Centerfielder Jenny Spencer, a local product out of San Diego’s Horizon High School has started 127 games for the UCSD Softball team over the last two and a half seasons. A .313 career hitter, the 5-foot-2 Spencer was a first team All-CCAA selection as a junior and is hitting at a .381 clip so far in 2006, while leading the Tritons (15-12) in hits, runs scored and slugging percentage. Head Coach Patti Gerckens calls her senior star, “one of the most determined players I’ve ever seen. When Jenny puts her mind to something, there’s no holding her back. She loves the game and really works hard at it.” With the second half of the season, her last at UCSD, looming after winter finals, Spencer took time to talk about the game, her team and what’s ahead.
Q—How were you introduced to softball?
SPENCER—Well, I started playing baseball when I was four. My dad gave me a glove for my birthday and said, “would you like to play catch?” I seemed to have a knack for it. Growing up, it was something I did with my dad but as I got better, I got more serious.
I played t-ball until I was seven. I was the only girl, but I didn’t really care. At seven, my dad asked if I would rather play softball. He said something about a bigger ball and it sounded like fun, so I made the change. It really wasn’t that much different.
Q—What were your first impressions of the sport?
SPENCER—I think my favorite part was that I could get dirty and not get in trouble for it. I loved everything about it, particularly the sliding and diving.
Q—What’s kept you playing over the years?
SPENCER—I love to play. When I was younger, it was all about fun and as I got older, there was a different kind of fun.
When it got more competitive, more serious, I loved that even more. I like the intensity, the pressure situations. I found it was hard but it was something I could do that not everyone was able to do. It became rewarding from that aspect.
Q—Are you a better player now that the day you arrived at UCSD?
SPENCER—Definitely. You can’t practice as much as we do and not get better. Coach Gerckens has helped me in a lot of areas and I really feel like I’m learning something new every day.
Q—You had four career home runs coming into the season and already have four this year. How do you account for the power surge?
SPENCER—I have no idea. New bats, work in the weight room, I don’t know. I just look for a good pitch and swing.
Actually, I think my hitting’s improved over the years and Coach Gerckens always has a couple of helpful new drills. Our whole team just works really hard and will do anything to get better. Maybe it’s starting to pay off.
Q—If you could change one thing about yourself in regard to softball, what would it be?
SPENCER—Get a better arm. That’s one of my weaknesses. I don’t throw very hard. I try to compensate a little by getting rid of the ball quicker. Now, Niki Anderson, our right fielder, has an absolute gun. That would be nice.
Q—You started out your college career at second base and are now in center field. Is that your favorite position?
SPENCER—I think center field has become my favorite position. I like that I can call anyone off on pop flies and it’s fun to be at full speed when you lay out for balls. That doesn’t happen at second base.
In the outfield, you’ve got half the number of players covering twice as much ground. You don’t get as many balls but they’re always important. Plus, you get to crash into the fence occasionally—that’s fun.
Q—What things are going through your mind before every pitch?
SPENCER—You’re always sizing up the situation and talking to the other players on the field. It’s important to be communicating and stay focused.
Everyone needs to know where the runners are and how we’re going to react to certain balls. I try to always be aware of what I will do if a ball’s hit to me in a certain area. Your positioning and thought process change slightly with each pitch and against certain batters. You factor in what kind of pitch is being thrown and what the hitter’s done in previous at-bats. All of that gets processed very quickly.
Q—Which of your teammates do you most look up to?
SPENCER—I would have to say our other two seniors—Niki Anderson and Desiree Franciscus. I’ve played with them so long and we’re three seriously different personalities so they give me a lot of different angles on things.
I think I’ve gotten some good advice from both of them over the years because they see things differently than I do.
Q—Which current teammate would you want to have up at the plate with the game on the line?
SPENCER—I think I would have confidence in any one of them. Of course, I’d love to be in that position myself. It’s awesome to be put in a position like that when it matters so much. It’s a rush.
Q—You’re a math/secondary education major. Have you had the opportunity to do any teaching yet?
SPENCER—I work at OASIS, the tutoring center on campus. This quarter I taught Math 20-C, vector calculus.
I also work everday as a teaching intern at DePortola Junior High School in Tierrasanta, instructing an eighth grade algebra class in the morning.
I’ve wanted to be a teacher since high school. I love working with kids and particularly think math is fun to teach. It’s something you learn by doing which is fulfilling for me. I’d like to eventually teach high school or junior high.
Q—Word has it that you’re skilled at the art of origami. If true, how did you get started with that?
SPENCER—Well, I don’t know how “skilled” I am, but I like to do it for fun every now and then.
A long time ago, I found a book on origami, read it and memorized the ones I liked. Now I have an advanced book and have done things like a baseball cap, a kangaroo and birds. I attempted a 3-D dragon fly but it turned out to have two long wings, two short wings and a tilted head.
It’s really kind of easy and there are a lot of things you can make with just a few steps. My parents think I’m a little crazy.
Q—What are your dominant characteristics?
SPENCER—Well, I’m pretty easy going and easy to get along with. In general, I’m quiet and shy.
I would say I’m very organized, sometimes maybe too organized. I’m always making lists and charts.
Q—What will it take to get UCSD to the NCAA Division II Playoffs this year?
SPENCER—Wins. I think we have a really strong team with a lot of potential. The roster is full of solid players with a lot of desire and heart.
Offensively, we have a lot of talent. We can crush the ball when we’re on but sometimes we’re a bit inconsistent. I think consistency will be one of the keys to our success the remainder of the season. As a team, we need to adjust quicker to the circumstances that occur in the course of each game.