For some athletes, no matter the obstacle, you just can’t keep them down. Softball pitcher Chelsea Ott has proven to be a member of that elite group.
Dating back to the start of high school, Ott’s softball career has been painted with success. Her Pompton Lakes High School team won its league championship during her freshman year and state sectionals during her junior and senior years.
While some players ride the coattails of others to the trophies, it was apparent to anyone who watched Ott that she was key to the success.
“Chelsea displayed tremendous mound presence as a younger player,” Penn coach Leslie King said. “She handled pressure well, and she wasn’t intimidated. That is really important in a pitcher. Team confidence came from her presence on the mound.”
And her future coach wasn’t the only one to notice her success. During the North Jersey native’s senior year of high school, Ott was named the Newark Star Ledger Female Athlete of the Year.
In her first year of college, however, she seemed to lose some of that confidence that made her a sure Penn recruit.
“For the first time in my life, I let myself be intimidated,” Ott said. “I was in a new environment playing for the first time with girls I didn’t know. It’s an eye-opening experience when you’re not the best from the get-go.
“And in the spring [of 2009], it was intimidating fighting for an Ivy League championship,” she continued. “I was overthinking, and I was worrying too much. It was a real shell shock.”
The change in her mentality as a pitcher resulted in her first losing season. Ott finished with a personal 3-4 record and a 4.76 earned run average on a Quakers squad that went 15-28-1.
To make matters worse, Ott required offseason knee surgery, a potentially fatal blow to a power pitcher no longer able to use her legs to drive off the mound.
All these mounting issues, however, were not going to get in the way of the perennially successful athlete. Ott used the extra offseason time induced by her injury to tackle each obstacle in preparation for her return in the spring.
“The surgery meant that she has to rely on her finesse rather than power by anybody,” King said. “She came to terms with that and did a nice job of adapting her pitching style and trusting herself to move and spot the ball.”
After straightening out her mechanics, Ott turned to tweaking the mental game that had significantly hindered her freshman campaign.
“I first just decided to have a lot more fun with softball,” Ott said. “I am at Penn, and there are a million other things I could do. But I am here and give so much time because I love it and want to have fun.
“I chose softball [over basketball and field hockey] because I love being able to decide what pitches to throw and the mind battle against the batter,” she added. “So I just ran with that idea.”
Ott’s coaches recognized that change in mindset, as well.
“She came back determined to be who she was and not try to be anybody else,” King said. “She just came back ready to enjoy herself, her teammates and the game. It was clear from the start that she was much more relaxed on the mound and was enjoying it again.”
Despite continued knee problems, Ott’s new multifaceted approach to the game has translated to success on the mound. She started the season with 12 scoreless innings and currently leads the team in both innings pitched and ERA.
And with her more relaxed approach to the game, Ott has quickly emerged as a leader on the squad despite only being a second-year player.
“She is a humble person, a happy person, is hard working and will sacrifice anything for the good of the team,” King said. “A kid like that with such great character is going to naturally emerge as a leader. Coaches and teammates both love her.”
The team is hopeful that such a resurgence by one of its best pitchers will be followed by success as the Ivy season kicks off this weekend.
Ott plans to pitch through any lingering knee pain to lead the team to victories in the crucial first games against Yale and Brown.
“The excitement and pressure situation of the Ivy season is when we can really show what we have the most, and hopefully be on top from the beginning,” Ott said
This year, however, the sophomore won’t lose sight of what matters most.
“I just hope we can have a fun time when I’m out there.”
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