Update May 11: The softball team ended its season in the first round of the Big East Tournament Thursday, losing 8-0 to top-seeded Louisville.
The softball team’s senior leadership had a straightforward goal for 2012 – to end their college careers as they began, as one of the eight teams playing in the Big East Tournament this weekend in South Bend, Ind.
They made their goal and as the No. 8 seed, the Huskies (21-26/9-13 Big East) will face No. 9/8 Louisville (50-3/20-2), the tournament’s top seed, on Thursday at Melissa Cook Stadium at Notre Dame. The winner of the game plays No. 16/18 South Florida (45-10/12-5), the No. 4 seed, or DePaul (34-19/14-8), the No. 5 seed, in the top of the tournament bracket.
“We’re real excited to have the opportunity to compete,” says head coach Karen Mullins ’79 (ED), ’80 MA. “It’s nice for our seniors. It was a goal they worked for, because they haven’t been there since freshman year. We had some good wins [this season] against DePaul and South Florida.”
The Huskies hit 45 home runs and knocked in 192 runs batted in before slumping at the end of April and having to wait until Sunday night to know if they would make it to the postseason.
“We were on the edge. It went down to the last game,” Mullins says. “[The players] have been hard workers. We felt we made great strides this year. We’re capable of putting runs on the scoreboard.”
One of those Mullins will rely on to put some numbers up is senior Amy Vaughan ’12 (CLAS), who plays in left field but is also the team’s utility fielder, moving around the diamond to wherever the coaches feel she can help the team. She has played in the outfield, infield, and as a catcher. Vaughan is the team’s leading hitter, with a .306 batting average, 13 home runs, and 42 RBIs; she also has a .938 fielding percentage.
“She’s such a great team player, always willing to do what it takes to help the team,” Mullins says. “She’s improved all four years. She’s valuable to us as one of our leaders. It’s unusual to have a player that’s versatile and willing to do so much. So many players want to have a home. She had the confidence and ability to do what we needed.”
Vaughan, a double major in American studies and political science, has a 3.75 GPA and was named last week to the Capital One Academic All-District 1 Team, selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America, which honors the nation’s top student athletes.
Softball has been Vaughan’s primary sport since age 6. She says that before she arrived in Storrs, she was a pitcher, until she played for the Rhode Island Thunder, one of the many teams that showcase potential collegiate players out of high school.
“They moved me out to left field. Then we lost our first basemen, so they put me at first base,” Vaughan says. “I rotated between those positions the most on the field. Because I had a strong arm in high school, they put me at third base. It was basically my whole willingness to do whatever it takes to get on the field.”
Vaughan says her favorite position to play is left field. It is where she most often plays, and she enjoys the fact that it is a key position.
“People think the outfield can be boring. It’s very important, [because] you’re the last line of defense out there,” she says. “If [the ball] gets by you, it gets ugly. I love it out there. You can make cool ESPN catches.”
Over the past two seasons, Vaughan has emerged as one of the vocal leaders for the Huskies. With only two seniors on the roster, she began to take up the mantle of leadership, and has continued to lead with her voice and her play on the field.
“Being able to communicate with your teammates is essential,” she says. “If you don’t know how to talk to each other in different situations, it would affect our team play.”
Vaughan says she struggled adjusting to the college game during her freshman year, particularly with the mental toughness required to face opposing pitchers who have greater skills than most in high school.
“The pitchers work so much more on their pitching and invest so much more time on it, their movement is really on spot and they can fool you,” she says. “Being able to accept striking out; approaching every single pitcher the same, regardless of what their stats were or what team they play for. I had to build up my confidence and have a swagger when I step into the box. Indecision will kill you up there.”
The UConn-Louisville game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, and can be viewed online at BIGEAST.tv.