Victoria “Tori” Royster of San Gabriel Mission High School will play college softball at Ottawa University in Kansas. (photo/SAN GABRIEL MISSION HIGH SCHOOL)

In addition to being an excellent student at San Gabriel Mission High School, an involved member of her San Gabriel Valley community, and an all-league softball pitcher-first baseman, Victoria “Tori” Royster is a young woman of faith.

Which means she is someone who appreciates what God has given her — including the ability to see gift in everything, the good and the not-so-good.

Like injuries, even the elbow injury that caused her to miss most of her sophomore season, and a good part of her travel club year as well.

“You get hurt and you realize, it only takes one pitch to turn your world upside down,” said the outgoing 17-year-old senior from West Covina. “And it’s easy to throw in the towel when times are hard. But I relied on my faith in God to get me through my injury, because that’s what I can always count on through good times and bad. It makes me love and appreciate each game even more.”

That same faith also gets Royster through her occasional struggles (and even defeats) on the mound.

“When you struggle, that’s when you learn, and that’s how you get better,” she says. “And there have been many times I can’t understand why I can’t get some batters out, why I don’t get close calls from an umpire. But the more times that happens, the more it encourages me to work harder to get better.”

Preparing for her fourth and final season at Mission — and, after that, several more years of college softball at Ottawa University in Kansas — Royster also appreciates the opportunity to be part of a team.

“It’s like being part of a family,” she said. “If you don’t get along with each other, it won’t work right. A team has to become a family, or at least really close, so you build trust. And the more you trust each other, the more you want to make that double play, or get that key hit. In my case especially, being an only child, that family relationship of a team is important, because it’s like I have sisters who can be there for me, and I for them, to share life beyond softball.”

The daughter of Daniel and Rochelle Royster, Tori Royster started playing softball at age 8, and joined a “travel ball” team when she was 12 (she still plays for the Firecrackers Huntington Beach-Steiner team). She started in the outfield, moved to first base, and at age 10 started pitching.

“I really dove into the art of pitching,” she said with a smile, “because it’s really a challenge, to figure out how to get someone out, or why someone hits you so well. Pitching is not easy, but the more I play, the more I face batters, the less a defeat bothers me because there’s another batter, another game that gives you the chance to bounce back and improve.”

At San Gabriel Mission, Royster has improved well enough to be a two-time All-Horizon league selection for her pitching and hitting exploits, and twice her team’s defensive player of the year for her ability to snare errant throws at first base (her nickname is “Digger”). Her decision to attend Ottawa — a small Christian liberal arts school — emanated first from a desire to attend college outside of California, but also from a surprise email.

“I had no idea college coaches were watching what I was doing,” she laughs, “but the coaches at Ottawa must have seen me somewhere, because they emailed saying they were interested in having me play for them. That’s kind of special; you never realize how good you are until someone says they want you on their team.”

And when she visited the campus, “I fell in love with the school, its academic program and the fact they have a faith component. That really appeals to me.”

Royster — who attended Christian elementary schools, and currently attends Faith Community Church in West Covina — was drawn to Mission High because of its faith component, with some influence from her mother.

“My mom went to an all-girls Catholic school, and both of us really liked what Mission offered,” she said. “It was the right path for me, academically and spiritually.”

As student body treasurer at Mission, Royster is active in several campus clubs and regularly volunteers at a food bank in South El Monte, “a very eye-opening experience.”

“The people and families who come in receive food mostly donated by local markets,” she noted. “And as we prepare the packages of meat and produce and bread and dairy products for people to take home, it just makes me more thankful for what I have.”

In college, Royster looks forward to pursuing a master’s degree in English (“I love to write; I love to journal”) and to studying early childhood education, in hopes of someday teaching fourth grade and then teaching high school English. Until then, however, there are many pitches to make, hitters to fool and, given the unpredictability of sports, even defeats to ponder.

And that’s OK, said the young woman whose faith in God gets her through everything.

“Even when you’re healthy, there are times when you can think, ‘This is too much work or pain,’ but my faith in God always becomes stronger,” she said. “One of my coaches once told us, ‘When you think you can’t play for yourself because things are too hard, play for that little girl who’s picking up a softball for the first time and is looking to be inspired.’ And that’s good motivation to keep going.”