[Sports] The First Team In Life

 

 The First Team In Life

Youngstown State Pitcher From Valparaiso Having Great

 When you love what you do – and you’re good at it – sports becomes interchangeable with your life.

Are you the athlete or the person?

Or are they one and the same.

Valparaiso’s Casey Crozier is the best softball pitcher at Youngstown (Ohio) State.

That she is that accomplished as a freshman is no mean feat.

Start with the genetics. Both of her parents —  Marci and Kevin – were college athletes at Sault Ste Marie (Mich.). Marci played volleyball and softball Kevin played basketball. He older sister, Courtney, was also a softball player.

Casey played junior softball in Portage when the family moved there and has been playing on all-star teams, then in high school and now college, ever since.

Her Valparaiso experience was one of ups and downs, with “Everybody trying as hard they could,” she said. But inexperience led to a not-so-great senior season record.

Still, she played on.

She summered with the Indiana Shockwaves, based in Noblesville and Indiana Lake Effect, based in The Region.

It was while with the Shockwaves that Youngstown State showed up and offered her a sporting life after high school.

They were not wrong in their assessment.

Headed in the past weekend, she led the Penguins with a 2.78 earned run average, 10 starts and seven relief appearances, 78 innings pitched, 50 strikeouts, all team bests and all ending with a 9-4 record so far.

The team won a total of 12 last season. Her league games closest to home this season at the University of Chicago, April 9-10. Valaparaiso University comes to her April 16-17. Next season, she gets to come home for the Valpo games.

As for relieving when asked, she said, “I really don’t mind. When she can’t finish, I can come in and when I can’t finish, she can come in.”

Watching from the bench is another new experience.

“I kind alike seeing the batters from the top of the lineup all the way down, from the mound,” she said. “But, on the bench, you can get a different perspective.”

The different perspective she delivers is a curve and a drop ball. “My pitch moves. I like the drop ball, but I actually just learned that here,” she said..

“And I can go to the screwball. Everybody in the lineup is good. Every pitch means something. Hitters will find you if you  make a mistake.

“Fortunately we have a great defense and I don’t worry about that.”

She has learned to be part of the defense, coverage if they try to bunt on her, and is learning more about this next level every day.

Start with the catcher. Hers is Vicky Rumph. A player that came all the way from Washington State has become a batterymate with a girl from Indiana.

“Vic. She’s awesome,” said Crozier. “She also plays hockey, goalie. Nothing gets past her.”

That harkens back to Crozier’s assessment that every player on the college level is a specialist, no blank spots on defense or in the lineup.

Crozier does not bat in college. She can focus on pitching.

“I honestly don’t miss it, no,” she says of not batting.

“I always struggled with it and I carried it back to the mound. This transition is entirely different.”

She also doe not shake off pitching orders. They come from the dugout to Vic to Crozier.

“They don’t go into detailed scouting reports,” she said. “They do them they just only tell us what we need to know. When they call for a pitch, I deliver that pitch.

“Personally I like the nerve-wracking situations.”

The move to a cmapus 5 ½ driving hours away is unsettling to some freshmen. Crozier, at first, was no different.

“In the beginning, I was definitely homesick. Coming into a team I didn’t know anyone one was different. I came home at Labor Day and said, ‘Oh, I can’t do this.’

“But I can. It’s been pretty fun to get to see the diversity. On a team it is easier to befriend your teammates. It’s like running. You come to a wall and you get over it.

“But, working together, we’ve developed a good team energy, completely changed from the fall schedule to now. Everyone is friends.

“So it’s been so much fun.”

There has been more physical training on the next level, of course.

“Oh weights,” she said. “It’s all dead weights, dumbbells, bench-pressing, painful stuff. The hardest weight-training I’ve ever done. I thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ It was the first time I’d done it.”

Yet she got through that as well.

“It has made us so much stronger,” she said. “We can tell the difference and that feels good.”

Then there’s the “student” part of student/athlete.

“In the fall, I discovered study tables and tutors. I took a pretty tough load. But we have a super smart team and they can help you figure things out.

“I think I will get some more classes in during summer sessions and take the heavier load each fall.” She will work towards a degree in Special Education.

Softball plays a split season, with some games in the fall sequence but the majority in the spring road trip and the Horizon League schedule.

“I thought about the league,” she said. “We play Butler, UIC and Valparaiso. I wanted my parents to be able to see me.”

She said she realizes not everyone gets the chance, in any sports, to move to the college level and she is grateful for the chance

But, “If you’re not ready for it, if you don’t put in the work, no matter how you love something . . .”

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