With such a star-studded senior class, Penn softball is desperate for a late season rally to send some of its top contributors off in style. But one of the Quakers’ best performers is here for the long haul.
After a terrific freshman campaign in 2016, sophomore infielder Sarah Cwiertnia has followed it up with an even better one in 2017 for the Red and Blue.
The California native burst on the scene for Penn last year with a .347 batting average and a .379 on-base percentage. Penn coach Leslie King knew Cwiertnia was a special talent at the plate from the first time she saw her play at Santa Margarita high school.
“She was consistently hitting the ball hard,” King recalled. “She was hitting home runs, she was driving the ball--- she was a good player, you could see that. She could rake.”
So Cwiertnia’s success as a freshman did not, figuratively or literally, come out of left field. But sustaining that success was no sure thing. In both collegiate and professional sports, the dreaded “sophomore slump” can plague the most talented young athletes, even those who manage to avoid the “rookie wall.”
Cwiertnia, however, got the help she needed from her teammates— especially sluggers Leah Allen and Jurie Joyner— to prevent any possibility of falling into one of those mental traps.
“Definitely [I] look up to Leah and Jurie--- they’re both phenomenal hitters,” Cwiertnia said. “They just tell you to relax. Softball is a mental game, it’s mostly in your head, so the more relaxed you are the better you play.”
“So many people in sports always kind of latch on to the ‘sophomore slump’ thing and the more kids talk about it sometimes the more real they make it,” King said. “And I was really pleased that Sarah didn’t make it a thing this year.”
Cwiertnia certainly hasn’t made the sophomore slump a thing, hitting .354 and raising her OBP to .414 with a pair of home runs. After playing both corner infield positions last season, she has now found a home at first base.
And while Allen and star pitcher (and hitter) Alexis Sargent will be departing from the program in under a month, Cwiertnia is one of the younger players ready to step in as a focal point of the offense. In many ways, she already has.
“We’ve moved her into the number three spot as a hitter,” King said. “In the sport you put your best hitter in the number three spot, and we have a lot of good hitters on this team. She’s embraced her role.”
“I’m just trying to help the team the best I can, and hit runners in,” Cwiertnia said.
If her goal is to hit runners in, then she couldn’t possibly be doing better. Her 28 RBIs lead all Ivy League hitters. King is optimistic that Cwiertnia will not only help fill the void left by the graduating seniors in the box score, but in the locker room as well.
“I see her as being in a position to show younger hitters, ‘this is the role that you can play.’ She’s certainly got great leadership qualities. She works hard, she does her job, she’s not involved in drama. She just comes in and does her job with a smile on her face. I see her being a potential leader in the future for sure.”
But for now, Cwiertnia is just trying to help the Quakers make the most out of the time they have left with this current group, a goal she says the entire team has shared all season.
“It’s definitely a motivation to play for our seniors--- that’s been the saying the whole year, ‘play for your seniors.’ Play like it’s the last game you’re ever gonna play,” Cwiertnia said. “It’s gonna be a lot different without them around, I don’t know it’s going to impact the team dynamic, but I do think we are fully capable of winning in future years as well.”