’t even know what color they like at that age.”

More on her dad, Mike: He’s a former Baltimore Orioles’ minor leaguer, hired a few years back as Cal State San Bernardino’s baseball coach. He moved his family from the Pacific Northwest where he was an assistant at NCAA Division I Seattle University.

Of all the places they could have moved, right?

“I was so grateful they moved into our district,” said Citrus Valley coach April Finazzo, who suddenly had two jet-fast, highly motivated freshmen in 2018 ⎯ Nadeau and UC Berkeley-bound Mika Lee.

“It’s really unique to have that combo,” said Finazzo, who has the choice to play each player at multiple positions.

Finazzo shudders at such a brilliant 1-2 punch, both at the plate and however she arranges that duo into Citrus Valley’s defense. If Nadeau’s pitching, Lee’s probably at shortstop; that is, if she’s not catching.

When Nadeau takes over at shortstop, Lee will take over in her most natural spot, center field.

Both players have bigger problems, though. It’s called the Pac-12 Conference.

Twelve-time NCAA champion UCLA, which copped last year’s College World Series, and eight-team champion Arizona, are each regular rivals of both Stanford and Cal.

That doesn’t seem to dissuade Nadeau.

“They’re building the team at Stanford. I’ll be part of that.”

A closer look: Since 1982, when NCAA started running a national tournament, UCLA and Arizona have notched 20 combined championships.

Head coach Jessica Allister, now in her fourth season, had the Lady Cardinal in the Western Regionals back in 2019 ⎯ a far cry from a 24-31 overall record (3-21, Pac 12) one season earlier.

Said Nadeau: “She (Allister) has done incredible work with the program.”

Stanford?

More billboard material.

“The campus … in a great location.”

On a scale of cost factors, its $12,000-a-year tuition cost before financial aid seems more than just reasonable. Acceptance rate is low, around four percent, but if you get in, the graduation rate is well over 90 percent.

Softball is an added incentive.

“It is,” said Nadeau, “my dream school.”

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