Simply put, senior third baseman Emily McQuaid has been among the unsung heroes during one of the finest generations in Triton softball history. During a run that has produced unprecedented team success, the Monrovia native has started 159 games, including all 24 so far in 2014, been a defensive stalwart on three NCAA playoff teams, including the 2011 NCAA title squad, and has become a major threat at the plate, hitting .353 to date this season. Her value is not lost on veteran head coach Patti Gerckens. “We originally recruited Emily primarily for her base-running skills, and she’s certainly one of our smartest base-runners,” says Gerckens. “Any time she gets on base, I believe she’s going to score. But she’s exceeded our expectations in virtually every department. She’s a great third baseman, has developed into one of our top hitters, and when you look at her as an overall student-athlete, she’s top-notch, on the field and academically.” With UCSD sporting an 18-6 overall record and sitting first in the CCAA at 13-3, the 5-foot-2 left-handed hitter out of Arcadia High School spent time recently discussing her Triton career, this year’s improved offense and the personality of the 2014 team.
Q: You’ve been a four-year starter on teams that have gone 141-67, been to the NCAA playoffs three times, won a national championship and finished second on another occasion. Yet, you’re a pretty well-kept secret. Why?
McQUAID: I guess I’m just very consistent. Not really full of high highs and low lows. I’m just very quiet on the field, and do what’s asked of me. If I need to put down a sacrifice bunt, I will, so that someone like Caitlin, Katie, McKenna, or Emma can come up and drive the runners in. I know the importance of being a role player on a softball team like ours. You need everyone to win.
My freshman year, I started here and there, but towards post-season 2011, I became the called on pinch runner, so that I could come in, steal second, and score the winning run on a hit. That was my job. My sophomore year, I started every game at third, did nothing spectacular offensively, but was a very reliable reliable basemen. My junior year, I felt was my breakout year, but still just doing my own thing, getting on base, stealing bases, playing awesome defense with Mya on the left side, but still not getting extra base hits, or tons of RBIs. This year, I guess I’ve had a pretty good first half of my senior season as well. I tend to just do my job, and what’s needed in that moment, and keep the team moving forward.
Q: How would you describe your role on this year’s team?
McQUAID: I see my role as being the person to start rallies, get on base, steal bases, and just getting the job done when I am needed. I am expected to play solid defense at third base, and keep everyone energized and focused. It’s the same as the past, I won’t be looked on to score runners, or come up with that big hit, but I am expected to keep getting singles, be a strong hitter, and play a significant role in our offensive line up.
Q: You’re known more for doing the unsung things on the field than for your hitting—but after averaging .244 over your first three years, you’re hitting .353 so far this season. What gives?
McQUAID: I really wish I didn’t see that last statistic. I don’t look at my personal statistics during the season. It keeps me focused on having productive at bats, and doing well in that moment, not necessarily hitting better so I can get my average up. But to answer the question, the past two years, I have definitely become more confident in the box. I set a goal that I wanted to be a starter on the team, and in order to do so, playing good defense wasn’t going to be enough. I knew that I needed to hold my own on the offensive side as well, which meant I had to become a more consistent, quality hitter. I tweaked some things in my swing, and have been focusing on that, along with more drive and passion to want to finish my senior year as best as possible.
Q: Offensively, you’re one of the team’s slap-hitting specialists. How would you explain the essence of slap-hitting and how did that become part of your game?
McQUAID: I sometimes joke about this story. Up until my sophomore year of high school, I always hit right-handed, but I never thought I was that good of a hitter. But I was a speedy runner, so my coaches suggested that I hit left-handed and learn how to slap, so that I could utilize my speed to get on base. I felt so uncoordinated at first, but after many at bats, and years of practice, slapping has become completely natural, and now when I pick up a bat and swing right handed, I feel completely uncoordinated!
Slapping is definitely an art. It’s not necessarily about hitting the ball hard, but placing the ball where the defense is not. It’s about finding the holes, and manipulating the defense in order to get on base. There’s more thinking involved, which makes it fun sometimes.
Q: What do you like/dislike about being cast in that role?
McQUAID: Slappers usually don’t get the big hits, the game winning hits, the home runs. We just tend to get on base. So, I guess you can say we don’t get all the glory, but we tend to start rallies, or keep the rallies going, and put pressure on the defense, so I enjoy being the person that can help the team out in some way.
Q: If you were allowed to swing away with regularity, any chance you would have your first home run by now?
McQUAID: Hahaha! Probably! Us little girls can hit home runs too! I actually prefer to slap though, so I don’t mind, but hitting a home run in college would be awesome!
