At a slight 5-foot-3, second baseman Danielle Lukk hardly cuts the most imposing figure on the UC San Diego Softball team. Her .255 batting average is only sixth among the regulars and she’s not known for her power. Yet, according to Head Coach Patti Gerckens, her senior co-captain, “is just one of those players who somehow finds ways to get the job done.” To date in 2008, Lukk has scored 20 runs, driven in 18, walked 11 times, stolen eight bases and hit two home runs—and then there are the intangibles. “Danielle is probably the hardest worker on our team, always the first to practice and the last to leave,” says Gerckens. “She’s really become a great leader who sets an excellent example for our other players and has a knack for coming through in clutch situations. A psychology major from Garden Grove, CA out of Sonora High School, Lukk took a few moments recently to talk about her career, the sport of softball and her team’s outlook over the final stretch of the 2008 season.
Q—What have been the most important lessons you’ve learned over your UCSD Softball career?
LUKK—I’ve learned that it has to be fun. When you’re not having fun you don’t perform well and things can seem more like work than a game. I’ve definitely learned to really enjoy and appreciate the game and all the intricacies that it has to offer. I always knew that I loved softball, but while at UCSD and dedicating so many hours to it I’ve come to realize how important it is to me. Especially in my last couple years here I’ve really appreciated every moment that I’ve spent on the field, with a glove or bat in my hand, and with 17 of my best friends.
Q—As team captain, what do you do to try and impart those lessons to your younger teammates?
LUKK—I really try to lead by example for everything that I want to impart on my teammates. These past two years as captain I’ve really tried to not only enjoy every moment out there but do it so my teammates can tell that I am. Although it’s not always easy I have really worked on letting myself laugh, smile, and joke out there. This is definitely a work in progress, but I hope that younger teammates can catch on earlier than I did to really cherish every moment on that field.
Q—Skill-wise, where have you made the most improvement over the past four years?
LUKK—I would have to say that I’ve made the most improvement mentally. My freshman year I definitely lacked confidence and mental strength. I had the desire, but let myself get in the way of my performance. Now as a senior, although I still struggle with this sometimes, I have made much improvement. I can do a much better job of controlling my mental state and I am much more confident in my abilities. Compared to my freshman year when I’d hang my head and let it get to me, when I make an error I now know it’s a fluke, pick my head up, and get on with the next play.
Q—What do you consider the strength of the 2008 Triton softball team? What do you consider the team’s upside between now and the end of the season?
LUKK—Our strength lies in our experience. We have a pretty experienced starting line-up. In addition, all the returners have the experience of going to Regionals fresh in our minds. We have definitely come out this year with a vengeance and the confidence to compete in Houston (Nationals). We continue to get stronger as the season continues. The next few conference series are big games but they should continue increasing our momentum so that we’re more than ready for post-season.
Q—How has Coach Gerckens elevated your game?
LUKK—Coach G has changed a lot since my freshman year. She has definitely opened up and loosened up through my four years. This has helped me elevate my game because it has motivated me to relax as well. I definitely think that playing relaxed and loose has improved my game tremendously and she has been a major factor in getting me to do that. I also think that the family she creates amongst the team is not only unmatchable in any other team, but also a major asset. My game has improved because I get to go play the sport I love with my 17 best friends. Who could ask for anything better?
Q—What is the most under-rated skill in softball?
LUKK—I would probably have to say bunting. It doesn’t always get the fame and glory that it deserves, but it has proved to come up clutch for us this year. There have been at least a couple situations this season when a bunt has scored the winning run in a big game.
Q—When did you know softball was “your” sport?
LUKK—I probably knew that it was my sport at the age of eight. This was four years after I started playing softball and the age that I played on my first travel-ball team. I’ve never really stopped playing since then and I’ve never played another sport, it’s always been softball.
Q—What do you consider the most exciting play in softball?
LUKK—I LOVE diving plays. As a middle infielder I live for the plays where you lay out, get back up, and get the girl out. I get a rush every time. It’s one of the most fun things about being in the infield and especially playing up the middle. Nothing’s better than leaving the field covered in dirt knowing you were a wall.
Q—If you could change anything about the game, what would it be?
LUKK—I would probably say the new “obstruction rule”. You get called for obstruction if you block the bag before the ball gets to you. As a second-baseman this is really annoying when trying to pick girls off. What’s even more frustrating is that if you get two obstruction calls in a game you are ejected from the game. I wish this last part didn’t exist and the baserunner would just be awarded the bag.
Q—Where do you get your competitiveness from?
LUKK—I think my competitiveness comes from me playing softball from such a young age. I started at four and have been pretty competitive since eight when I played travel-ball. When you grow up playing a sport you are constantly spending your life trying to win. My competitiveness has grown, though, since coming to UCSD. I think this has a lot to do with my teammates. I definitely feed off of them and hopefully I am a spark for their competitiveness as well.
Q—What’s your favorite “non-athletic” game? Why?
LUKK—I would probably have to say Rock Paper Scissors. It sounds so childish, but if anyone knows me they know I don’t like to make decisions (like where to go to eat). Rock Paper Scissors can be a good tool to decide what to do! We’ve also been known to have Rock Paper Scissors tournaments on bus rides (I might add that I’m the champion). It will forever have a special place in my heart because it’ll always remind me of the crazy things we did to pass the time on the long bus rides to Stanislaus. (especially now that I’m down to my last bus rides ever). I love what comes out of
Q—What’s behind all the “chatter” in softball?
LUKK—There are several different kinds. There’s the chatter that goes on while on defense. I use this to make sure that both my teammates and I stay in the game. We remind each other of plays or just give each other a little positive saying. There’s also the type of cheer that’s a superstition. There are certain things we always say to each other before certain situations. For example, in the seventh inning of every game the infield comes together and says “Do It.” Lastly, there are the cheers that we do during the dugout that gets everyone pumped, loose, and dancing!
Q—When are you scheduled to graduate? What are your post-graduate plans, aspirations?
LUKK—I’m scheduled to graduate in Spring of this year. Immediately following graduation I am moving to Los Angeles where I will attend summer training for Teach For America. In September of 2008 I will be ‘Ms. Lukk’ with my own elementary school classroom in Los Angeles!
Q—How would you handicap the CCAA Softball race? What does UCSD have to do to be in the middle of the conference championship and NCAA Playoff mix?
LUKK—This year the CCAA softball race is a tight one. I don’t think the teams have ever been this close together in conference standings since I’ve been here. This makes it very exciting because it seems like any team can win on any given day. Our team has had some solid play and we should be right up in the mix for the CCAA tournament, Regionals, and Nationals. We just need to keep our bats consistent and playing like we can. Our sights are set on Houston (Nationals) and I know this team can get there.