Over the past 20 years, the city of Stockton has had a very successful run of producing Junior National and World Racquetball Champions. This is in large part due to the players emerging from In-Shape West Lane, many of which began playing when they were six and now compete professionally. The one constant in this picture is Coach Josephine (Jody) Nance. Jody has led the West Lane Junior Program since the 1990s, often on her own, and to this day continues to introduce and develop new young talent for the sport.
Jody began her athletic pursuit at a young age as a track and field and cross-country athlete. Known for her “barefoot” running style, she excelled in the AAU programs in the Central Coast of California, which eventually landed her a scholarship at Boise State University. While at Boise, Jody would spend some “down time” in the summer playing tennis with friends, which ultimately transitioned into racquetball, a relatively new sport at the time. Some of the Boise State football players challenged Jody to a game, which she gladly accepted, and even though it was a little wild and crazy on the court with three offensive linemen, she fell in love with the sport. When her athletic eligibility ran out, she joined the local YMCA, began playing racquetball regularly, and never stopped!
A few years later, Jody found herself in Stockton attending Physical Therapy school. A time-consuming vocation with expensive training made even a gym membership an imprudent expense. With this in mind, Jody approached West Lane’s General Manager, Rob Farrens, and asked what she could do for a membership trade-off to allow her to continue playing racquetball. At the time, Jody was a strong Women’s Open level player, and Rob mentioned the idea of having her create and manage a new Junior Racquetball Program. Jody happily accepted, having already acquired a little experience coaching track and field. As Jody likes to say, “The rest is history!”
Naturally, the ﬁrst few years of this new program did not bring about National Champion players; it took time. Participants were, for the most part, children of a few of West Lane’s handball families. The Rojas, Diaz, and Aldana Families all had boys that ranged from 3-11 years of age. During this time, Jody’s initial goals were to develop her players’ total games, including mechanics, drilling, shot selection strategies, and cardio training. Thanks to past successes of John Ellis at the Junior Championships, Jody was acquainted with the National and World tournaments. Although perhaps lofty goals at the time, she set competing in these events as goals for the group. Needless to say, the payoff has been great.
Sharing with us some of her most special memories from her experiences coaching various junior players, Jody recalled that, “Jose Rojas has so many, but his victory over David Ortega of Mexico in the Boy’s 18’s in Cochabamba, Bolivia, while he was playing both 16 & Under and 18 & Under, was a special one. David had beaten Jose when they were 12, and it was goal for Jose to get him back. This was particularly special because David had been undefeated at Junior Worlds for 10 years, and it was his final tournament. I have never been so proud of “Josie”, as we like to call him. He plugged away point after point, digging deep, never doubting his resolve, and his determination and mental toughness were on full display.”
“Markie Rojas gave me a phone call seven days before the Junior Worlds, his last one at that, in Fullerton, CA. He had sprained his ankle at his high school basketball tryouts, and when I got to his house, I saw one of the worst sprains I had ever seen. To Markie’s credit, he faithfully came to therapy three times a day until the tournament began, and then was incredibly consistent about treatment and taping, determined to press through the pain. Watching him win match after match to another World Junior Championship, we knew he would be known for having the heart of a lion!”
“Jose Diaz was an amazing boy! He could make you laugh, growl, and clap. My best memory of Jose is from when he was in 8 & Under. We were at the Junior Nationals in Florida, and he had made it to the Finals. He woke up so nervous that he did not want to play. The ﬁrst game he was down 10-0, and we had already taken a timeout, but took another. My elaborate coaching strategy at this time was telling him to smile! He said, “What?” I said, “Smile, hit the ball, and then smile again.” Jose returned to the court, still timid, but starting hitting the ball then looking at me and smiling. He got his conﬁdence back and went on to win and become National Champion for the ﬁrst time.”
“With all three of these boys, I feel so much pride in their accomplishments, not only in racquetball, but in life as well. They all have college degrees and meaningful lives, and I am blessed to have been a part of their lives.”
The feeling is mutual, as the Rojas, Diaz, and Aldana Families all credit Jody for helping raise these ﬁne young men. Jody’s work continues, and is evidenced by a new group of talented players appearing on the World and professional stage including, but not limited to, Daniel, Jesse, Antonio and David Rojas, Ricky Diaz, and new families of Stockton Junior Racquetball with the Galvan’s, Rivera’s, Canchola’s, Ellis’s, and LaRue’s.
Jody began serving as the Assistant Head Coach on the USA Junior National Team in 2014. When asked about her most enjoyable moments as the Assistant Coach of Team USA, she responded that it was very difficult to decide. “I love racquetball and watching these young athletes pursue their dreams. Every year, watching the growth in their games, conﬁdence, and personalities is very special. I enjoy seeing these kids develop into great people. However, the moments and memories made when off the court with the athletes and coaches, laughing and spending precious time together, are invaluable. I now have new people in my life, athletes and my fellow coach Jen Meyer, which have touched my soul. Friendships have been made here that will last a lifetime. How lucky am I? I would like to thank RYDF for assisting so many of these athletes. They are making it possible for so many to go to events that are helping shape their lives and careers. Also, thanks to John, Dave, and Pat Ellis, and all our West Lane volunteers for their energy, experience, and commitment to the 209!”
Jody’s life in racquetball is not limited to her coaching. She has and continues to be highly competitive. She has enjoyed great partnerships with Elaine Dexter, Marko Perez, Ninja Nomura, and last but not least, Josie Rojas himself. She has captured multiple National Doubles titles in Mixed and Women’s Divisions, and she has had too many local Northern California wins to count! Her frontcourt skills and ability to anticipate opponents are some of the best tactics ever seen on court.
Jody is a one-of-a-kind person with the kindest heart of anyone you can ﬁnd. Her passion is to help others enjoy whatever they are doing. She has empowered so many young athletes in her 20+ years of coaching racquetball, and you can believe she will be around for years and years to come. We are lucky to have such an outstanding person involved in our Fitness Forever Program. Go Jody!