Q: Over the course of your career, you’ve hit all up and down the order. Do you prefer one spot over another?
McQUAID: I actually don’t care where I hit in the lineup. As long as I’m in the lineup, that’s all that really matters to me. If I’m hitting in the 9-spot, or 6-spot, and it’s a bunting situation, I’m probably going to bunt because that’s the type of batter I am. I think whatever the situation is when I am up to bat determines what I will do in that at-bat, not necessarily where I am in the lineup. The only plus side to hitting further up the lineup is you get more at bats, so sometimes I don’t get as many at-bats, but other than that, makes no difference to me!
Q: With 57 career steals, you’re now third all-time at UCSD in that category. What makes you a successful base runner?
McQUAID: Hard, aggressive jumps. I actually love base running. The key to base running is being smart regardless of speed, although speed is always a plus. I take hard leads all the time, not just on the pitches where I am going to steal, so hopefully the defense can’t really tell when I’m stealing. If you get the defense thinking about you, the base runner, then you’ve taken their focus off the batter, and the next play, so it just means keeping them on their toes. On a side note, stealing third is one of the best feelings ever!
Q: What has been the key to the Triton Softball team’s success during your four years on the roster?
McQUAID: Simply refusing to lose. The years we were national champions, and runners up, there was just a mindset that we weren’t done, and that we still had more games to play, and that we were going to win. During both seasons, there were some bumps in the road, but we didn’t let those affect us to the point where we just gave up. We knew we put in a lot of time and work, and let our will to win take over, and pushed through until the final game of the season.
Q: For you, what was the most memorable part of the 2011 run to the NCAA Championship? Was there a moment when you felt, “hey, we could be good enough to win it all?” How did that season affect what’s happened since?
McQUAID: I remember during fall of my freshman year, some of the seniors had mentioned winning nationals, and was thinking “yeah! Let’s do it,” as if it were that easy. My entire freshman year, everyone worked so hard, and we loved working with each other and for each other. Then, we just kept winning. It was great! We had some glitches, but we learned from them, moved on, and as we approached post- season, some things just fell into place, and we became unstoppable.
Losing wasn’t an option, because we were going to win, end of story. I remember warming up before the national championship game thinking, “hey, we could be national champions at the end of the day.” And then it happened. Looking back, everything just felt so easy. All the extra hours, and conditioning, extra ground balls, became worth it. That entire post season was full of very close games, winning on squeeze plays, winning on late inning hits, winning games by one run, and of course pitcher Camille Gaito being perfect in the circle.
Since then, our team’s goals have been to be national champions every year, because this year’s senior class knows what it’s like to go that far and win. It has become an expectation, and for me, it seems like anything less than that is just a disappointment, even though I know that’s not 100% true. I want our underclassmen to know how it feels to so that they have something to work for, and to think of every season as an opportunity, rather than just another season.
Q: How does this team differ from the previous three you’ve been part of?
McQUAID: We just have fun together. This year, everything so far seems very simple. Go to practice, go to weights, get your work done, get a little better every day, and the results will come. It seems that if we simply just take care of business, and play like we are capable of, and expect the best from each other, that things will fall into place, as it has thus far, so we just have to keep that feeling going. We have definitely hit our bumps in the road, but hopefully we learn, overcome, and keep progressing as the end of season and post-season approach us.
Q: You have four other fourth-year seniors on the roster - Caitlin Brown, Mya Romero, Kirsten Willmon and Jenn Manuel. Do the four of you have a special bond, and what does each bring to this year’s club?
McQUAID: We all have very different personalities, and I think the thing that keeps us together is how much we want to win, and go the distance that we know we can. We know what it’s like to be the last one standing, and we don’t want anything else than to win, and enjoy our last year together, because we are very supportive of each other.
Caitlin is always a solid player, and will be counted on to drive in runners. Mya and I are always expected to hold down the left side of the infield, and we have both been hitting well this year too. Kirsten, “Kir”, will be somewhere in the outfield and will be a reliable bat in the lineup to get on base, as well as drive in runners. Manny will be key to our team’s success in the circle, and she has shown that so far this year.
Q: You’ve also got five freshmen on this year’s team. As a collective, how important have they been to the success of the team? What type of knowledge or lessons have you tried to impart to them that you wished you would have known coming in?
McQUAID: The freshmen are a good group. I think they’ve learned that it takes a lot of work to earn a starting position, that nothing comes easy, and there is a lot to learn and improve on at the college level. Ashley (Chestnut), Chandler (Geary), Bianca (Devoto), and Alexiss (Rivas) have all been counted on to come in to pinch hit, and gotten hits for us, which is vital to win games. Alayna (Brenman) is very important in the circle for us this year, and will be expected to win games for us, and to get tougher, so that we can rely on an entire pitching staff come post-season. I hope they have learned to grow some tough skin, and soon develop a mindset that losing is not an option.
