For two years, Jessie Lupardus carried the Penn softball team on her left shoulder.
The junior recorded the win in 29 of the Quakers’ 41 victories since 2008 — and for good measure, saved another five. She struck out 268 batters in 271 and one-third innings and posted a 1.39 earned run average, while her teammates’ ERA sat at 4.91.
But with her on-the-field dominance came off-the-field issues, and at the end of last season, Lupardus decided not to return to the program for her final two years at Penn.
“Around midseason, I started to realize I was getting a little bit more unhappy, and things kind of were just downhill from there,” she said. “It was sad on both ends. I didn’t want to leave my softball career in the middle of it. I really didn’t want it to come to that. But it’s just going to be better for me and for the rest of the team.”
Coach Leslie King did not want to talk about the specifics surrounding her ace’s departure.
“It was in her best interest not to continue to play, and I totally was in agreement with that,” King said. “It was a mutual decision, and I think it was the best thing in the big picture.”
Lupardus said a few of her teammates were “disgruntled” and “unhappy with how the team was getting along.”
In addition to the former pitcher, three other Quakers left the softball program this offseason for reasons other than graduation: Sarah Patrick, whose three home runs and six extra-base hits were second on the team; Diana Ark, a two-year veteran; and Jamie Boccanfuso, who hit .353 with a .439 slugging percentage in her freshman campaign.
“If you’re looking to see if there is some kind of underlying problem in our program, you’re barking up the wrong tree,” King said. “It was just an isolated thing that some years it happens.”
Patrick declined to comment for this article, and Boccanfuso did not respond to multiple e-mail messages seeking comment.
Ark, who hit .243 in her collegiate softball career, with 13 runs batted in over 72 games, said she left the team for different reasons.
Six years as a two-sport athlete had run its course, so the junior decided to focus on varsity fencing. A more typical college experience sounded appealing, and with her newfound free time, Ark has become more involved with Wharton Women and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Ark said she remains very close with many of her softball teammates.
Still, her comments expanded on the turmoil of the 2009 season that Lupardus referenced.
Ark said certain players’ unhappiness weighed on the entire team.
“There was conflict between one player and the whole team. I really can’t say anything else,” said Ark. She declined to comment further “out of respect to everyone on the team, my coaches [and] Jessie.”
The Quakers also struggled on the field, going 15-28-1 (10-10 Ivy) and finishing second in the four-team South Division.
“It’s just a lot of issues. And, yeah, it’s kinda messy.” Ark said.
For her part, Lupardus realizes that she made life harder for those around her.
“My well-being was of some concern last year, and I know it was a distraction for some people,” Lupardus said. “I’ll be glad to see them have better chemistry, be able to work together and rise above the adversity that happened last season.”
King, though, didn’t want to point the finger, at least not for the interpersonal drama.
“Team chemistry is a group dynamic, and I don’t think one person can be held responsible for that,” the coach said. “If you want to hold anybody responsible, you can hold me responsible. But I don’t think that is the reason why Jess isn’t playing anymore. That was definitely down the list of important things.”
Regardless of what precisely caused the divorce, both parties are looking to move on.
Lupardus is still doing some training and may join a recreational league soon. But the Birmingham, Ala., native — who originally spurned Southeastern Conference scholarship dollars for a Penn education — is not looking to transfer elsewhere.
“I didn’t want to go through all the hassle,” she said. “I liked all the rest of Penn. I like being in Philly.”
King may have the more challenging task moving forward. She’ll have to do so without three key hitters and arguably the conference’s best pitcher.
Then again, two years ago, her roster was so depleted that she turned to soccer standout Natalie Capuano as an emergency replacement.
“If you want to look at [four players] leaving, you want to look at it that way. How about 21 being in the program?” King said. “I’d like to look at the glass as very much half-full.”
Hard as they may try, none of the 21 can throw like Lupardus. In 2008, she racked up a program-record 177 strikeouts and led the Ivy League in nearly every pitching category.
“She’s probably the best pitcher we’ve ever had here at Penn,” King said. “We’re going to miss her on the mound.”Comments powered by Disqus
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