Although UC Davis women’s softball did not make it to regionals, sweeping Cal Poly with three big wins allowed the girls to end their season on a positive note.
However, one player that has consistently performed at a high level for the team both this season and last is sophomore Justine Vela.
The Bakersfield, Calif. native has once again been named to All-Big West Conference First team for her second solid year of pitching for the Aggies. She finished off the 2013 season with a 2.03 ERA, the lowest average in the Big West.
With two more years of ball ahead, there are high hopes both for herself and the rest of the team to do big things in the Big West and beyond. She sat down with Aggie Sports Writer Sloan Boettcher to discuss where it all began, her sports hero and her expectations for her next two years wearing Aggie Blue.
The Aggie: How old were you when you first started playing ball?
Vela: I started when I was like four or five playing tee-ball. But I didn’t start playing competitively till I was 10.
Have you always been a pitcher or were you the kind of player that covered every position on the field as a kid?
When I first started out I played third. I guess I had trouble because my parents always said I had bruises on my shins. I started pitching when I was 10 after one of the other players on my team broke her wrist during a game and the coach asked me if I wanted to pitch.
As a freshman, you came in and dominated throughout the season, being named to All-Big West Conference First Team and receiving the honor of Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year. How did it feel coming in so young and establishing yourself as the No. 1 pitcher for the Aggies? Was it intimidating at all or just excited to take on that role?
I was definitely excited. There’s always a little nervousness as a freshman, coming in and playing Division I athletics. My club coaches prepared me for the experience that I was going to go through as a freshman and I knew I was going to be taught a lot here at Davis. I was definitely eager and ready to take on that role.
How has your strength and endurance grown since you came in as a freshman?
I would say I’ve grown a lot since I started as a freshman. It took me a little to adjust from the shorter games we played in travel ball to the over two-hour games here in college, but my endurance has definitely improved. But I know there’s always room for more improvement. I want to be able to throw two or three games in a day and still feel strong.
You’ve once again received top honors being named to First Team this year. How does it feel after an up-and-down season for the team to finish on a high note with both yourself and your short-stop receiving that honor?
I mean, it feels great and I’m so glad our freshman earned that honor — she did amazingly this season. We did have a little trouble this year, but after this season we know where we’re at and that we’re capable of winning the Big West. There is extreme potential for the team we have here.
On a different note, I read that your sports hero is Bethany Hamilton, a well-known female surfer. Obviously she is quite inspirational coming back after losing her arm in a tragic surfing accident, but could you tell me why in particular you chose her as your hero?
I think the reason I chose her was because you have to be strong on the mound. If I let myself show any discouragement it rubs off on the team; being able to lose an arm and still wanting to go out and surf and push yourself to do that is very inspirational. I’ve always wanted to be very calm and not let my emotions show — if I’m off, I can throw the team off. I just know that the team feeds off the energy that I give. I always want to give off positive energy.
And one final question — what are your hopes and expectations for yourself and the team for next year?
Definitely to win conference and make it to regionals. After this year there is no doubt that there’s potential there. The biggest thing is to realize we have this talent and have the potential to win conference and go further than regionals. It’s definitely an obtainable goal.
SLOAN BOETTCHER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.