Q: What’s the most valuable thing coach Patti Gerckens has ever told you?
McQUAID: To be grateful that we are able to go out and play softball every day, and to be grateful for the opportunities in front of us, and to be thankful for the friends, memories, and travel experiences, that softball has given us.
Q: Who are the craziest players on the team? Who are the most serious?
McQUAID: Mya is probably the craziest. She’s got a weird personality. I don’t really know how to describe her non-serious side, hahah. Ashley always has jokes, and Emma’s (Schneider) pretty crazy too, and Callie’s (Grant) definitely got an “in my own world” personality. Caitlin’s probably the most serious on the team, but mostly because she does the most work for the team, and organizes everything.
Q: You’ve listed dancing and photography as two of your off-the-field hobbies. How would you fare on Dancing With the Stars? What are your favorite photographic subjects?
McQUAID: I’d be good! I could win that! I learn dances pretty quickly, and I have taken dance classes off and on my entire life, even some classes here at UCSD. I can do ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip hop. And this may sound narcissistic, but I like being the subject of photography. I love having my picture taken. I actually used to model. Shhhh!!! Don’t tell anyone, it’s kind of my little secret. But yes, I used to do commercial print up until about eighth grade, right when I started playing club softball. I used to be on advertisements, and loved doing photo shoots, and changing my outfits, etc. But once I got into my teens, I was too short for the adult division, and too old for the children’s division, so I just decided to stop, and start playing club softball. I still love taking pictures though.
Q: Both of your parents graduated from Iowa State. Have they been enjoying the Cyclones' run in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament?
McQUAID: Of course! My dad has enjoyed the upsets, that Iowa State has beaten NC Central and UNC in the NCAA tournament, and that they won the Big 12 Tournament, so hopefully they stay hot so my dad can stay happy. My mom said that my dad busted out his Iowa state clothing to wear at a family gathering recently.
Q: During the past two years, you have been a resident advisor at UCSD’s Sixth College. What has been the most difficult situation you’ve encountered? What type of long term life lessons have you learned from being in that position?
McQUAID: Yikes. Probably dealing with serious roommate conflicts, that have been a matter of disrespect. I can’t say too much, but some people can be very mean, which is disheartening. Other RAs have had much more serious issues to deal with, so it’s definitely not an easy job. We learn a lot about being equity-minded, (social) issues, racial issues, gender issues. We take the time to learn about the resources on campus, such as the LGBT Resource Center and Cross-Cultural Center, so that students of different identities can feel comfortable on the UCSD campus.
RAs are here to make people feel part of a community, and provide a safe living environment. Learning about peoples’ personal life experiences has been eye-opening and humbling. I’ve learned that everyone has their own story, and you would be shocked by what some people have gone through if you just take 10 minutes to learn about someone.
Q: You’re scheduled to graduate in June with a human biology degree. What’s the next step for you?
McQUAID: Oh boy! I plan on applying to physician assistant school. I’ve always known I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. I want to be able to interact with patients and provide assistance to people. In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind coaching softball though.
Q: At max, you have roughly two months left in your collegiate softball career. What would you like to accomplish? What do you think this team is capable of?
McQUAID: I just want to win, everything. The seniors know what it’s like to win everything, and we want that feeling again. We are definitely good enough to go the distance. We just have to play our best throughout the rest of the season. Come postseason, nobody can afford to slip a game, so we have to be on our toes the entire time if we want to win, and go as far as we say we want.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Sarah Lizotte (Women's Water Polo) March 19, 2014
Nicholas Korth (Men's Swimming) March 2, 2014
Megan Perry (Women's Basketball) January 13, 2014
Sandy Hon (Women's Swimming) December 30, 2013
Drew Dyer (Men's Basketball) November 26, 2013
Kameron Cooper (Women's Volleyball) October 28, 2013
Rachel Leslie (Women's Soccer) October 9, 2013
Marie Diaz (Women's Cross Country/Track & Field) October 1, 2013
Joe Dietrich (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2013
Josh Cohen (Men's Soccer) August 23, 2013
Sara McCutchan (Women's Volleyball) August 9, 2013
Kellen Levy (Men's Cross Country/Track & Field) July 26, 2013
Izzy Pozurama (Women's Soccer) July 8, 2013
Colin Truex (Women's Crew Head Coach) June 28, 2013