Don’t let the name fool you, some members of Penn softball have become known for how hard they ball.
Despite their relative inexperience, freshmen Sarah Cwiertnia and Sam Pederson have become valuable members of Penn softball’s lineup during Ivy league play.
The reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week, Pederson has wasted little time carving out her niche with the team. Sporting a team-high .390 batting average and .424 on base percentage, the infielder has reached base in 32 of 37 games since being added to the starting lineup.
Heading into last weekend’s matchup, the Scottsdale native was nursing an 11-game hit streak that was snapped in the second game of Friday’s doubleheader before being restarted in the first of Saturday’s contests.
“Compared to [before the streak] I was in my head too much,” Pederson said. “Softball is so much easier when you’re relaxed.”
The Zen approach has paid off for the Quakers’ leadoff hitter, whose recent string of performances has netted her fair share of accolades.
“She’s been solid throughout the entire season. I don’t think she’s had a lull,” Penn coach Leslie King said. “It’s great to have someone in the leadoff spot that has a 50 percent chance of getting on base.”
King continued to compliment Pederson’s ability to extend her at-bats and avoid striking out. While a relative neophyte to college softball, the freshman has become a pitcher’s nightmare and threatens to terrorize those who take the opposing mound for years to come.
“I just hope that I can continue improving over the next four years,” Pederson added. “Hopefully next year we can make a solid run at the title too.”
Not to be outdone, fellow freshman Sarah Cwiertnia has also used her bat to power Penn’s offense during this crucial stretch of Ivy competition. Despite the disappointing results at Princeton two weekends ago, one of the bright spots to come out of the series was the emergence of the Villa Park, Calif. native.
Cwiertnia went off in the seroes, knocking in her first career home run and going 6-for-12 at the plate, good enough to vault her up to third on the team in batting average at .333 and second in slugging percentage at .486.
“I think focusing on timing the ball instead of just trying to hit it was really helpful,” Cwiertnia said.
Most of the freshman class expected to work their way up to playing time further down the road, but King had different plans. Starting three freshmen in the lineup seemed like a bold move to most, but for the Red and Blue it became a strategy that looks to have a huge impact in future seasons.
“I had low expectations [heading into the season],” Cwiertnia added. “I’m just happy I can help my team win.”
2016 isn’t quite over yet, but the freshman has resisted the urge to dwell on the past and has set her sights firmly on the next chapter of her Quaker career. Her teammates have also reaped the benefits of Cwiertnia’a timely hitting throughout the season.
“I feel that when everyone steps up and does their job it’s a great time,” Pederson said. “Having a team that’s so welcoming really helps you play to your potential.”
Cwiertnia’s ascension to the starting lineup didn’t come without its road bumps. Despite the early season slump, the coaching staff stood by their decision to keep the freshman in the lineup, hoping that her fortunes would turn around soon enough.
“You never know how freshmen are gonna step up,” King said. “We knew what she was capable of, it was just getting her settled in and getting her confident in her abilities.”
On a team with just three seniors, most of the squad’s talent will be returning next year. By taking advantage of its opportunities to give its players significant time early in their careers, Penn threatens to be the team in the Ancient Eight capable of ending Dartmouth’s reign atop the conference.
With this powerful duo of freshmen leading the way, the Red and Blue may have their sights set on more than a few pieces of hardware before the class of 2019 graduates.
“We are a young team, and I feel very optimistic about their future,” King said.
“I think they’re going to have really good careers here.”
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