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Penn softball freshman Emma Nedley ranks in the top 10 in the Ivy League in slugging percentage, runs, home runs, and steals.

Credit: Tamara Wurman

Leading her team in runs, home runs, slugging percentage, steals, and almost any other offensive category one could think of, it’s clear that freshman standout Emma Nedley belongs at the core of Penn softball’s lineup. But two years ago, she had no idea she'd be here at all.

Hailing from Monroeville, Pa., a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Nedley’s path to University City was far from that of the average Penn student. 1,700 miles farther, to be precise.

Despite a stellar junior season at Penn-Trafford High School — including a .509 batting average, 22 runs scored, 21 RBIs, and a section title — Nedley had still not committed to a college team entering the summer of 2017. 

That June, her club team travelled to play in a tournament in Colorado. In front of college coaches from around the country, including from Penn, Nedley performed well, and the rest was history.

“It was really in the blink of an eye. I hadn’t even heard of Penn two weeks prior, and then I was committing there,” said Nedley, who cited Penn’s pre-dental program as a major reason for her decision. “So it was very awesome, and a pleasant surprise.”

The surprise paid off for the Quakers immediately.

No matter what metric looked at, it’s clear that Nedley’s impact has been both rapid and drastic. On day one, Nedley hopped into starting outfield, going 5-for-7 through her first two games, keeping herself on the lineup ever since.

Standing at only 5-foot-3, her four home runs account for 36 percent of the team’s total, twice as many as any other Quaker. Within the Ivy League, she ranks in the top 10 in slugging (eighth), runs (fifth), home runs (sixth), and steals (fifth). 

“I really didn’t expect it at all. I’ve never really been much of a home run hitter...and I did not expect to take on this role whatsoever,” Nedley said. “I had a really good week in Florida, and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can keep this up.’ But I really started to focus on my mental game, and that’s elevated me.”

Though the season is still young, Nedley appears to be in a tight battle with Cornell infielder Allison Kerce and Brown pitcher Lauren Innerst for Ivy Rookie of the Year honors. It would be Penn’s first selection since Jurie Joyner in 2015. 

While the success may have come as a surprise to the freshman, those around her knew something special was brewing from the start.

“As soon as I got to see her play in the beginning of the fall, I knew she was going to make a huge impact for us. Just because of hard she worked and how much effort she always put in at practice,” classmate and left fielder Corrie Phillips said. “As soon as she got here, I knew she was going to be a really incredible player.”

Credit: Gillian Diebold

Beyond the numbers she’s put up on the field, Nedley’s approach to the sport has wowed freshmen and senior teammates alike. Whether it comes down to putting in the extra work to improve as a player, or coming with a strong off-the-field attitude to help boost team dynamics, the Quakers know that this rookie has instantaneously become a leader. 

“She’s very naturally talented, but she’s also one of the most positive people on the entire team. She’s never doubted herself, and that’s one of the reasons she’s able to be so successful,” senior second baseman Sam Pederson said. “She’s stepped up into a louder role right away, which not many freshmen do, so that’s been exciting to us.” 

Nedley’s emergence has mirrored that of her entire freshman class, with Phillips and first baseman Julia Schneider joining her in the lineup while pitcher Julia Longo has emerged as one of the team’s top starters. As encouraging as the early successes of Nedley and her classmates have been, that initial excitement has been matched by thoughts of just how much potential the future can hold.

“As a class, they’re probably one of the best we’ve seen in a while. They’ve been super impactful both in the field and in the lineup, and I’m really excited to see where they go,” Pederson said. “I’m sad to be leaving them behind, because they are my favorite class to play with in four years, and I think they’re going to have a huge impact on both the team and Penn Athletics.”

For now, though, all eyes are on the present and the pursuit of Penn’s first Ivy title in six years. Clawing back from fourth place will be no easy task, but if Nedley’s red-hot start to her career can continue, maybe another surprise will be in store for the Red and Blue.