The NC State softball team began its season Feb. 7 in the NFCA Leadoff Classic and kicked off the year by playing three straight ranked teams. The team has already played in one of its toughest stretches of the season and is sitting at a 2-3 record, with a victory over No. 21 Ole Miss already under its belt.
Part of the reason the softball team was able to conquer a ranked opponent in its first game of the season and score seven runs on a top-10 team in Minnesota is the confidence sophomore shortstop April Visser has brought to the team.
Visser concluded last season with eight home runs on the year, with six coming in ACC play, 79 putouts and 17 runs, and she started 51 of 53 games as a freshman. Corresponding to her six home runs in ACC games, Visser began to heat up offensively after already dominating the year on the defensive side of the ball.
“[Visser] didn’t make any changes, a lot of it came down to her mindset,” said head coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift. “When she was able to stay calm, to keep the pressure at an even level and not try and outdo herself, and just allowed herself to be the good player that she is, she was successful.”
This year, Visser already has one home run along with three runs and two RBIs in just 12 at-bats. The Salt Lake City native also has a .417 slugging percentage, an improvement over last year.
“I’m really working on my offensive side,” Visser said. “Last year, I was pretty solid defensively. I struggled a little bit offensively, so I’m just trying to level those out.”
With such a young infield, being a leader as a sophomore is a tall task, but Visser has met expectations nicely. The only upperclassmen infielders on the roster are junior third baseman Logan Morris, redshirt junior first baseman Randi Farricker and senior first baseman/designated player Skylar Johnston.
“It is a pretty young infield, but I think our infield does have experience,” Visser said. “We have all been playing the game for many years, and we all have instincts. We know what we are supposed to be doing. Being a leader is something I have always enjoyed to do. I like to have that control, which is why I like playing shortstop; it’s the leader in the infield. I think it is important communication-wise; make sure everyone knows where they’re going, where they’re supposed to be going the next play. I think just as far as practicing, you’ve seen a lot of the people grow and learn the game in that way.”
With any freshman entering their first collegiate season, it is definitely understandable for that player to get overwhelmed with all of the factors that go into playing a D1 sport in college, but Visser surpassed all of the lofty expectations set for her by the coaching staff. As a player, Visser always sees there is room for improvement, and that is the key to success for any athlete.
“I think that it’s a mindset to just get out there and get after it every day,” Visser said. “There was a lot of pressure last year starting, coming in as a freshman, not really knowing what it’s going to be like. But I had faith in the training and the coaching and to trust the process. So I’m doing the same thing this year. I’m not really trying to compare anything to last year, just trying to go out and play my game.”
Something the coaching staff is already noticing is Visser’s growth in confidence from last season to this season. Visser’s confidence in her team has grown, and her ability to know that she does not have to bear all of the burdens of a loss on her shoulders shows this. Despite being faced with three straight ranked opponents to begin the year, Visser kept her head high and worked hard to motivate her team.
“She’s definitely one of our leaders and one of the core people on our team,” Patrick-Swift said. “When we brought her here with us last year, that was what we told her we needed her to do from day one, even as a freshman. That’s hard, coming into the unknown and knowing that your coaches have asked that of you. She embraced it. For the growth that I have seen from her from last year to this year has just been being able to have less pressure on herself, as far as knowing that if she doesn’t get it done, that one of her teammates is going to, and that she has a shot to do it at her next at-bat.”
Visser and the team are optimistic for the season going forward and will look to take each series one game at a time. However, the team already has a couple of games in mind that it is looking forward to, especially given the success of the team in the fall season.
“All of [the games] are going to be exciting, just because every game counts,” Visser said. “But I think playing UNC is going to be fun, just because they are a rivalry. We did beat them in the fall. Pretty much any game at home is going to be fun, because you have a home-field advantage; you’ve got your fans there to back you up. I think every game is going to be exciting this year.”
With all of the growth that is taking place in the program, there is plenty for Wolfpack fans to be excited for, but Visser knows the process is not yet complete.
“The comparison from where we were last year to this year. It’s a complete change,” Visser said. “It really is exciting; it is awesome to see the transfers and incoming people this year, just to see the growth and potential of this team.”
Next up, the Wolfpack will take on Ohio State and Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, with both of those teams having received ranking votes. The Pack will play each team twice, and the first pitch to kick off the challenge Friday, Feb. 14 at 4 p.m. inside Dail Softball Stadium.