Out with the old, and in with the new.
Following last May’s season-ending loss in the Ivy League Championship Series to Dartmouth, Penn softball said a heartfelt goodbye to a talented group of graduating seniors.
Thankfully, an equally promising set of freshmen have arrived on campus, and the six women are already making quite the impact on an already-strong Red and Blue roster.
Alexis Corini, a native of San Jose, Calif., is a catcher that brings exceptional leadership qualities and other intangibles to the table. Her potential to contribute for the Quakers is evident, not in the least because of her five Player of the Week awards in addition to Team MVP honors while attending Valley Christian High School.
Sarah Cwiertnia, a native of Villa Park, Calif., is a corner infielder that has the ability to change games with her bat. While attending Santa Margarita Catholic High School, Cwiertnia was recognized as a two-time All-Trinity League first team selection as well as Offensive Player of the Year.
Jessica England, a resident of Coral Springs, Fla., is a graceful middle infielder that has seen some time playing shortstop in the early games of the season. England’s toughness and grittiness are also qualities she hopes to bring to the Penn squad. While enrolled in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, England was honored with a Sun Sentinel 8A-7A-6A first team All-County selection and was a Miracle Sports second team All-State honoree while a senior.
Hannah Gibbons, a local talent from Waynesburg, Pa., is another corner infielder that will look to make a big impact with her bat. Gibbons, in addition to being high school class valedictorian, was a Pennsylvania Softball Coaches Association first team All-State selection as well as the Herald Standard’s Softball Player of the Year as a junior.
Joy Lewis, the lone pitcher in the group and a resident of Dawsonville, Ga., boasts a very high ceiling that coaches are working to tap into. Lewis possesses impressive control and movement on her pitches for such a young player. Hailing from Dawson County High School, Lewis was the 7AAA Pitcher of the Year as a senior.
Sam Pederson, a middle infielder from Scottsdale, Ariz., has seen time at second base early in the year. Perhaps Pederson’s best quality on the field is her quick transfer, one which coach Leslie King describes as “one of the quickest we have seen in the infield in a long time.” While attending Desert Mountain High School, Pederson was a three-time Arizona All-State honorable mention from 2013-2015.
According to King, the process of bringing this group of promising players to University City began many years ago.
“The earliest of the group was Sam Pederson; we committed her in 2014 following our January camp,” King said. “After that, the rest fell in place very quickly.”
And while it might seem odd to recruit a player before her junior season, more of the same can be expected in the future, and to an even greater extent.
“In the sport of softball, recruiting is moving earlier and earlier, especially so for pitchers,” King explained. “In fact, we already have someone committed for the Class of 2022.”
Both King and the returning players themselves know just how hard it can be to adapt to college and collegiate athletics simultaneously. So, when these six women were confirmed as the Class of 2019 recruits, the team took action.
“One of the biggest things we do to help incoming girls is the buddy system,” King said. “Just because we’re a spring sport does not mean we wait until spring to get our team working together.”
“We always get a plethora of girls who volunteer to be a freshman’s buddy,” senior captain Kanani Datan added. “Coach will try to match us up positionally and geographically. Once we’re matched up, we decorate their rooms, help them pick classes, and in general act as a mentor.”
On and off the field, the impressive freshman class leaves little to be desired. When asked what impressed her most about the newest group of performers, Datan did not hesitate to laud the class’s immediate impact.
“They’re making us a better team, that’s for sure,” Datan said. “Not only are they performing, they’re also pushing every girl in their position ahead of them to work ten times harder to hold on to it.”
King, on the other hand, pointed to off-the-field maturity.
“They’re a very low-maintenance class,” King admitted. “They’ve slotted into Penn, our team, and our culture very easily. If anything, I’m impressed with how their transition into Penn has been so seamless.”
“Besides being great ballplayers and great students, they’re also just great kids. We look forward to seeing them contribute this year and in future seasons.”
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