March 6, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - Jenna Rich hasn’t missed a start in four seasons playing for the Stanford softball team. She does it all – hit, hit for power, run and play defense, and is a big reason the 15th-ranked Cardinal (17-5) is off to a strong start in 2013.
“She’s just a very gifted athlete on top of being a great softball player,” said head coach John Rittman. “She has great range and makes great plays. She is a great offensive weapon as well.”
The senior shortstop from El Segundo, Calif., leads the team in runs scored (18), RBI (19), walks (15) and slugging percentage (.530), and shares the club lead in home runs (3). Rich boasts a .955 fielding percentage, making only three errors in 67 chances, many of the difficult variety.
“She was an All-American last year and is having a great year this year,” Rittman said. “She’s a leader for us, not so much a vocal leader but how she carries herself. She’s a great example for our younger players and makes sure they do things the right way.”
Rich speaks softly and admits she has had to work on being more vocal. However, she also believes that actions speak louder than words.
“What I do a good job of is not showing my emotion,” she said. “I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve. I know that’s very difficult for some people. Don’t get me wrong, I get very frustrated with myself in my head. Being able to recognize that you have the ability to turn it around and that you have teammates behind you who are going to support you, I think that’s really crucial.”
As Rittman has learned the last four years, Rich might be the most competitive player on his team.
“Oh yeah, she’s got a burning desire,” he said. “She’s got a lot of heart and plays with a lot of passion. She’s ultra-competitive and you wouldn’t know that talking to her. She is very soft-spoken but has gotten better communicating. You see it every day.”
After a rare recent poor game, Rich was mad at herself and took the loss particularly hard. But instead of sulking, she bounced back the next two days and helped Stanford win a pair of games.
“She’s her toughest critic,” Rittman said. “If she has a bad day, she’s going to be the first one to face up to it. That’s really the sign of a great player. You’re going to have your bad days, but it’s how quick you adjust to your failures and respond. She’s done it her whole career.”
Whenever she faces adversity, Rich reminds herself of why she started playing softball as a little kid, tagging along with older sisters Ciji and Crysta to tournaments, shagging balls or running around the field.
“That was a true test of my passion,” said Rich of her recent rough game. “Despite how poorly I played, I still love the game.”
Even when she was too little to compete with her sisters, Rich always found ways to amuse herself.
“I was the type of kid to go find a wall and go throw a ball against it and come up with these fun games,” she said.
An all-around athlete who played club soccer through her freshman year in high school, Rich credits her parents, Gregory and Colleen, for helping her progress in softball and developing into one of the best college players in the country.
“My mom and dad were a huge part of keeping me focused,” said Rich. “I wanted to play other sports, but I think I realized at an early age that I would probably pursue softball. I owe a lot to them and my sisters.”
Rich took five other college recruiting visits before picking Stanford. She was drawn by the high academic standards and worked hard to meet them.
“I remember going through the whole process,” she said. “It was extremely stressful. My mom came to the rescue on that. If I didn’t have my mom, I doubt I would be here.”
Rich played shortstop and pitched as a freshman, moved to second base as a sophomore and junior, and returned to shortstop this season. Only the 15th All-American in Stanford softball history, she has good pop, slugging 12 homers as a freshman, 10 as a sophomore and 11 as a junior. Winning aside, what does she enjoy most about playing softball?
“They’re always going to be the small things, like hitting home runs or making a diving play to pick the team up and get momentum going,” said Rich. “But on the whole, it’s just my love for the game.”
Rich will finish her degree in science, technology and society next fall and is co-terming in communication. She’s still deciding what path to follow after graduation, but knows her softball career is winding down and wants to make the most of it.
“I think we definitely have a shot at making it to the World Series,” she said. “It comes down to each and every one of us taking it inning-by-inning. You can’t get caught up looking ahead or looking back. You have to stay within the moment. “The two things you can control are your attitude and your effort. If everyone is putting in 100 percent of their effort and has a good attitude, we have a shot at making it to the World Series. There’s a lot of motivation and drive from our team on a daily basis.”
Rittman knows he can count on Rich.
“She’s that type of kid that is well-liked by everybody,” he said. “She epitomizes what a scholar-athlete is here at Stanford. We’re very blessed to have had her in our program for the last 3½ years.”
By Mark Soltau, Stanford Athletics
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Palo Alto native Mark Soltau has spent his whole life and much of his career around Stanford sports. A sportswriter for 35 years, Soltau spent 16 (1981-97) at the San Francisco Examiner, where he covered not only the Cardinal, but all five 49ers Super Bowl-championship teams. Golf always has been his passion and Soltau served as the sport's beat writer for the Examiner, national golf writer for CBS Sportsline, contributing editor to Golf Digest, and since 1997 has been the editor of tigerwoods.com.