Unstoppable: Athlete of the year

As senior pitcher Jessica Stang gets set to finish the last few weeks of her college career, she knows her legacy as a softball player is nearly complete.

Jessica Stang

As one of the most dominant pitchers in UW-Whitewater and WIAC history, Stang has led the Warhawks to the brink of another WIAC title, compiling a 19-3 record to go along with 175 strikeouts and a 1.37 ERA.

It is for these accomplishments that she has been named the 2010-11 Royal Purple Female Athlete of the Year.

However, the on-field accomplishments are not all Stang wants to be remembered for. In fact, the legacy she wants to leave behind goes much further than the softball field.

“I just want the girls in the softball program to be as good of leaders as our senior class has been,” Stang said.

This mindset stems from when Stang came to UW-Whitewater as a freshman in 2007. She said there were other members of the softball team older than her who were leaders and were very involved on campus outside of sports.

Stang said she wanted to follow their lead.

“I saw them and I saw how successful they were and I said ‘that’s something that I want,’” Stang said. “When I came in as a freshman, I thought I was just a normal college kid who would get average grades and would play softball … after seeing the people ahead of me in the softball program, I set my mind to be like them.”

In some ways, Stang has surpassed her forebears on and off the diamond. She is the president of Sigma Alpha Lambda, the secretary for Student Athletic Council and a lead peer mentor.

An accounting major, Stang has made the Dean’s List every semester and holds a 3.7 cumulative GPA.

“She is the epitome of an all-around student-athlete,” head coach Brenda Volk said. “On the field and off the field, she is somebody who is a true champion.”

Not always so certain.

But Stang’s career as a softball player was never so clear-cut. She began playing the game as a young child, but was told as an 8-year-old by her coach that she was never going to be a pitcher.

Stang said this is where her desire to pitch started.

“I never was good at anything,” Stang said. “I started pitching when I was 12 because our team needed a pitcher. Things have kind of taken off from there.”

It’s an attitude like Stang’s that battery mate Emily Epifanio said causes her to look up to and admire Stang.

“She is the perfect student and an All-American teammate,” the sophomore catcher said. “She is the energizer bunny and does things so effortlessly.”

Things weren’t always so effortless for Stang, who struggled through her junior season after coasting through her first two seasons.

Stang said this can be attributed to losing 40 pounds, but losing some strength in the meantime.

“Last year I couldn’t hit my spots, I couldn’t do what I had always done in the past,” Stang said. “The only thing that was better was I obviously had more endurance.”

Stang could have just been happy with the numbers she posted last season, which were still very respectable (1.47 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 161.2 innings).

Being satisfied, though, is not  part of Stang’s personality. Especially since the first two years of her college career she exerted her will on Division III opponents, posting ERAs of 1.05 and 0.84.

In the offseason, she rededicated herself in the weight room and to her craft.

“Over winter break I pitched three times a week, and I definitely got all of my strength back from what I had lost,” Stang said.

Finishing her career

As the end of her softball career draws near, Stang is putting all of her chips on the table in an effort to get the ’Hawks a WIAC tournament title and the national championship—something that has eluded her.

Stang has already thrown 137 innings this season, sometimes taking the ball for both games of conference doubleheaders.

“My attitude and the attitude of the other seniors is that we’re at the end of the road and we really have to lay it all on the line at this point,” Stang said.

No one would expect any less from a player who has poured her heart and soul into the team for four years.