“It was really a no-brainer,” he said.
Never mind that Noll was born in Yokohama, Japan, lived there for 12 years, where she played Little League Baseball and became the first girl to make her high school varsity baseball team, and was a three-time all-star. What were the odds she would wind up playing softball at Stanford, where the 5-foot-11 true freshman is the first-string right fielder?
“I actually reached out to Stanford by email and expressed my interest,” said Noll. “Initially I didn’t have any aspirations to play softball in college, but my dad thought it would be fun to go to a camp to see what it was.”
Her father, Steve Welckle, and mother, Karen Noll, are both international high school teachers in Tokyo. One of three children, Bessie spent part of her childhood in Minnesota, where her dad got her hooked on the Twins.
“He was a big baseball fan, so we were avid fans in our household,” Noll said. “I grew up listening to and watching games, but I didn’t have any aspirations to play at a high level, so I just thought I’d try it out, which is why I got started in Little League. It just kind of escalated from there.”
An all-around athlete who also starred in cross country and basketball, the 8-year-old Noll caught on quickly. She played on various boys teams for six years, then continued with baseball in high school, excelling as an infielder.
“I played third, short and second, mostly because we didn’t have any other people who could play the field,” she said.
Noll’s Little League team, Musashi-Fuchu, won the 2013 Little League World Series, and her younger brother, Theo, plays for the team now.
Noll, who is nearly fluent in Japanese, didn’t have much interaction with her Little League teammates, mostly because of language issues.
“It was definitely a big deal that I was American, blonde and a girl,” said Noll. “In terms of the Japanese system, they don’t get a lot of outsiders, so even if you’re Korean, that’s a big thing. They’re very stuck in their ways. They didn’t care about me as an individual. That wasn’t part of their thought process.”
So Noll let her play do most of the talking.
“From my perspective, it was more about me being a player than a girl,” she said. “I wouldn’t say there was much of a gender barrier, and part of that might be the fact that as an 11-and-12-year-old, I was quite young.”
When Noll became a starter in high school, things changed.
“I heard a lot of, ‘There’s a girl on the varsity and she’s playing ahead of me,’ ’’ said Noll. “There’s definitely a different feeling being the only girl, which is why it has been fun playing with a bunch of girls in college because you’re all on the same level and care for each other.”
Not that Noll didn’t make friends. One of her teammates asked her to the senior prom.
She also had some interesting moments in class. Noll took U.S. history (dad) and English (mom) from her parents.
“It was different and funny,” she said. “I had trouble with what to call them if I raised my hand; do I say, ‘Mr. Welckle’ or ‘Dad?’ ’’
At her father’s urging, Noll attended two summer camps at Stanford.
“She really impressed us with her knowledge of the game, hustle, arm strength, foot speed and ability to hit for power,” Rittman said.
His biggest concern was whether Noll could make the transition from overhand high school pitching to underhand fast pitch, Division I softball. His fears lessoned when she played summer club ball in Minnesota from 2010-2013, and competed for the U.S. Women’s National Baseball Team in the IBAF Baseball World Cup in 2012, finishing second to – you guessed it – Japan.
“That was a great experience for her,” said Rittman. “She has one of the strongest arms – a cannon – great instincts and great range. She’s also a competitor and a great teammate. If she continues to develop, she’s going to be a special player.”
Noll brings a .383 batting average and .550 slugging percentage into Thursday night’s game against BYU, the start of the four-day Louisville Slugger Classic at Stanford. She’s collected four doubles, two homers and knocked in 16 RBI for the 17-5 Cardinal.
“I’m still adjusting to the drop ball pitches, changeups and movements that I don’t see in baseball,” Noll said. “I’m very familiar with the curveball movement, but you don’t get any of that in softball. It’s a completely different spin.”
Noll is fearless at the plate.
“When I do see the ball well, I tend to have quite a few streaks,” she said. “I can be a fairly effective hitter when I’m mentally there. I sometimes get down on myself and confidence is always an issue with hitting. I think for me at this point, the big thing is just trusting my experience and trusting that I got here for a reason. I’m meant to be a hitter and it’s not just a fluke.”
Noll is considering a major in engineering and is minoring in Japanese. She misses Japanese food – especially the small portions – the culture and her family, and would love to return to Japan for work one day.
Her parents follow her games on the live stats on GoStanford.com, radio and TV.
“I usually Skype once a week,” said Noll.
And while Rittman may not believe it, Noll is surprised how things turned out.
“I wasn’t ever thinking I want to go to Stanford and play softball,” she said. “It sort of happened willy-nilly. I’m just so lucky.”