Shaking off rust hints at brighter future for womens’ softball

On Sunday, April 11, the Vikings travelled to Lake Forest where they competed in a double header. In the first game, the Vikings lost 0-7, a shut out. In the second game, the Vikings briefly lead the score 4-3, with the final result being 4-10 for St. Norbert coming out on top. The team’s player of the game was senior Ceara Larson, who not only got on base with all four attempts with hitting in the second game but also hit the team’s second home run of the season! I interviewed Larson as well as Head Coach Tracy Cromer to get the inside scoop of these games, and what was going on in the players’ minds during it.  

I asked Larson and Cromer, “It’s not always easy to pick yourself up after a shutout loss, which happened in the first game, the Vikings losing 0-7. It’s also unusual to get the chance to play the same team again so soon, back-to-back. Considering how the Vikings went from no runs in the first game to at one point leading the score in the second, what do you think changed? What was going on in your mind before the second game? And what felt different to you about the second game?  

Ceara responded, “I think our approaches at the plate changed quite a bit. In the second game I think we were being a bit more patient and choosing better pitches to hit. We had some really good contact in the first game that just didn’t produce what we needed with runners on base, and I think that we did much better at focusing on one hit and one pitch at a time. Personally, I felt like I was making good contact but was not quite on time with the pitch, so my focus going into the second game was to time up the pitcher well and to only swing at pitches that I knew I could drive. The biggest difference I felt between the first and the second game was the fight we had defensively that carried into great at bats offensively.”  

According to Cromer, “[The team] talked before the games started about taking it one inning at a time, learning from each one and getting better throughout the day. I think we did that. In the second game we were able to capitalize when we got runners on base and,  if you exclude the 6 run inning, we were able to keep them from capitalizing when they did,  (something we were unable to do in the first game. Lake Forest is a strong team and will take advantage of every opportunity you give them.” 

Next I asked Larson about her batting history. She has been working hard recently to fix her swing, and explained, “…physically the changes I had to make were minimal, but mentally I needed to get back in the mindset of having an at bat, not just a good swing. I really had to work on only swinging at strikes and making a plan that I stick to in an at bat, which is something I had not practiced in a long time.  My biggest goals of the season are to become a contender for the Midwest Conference Championship and to be named as an All-American.” 

I asked Larson about her experience in the second game when the pitcher hit her, and what it felt like to have a pitcher be intimidated into purposely trying to walk her. Larson said, “This balance of being honored but frustrated is something I have never quite perfected. When it happens to me, although I am frustrated that I might not be able to get the job done for my team, I remind myself that the lineup behind me is fantastic, and that if I don’t hit the runners in, someone else will. It is hard to lay off the pitches sometimes but sharpening my approach at the plate and putting trust in my teammates stops me from swinging unless it is a pitch I can drive.” 

Lastly, I asked if Larson had any pre-game rituals or superstitions. Larson answered that she is “super superstitious,” and that “before games on the bus I make the team lift their feet off the ground as we go over railroad tracks and kiss the white line if they step on it before the game starts. I also have two blow up parrots, Polly and Patricia, and two juju statues from the House of Blues that we put on our shoulders when runners are in scoring position, on second or third base.”  

Looking to the future, I asked Cromer about the upcoming game the Vikings have against St. Norbert, and how the team has grown since they last played against them. I also asked what the team’s greatest strength is as a whole and what it will take them to beat St. Norbert.  Cromer said, “We are starting to settle into the season a little more now and we have had a number of players gain valuable experience on the field. There were a lot of emotions going on the first time we played them. Our returners were pretty amped up as it was the first time they had played after having their season cut short over a year ago and our first-year players were pretty nervous. To answer your other question, I think this team’s greatest strength is its resiliency. We don’t give up even when things are hard. It will take a team effort to beat St. Norbert. They are a very solid team, so we are going to have to make them earn everything and limit the “freebies” that have led to big innings being scored against us.” 

 Lastly, I asked Cromer what her favorite memory has been so far this season. She told me, “ “I have a number of them, but the one that stands out is when Mary Boyle hit her first collegiate home run against St. Norbert. The pure joy on her face rounding the bases and the excitement of the rest of the team when she got back to the dugout reminds me of why I coach.  Hopefully we have many more of those moments!”  

This season so far has been filled with shut-outs, comebacks, tears, laughter , and just a little bit of throw-up. Let’s see where the Vikings take us next!