Michelle Kaeka knew she was in for an emotional afternoon, last Tuesday, when Lakewood High softball hosted South Torrance in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time because people are excited for the end of the school year, and I’m kind of not because it’s the last one,” said Michelle, a teacher and gymnastics coach at Lakewood. “I get a little teary-eyed thinking about it.”
Those emotions ran over as she watched her youngest daughter, Jordan, ground out to end not only the playoff game, but the Lakewood softball season and the Kaeka family legacy at Lakewood High, as well, meaning that next year will be the first year since 2008 that a Kaeka is not playing sports for the Lancers.
Michelle and Dewey Kaeka met as student-athletes at Lakewood High in the late 1980’s. Dewey won a CIF baseball championship in 1987 under coach Spud O’Neil and Michelle earned a college scholarship as a volleyball player. They were married and moved back to Lakewood a year after Michelle graduated from college and their three children have followed in their footsteps: Danny played baseball at Lakewood as a member of the Class of 2012, Jessica played volleyball as a member of the Class of 2015 and Jordan just finished her third year on the varsity softball team, this year as a captain.
“We’re a Lakewood family,” Jordan said. “I was born to play softball at Lakewood.”
Michelle (Class of ’88) returned to Lakewood with the help of then-athletic director Cathy Nicholson and has been teaching physical education at the school for nearly 30 years. She is also the gymnastics coach on campus and said she’s enjoyed having her kids at work with her for the last decade.
“Some people can’t imagine going to school with your mom there, but I don’t think my kids ever thought of it that way,” Michelle said. “They would always come by and visit me. Jordan, for the most part during freshman and sophomore year, ate lunch with me every day. It was nice. All of Jordan’s friends call me ‘Mom.’ I’ve had tons of daughters for lots of years with my kids on campus.”
Jordan is a naturally outgoing leader unafraid to crack a smile during a tense softball game.
“I’m not a shy person,” she said. “I’ve always put myself out there. I’ve been that way my whole life, and my siblings aren’t like that at all. I always had to one-up them growing up. Everything was a competition between us three. That was one way I could get ahead of them was to be loud and get the attention on me.”
All of the Kaeka’s played for Lakewood’s award-winning youth sports programs; Jordan tried soccer and volleyball before falling in love with softball because of the friends she made while playing at Heartwell Park.
“I got a lot of friends along the way and softball has been more fun than any other sport I’ve played,” she said. “I played my travel ball with [Lakewood] Hustlers and have been friends with my teammates like Alyssa Torres, Cassie Camou, McKenzie Hutchinson, since we were really young.”
Jordan’s natural softball ability allowed her to play multiple positions growing up and landed her on the Lakewood junior varsity team as a freshman. She won the team MVP award after moving to shortstop and, as a sophomore, was moved up to the varsity in right field where coach Andy Miramontes had to fill a team need.
“I am primary a catcher and can be a utility player, so it was frustrating moving way out to right field,” Jordan said. “But my teammates knew I was frustrated and told me to just keep working.”
While Jordan spilt time at catcher and second base last year as a junior, Lakewood went through one of its worst seasons in recent history. The Lancers had their 65-game Moore League winning streak snapped by Wilson and lost the league title for only the second time in the last 11 years.
“At the beginning of this season we had a team talk without the coaches,” Jordan said. “We said that this last year was unacceptable and we need to get it back.”
When Lakewood and Millikan played for the league championship last month, it was Jordan who smacked a two-run triple in the 10th inning of a tie game, to drive in the winning runs. She hit over .500 as a senior and was named The562.org Athlete Of The Month for April.
“This feels amazing,” Jordan said after the win. “We’ve been working so hard and every girl on this team has the heart to win it. I feel like we knew we were going to win by the way we were playing.”
“Yeah, order is restored,” Miramontes said. “[Kaeka] is absolutely the kid I want in that spot. She’s a great senior leader and one of the best senior captains we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Those outgoing leadership qualities and years of watching sports as a family has Jordan looking to study communications and sports broadcasting when she goes to Cal State Northridge next year to play for the Matadors.
“My mom and I always talk about how sports broadcasting has evolved so much with women being involved,” Jordan said. “That pushed me more. The people around me [inspired me]—we’re seeing how everything is changing. I want to be a part of all of that change.”
Michelle said that Jordan’s comfort level with adults comes from growing up in the tight Lakewood community.
“For us, it’s really family oriented,” Michelle said of Lakewood. “When we would go to the kids’ open house for elementary school and we would see all of the people that we went to school with there with all of their kids. Most of us stayed, and so we still get together with our kids, their kids and now grandkids for some. We can’t imagine living somewhere else.”
The Kaeka family is also having a tough time imaging what life will be like without more than one Kaeka on the Lakewood High campus everyday.
“It’s going to be really weird,” Jordan said. “I’ve been here for so long, but it’s gone by really quick. I didn’t believe anyone my freshman year when they said it was going to go by in the blink of an eye; but it did.”
“When Jordan leaves in July I’m going to be lost,” Michelle said. “One of the parents made a ‘Fathead’ poster of Jordan and I’m going to sit it in my car and she’ll ride to school with me every day. I try not to think about it right now because I know I’m going to be a mess when it actually happens.”
Still, Michelle admits, the end of the Kaeka era at Lakewood is not all bad.
“Going and coaching and teaching at Lakewood means everything I have is red and white,” she said. “Even the pictures of my kids playing sports are all red. I’m so over red.”
Listen to Lakewood athletic director Mike Wadley talk about Lancer Nation and what it’s like having his own son on campus. Lakewood’s season is over, but there are still other local teams alive in the CIF playoffs and you can find all of that coverage at The562.org right now!
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