Q&A with Junior Outfielder Kirsten Willmon
Q-The team started the season ranked #2 in the NFCA Preseason Poll. How accurate a representation is this of your team's potential?
WILLMON-We like to think of those polls purely as compliments of our successes the previous year. We appreciate the recognition, but we really work hard to prove ourselves in the season that is upon us now. We have a totally different team, different chemistry, and I think that is great. We have to go out and play hard and prove ourselves as the 2013 UCSD Tritons Softball team, and I know that we will.
Q-You returned the majority of your roster this season, but graduated two of the greatest Triton softball players of all time whose influence extended off the field as well-Camille Gaito and Kris Lesovsky. What is the personality of this year's team? What is it like to have a roster with so many returners?
WILLMON- Camille and Kris are two of the most entertaining people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. They have over-the-top personalities and are such fun people to spend time with. I am glad I still get to see them. The freshman class that we brought in this year is such a bundle of energy, the whole team feeds off of it. They are excited about everything and always ready to have a good time on and off the field. Our team is a perfect mesh of veterans and rookies. I think it gives us a lot of leaders, and a lot of young bloods who get to learn the ropes from the older girls.
Q-In 2012, your batting average increased by 143 points from the previous season. What did you do make such an improvement possible?
WILLMON- Well, if you take a look at the number of at-bats I got in my freshman vs. sophomore years, that has a lot to do with it. Getting a lot of opportunities makes it easier to come into yourself and feel comfortable.
However, I would say the biggest contributor to my success would be my work on my mental game. Our team had the pleasure of having sports psychologist Ken Ravizza come and speak to us last year and he really changed my outlook. I had already read a couple of his books, but hearing him speak in person about it really helped it to resonate with me and I found a lot more confidence in my hitting.
I also would give some credit to our volunteer assistant coach/alumni Katrin Gabriel who worked with me a lot before and after practices during season to help me to keep my mechanics strong and to keep my confidence up.
Q-What does it take to be a smart base runner? What is the most difficult aspect of playing in the outfield?
WILLMON- My dad was a big part in my smarts on the bases. As a young player on travel teams, and my freshman year here, I often didn't get a lot of on-field playing time, but I was always a base runner. He told me to always read the defense before each pitch, and to know where the ball is while I'm running.
When it comes to the outfield, the most difficult aspect in my personal experience is reading bloopers in front of me because there has to be a lot of communication between infield and outfield. It's difficult because the infield is running backwards and cannot see us coming. We have worked on it a lot and it simply comes down to the outfield being really loud, and the infield using their hand signals. I think we have gotten pretty good at it now.
Q-What is your favorite thing about playing home games in Triton softball stadium?
WILLMON- I can't pick just one favorite thing. I love having friends and family there to watch us. I love that it is our field because we have some of the greatest facilities in the state, especially now with our awesome new stadium seats which just went in, it looks great.
Q-What is the funniest thing that has happened when your team is traveling for an away series?
WILLMON- Wow, at least a dozen hilarious things happen on every trip. I would say one of the funniest would be how we chose to hide Dyanna Imoto in different small spaces for the coaches to find-closet shelves, boxes, large vases, overhead bins etc.
Second, would be how almost the whole team bought giant stuffed bears from Costco last year and brought them with us on the bus to all post-season trips. Picture the team with about a dozen giant bears everywhere we go. It's just ridiculous!
Q-Your online bio says that you enjoy a lot of outdoor activities, everything from fishing to snowboarding. How did you come to be such a lover of the outdoors?
WILLMON- My family all love different outdoor activities and I have, over the years, immersed myself in all of the activities. We did a lot of camping and ATV riding when I was younger, and all the men in my family fish so I picked that up. My house, in Elk Grove, is on a five-acre horse ranch so I have always spent a lot of time outside with my siblings, swimming, riding ATV's and playing with our animals (dogs, cats, horses, sheep, etc). In the summer we practically live at the lake wake boarding or having backyard BBQ's.
Q-Do you have any favorite spots around San Diego to spend the day enjoying the outdoors?
WILLMON- Down here I don't have access to a lot of my usual outdoor activities of choice, however, I love the beach. It is one of the biggest reasons I chose UCSD, in all honesty. I spent my junior year of high school trying to get recruited by schools near beaches. On a Sunday off from softball I love going down to La Jolla Shores and running on the beach, or laying out and doing some reading for class.
Q-Student-athletes at UCSD have a delicate balancing act between rigorous academics and competitive athletics. How do you manage this? Do you have any favorite study snacks to keep you going?
WILLMON- I try to take light class loads during season. I usually only take the minimum three classes, to make it easier on myself. I always try to stay on top of my reading and never fall behind because that is where you tend to get into trouble.
My favorite study snack right now is Ocean Spray Craisin's Trail Mix, it's craisins, mini-dark chocolate chips, peanuts, almonds and cashews. Yum!
Q-In your experience, what have you found to be the keys to a team's success at the national level?
WILLMON- I think that Coach Gerckens's approach, which she instills in us from the beginning, is to always take it one game at a time. If you just worry about winning the one game you are about to play, then it takes a lot of the pressure off. We set long term team goals for the season at the beginning of January, but we don't worry about them again after that. We don't think much about the post-season until we get there. Once we get to Nationals is when we really turn it on and think, "ok we are here now, so don't change a thing, go and play our game and win one game at a time."
Q-You were a part of 2011 NCAA Champion and 2012 NCAA runner-up teams. How does this history influence the team going into the 2013 season?
WILLMON- I know that in the back of our minds we know there is an expectation amongst ourselves for us to do well this season. We have had upper classmen the last few years who have set the precedent that we settle for nothing but greatness and we won't stop until we reach our goals. However, the reaction we have gotten from the press has been that people think we can't do it without Kris and Camille.
What they tend to forget is we lost a lot of big guns last year too after Sarah Woofter, Katrin Gabriel, and Jen Defazio graduated. Every year you have important people graduate, but you find ways to fill in those holes they leave behind and I think we have done a pretty good job over the past couple years doing that. We have a very strong freshman class that is going to be very productive in the batter's box and on the field, and our pitching staff is a good mix of veteran and rookies which should give us a strong rotation to work with.
Q-What does Coach Gerckens say about the possibility of a third straight trip to the National Championships? What aspects of her coaching style help her to consistently field competitive teams?
WILLMON- Coach Gerckens does a great job of never mentioning the post-season. It is great that we have such an extended season as compared to other sports. We get to play from mid-January through the middle of May. However, this early on we are only thinking about whatever team we play next, keeping it simple and short term focused. This strategy has worked over the last few years. It keeps the team on the same page, relaxed and grounded.
Q-The CCAA has a legacy of very strong softball competition. Is there a team that you have a particularly fierce rivalry with? What is your mindset headed into CCAA play?
WILLMON- Due to how good our whole conference is, and how different each team's line-up is year-to-year, I would say we don't have any tried and true "rivals". We go out trying to win every game no matter who we are playing.
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