For freshman pitcher Julia Longo, the story of the season has been improvement.
The transition from high school to college softball is significant. Suddenly, everyone on the field is incredibly talented. Training becomes more intense, practices more regular. Batters are stronger and more disciplined. Teams are better coached. Time management outside of athletics is of the utmost importance.
In high school, Longo was a superstar. All four years, she was named her team’s most valuable player. She was the team captain her senior year, led her team to a conference championship, and was named first-team All-State and All-Region. However, at the start of her first collegiate season, Longo struggled. Through her first four games pitched, she had a record of 0-3 and an earned run average of 6.00.
“The transfer from high school to college, adjusting to the level of play took a lot out of me mentally,” Longo said.
“This weekend, I was already at such a low point throughout the season that I honestly wasn’t going to get much worse, so I went out there and I thought, ‘I know what I have to do and I’ve been doing this my whole life,’” she said. “The biggest change for me was remembering that I’ve done this, and I’m supposed to be here.”
In her next three games, against the Explorers once and the Crimson twice, Longo pitched 12.2 innings, giving up a total of two earned runs and striking out seven batters. After giving up three home runs in her first four games, she hasn’t allowed any since. In addition, her control has greatly improved, as she walked only two batters in those 12.2 innings.
The key to her steady improvement throughout the season has been visualization.
“Before the games that I’ve pitched well, I’ve gone through pregame warmups and I’ve had a batter stand in for me, and I’ve visualized pitching,” Longo said. “[I’ve visualized] being on the field, being in the moment, thinking about how I’m going to react. I think that has put me in the right mindset.”
Beyond her pregame rituals, Longo has found solace in the support of her teammates and coaching staff.
“Just being around the team, they’ve provided me so much support that I think I’ve finally settled down this past weekend and was able to play the game that I know,” Longo said. “My head coach kept telling me, ‘You’ve done this your whole life. You know what you’re doing. Just pitch the game that you know,’ and that’s what I did.”
Confidence is key. In previous games, Longo was trying to visualize her success, but the element of uncertainty was present. She hadn’t yet succeeded at the next level. With her most recent performances, she now knows what it takes to perform at the collegiate level, and will look to continue her success throughout the rest of the season. After all, she’s already watched herself thrive.