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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Softball

Catcher looking to improve offense after whirlwind junior year


Senior catcher Brooke Vannoy was one of just six Cougars to play in all 59 games in the 2018 season. | Ahmed Gul/The Cougar

Sports is filled with stories of athletes rising to the challenge to make a game-winning play or making a key break through to transform their level of play. For senior catcher Brooke Vannoy, a marquee moment of her career was when she took over duties usually assigned to the pitching coach.

When the coach had to leave the team for almost two months, it was Vannoy who stepped up, took on an unfamiliar role and helped the team rise to the upper echelon of the American Athletic Conference.

The team’s pitchers had a 1.92 combined ERA¬†in 2018 and were one of the best pitching rotations in the conference. Head coach Kristin Vesely said it could not have been done without Vannoy.

Learning

For the first seven weeks of the four-month season, the team was without pitching coach Megan Gibson-Loftin, who went on maternity leave.

Her leave of absence was known ahead of time, and the team was able to rally together to come up with a solution.

Vannoy took over a lot of Gibson-Loftin’s field duties when it came to calling pitches. Vannoy was in charge of reading pitches and thinking on the fly to keep the pitchers in their comfort zones and picking the right pitch for the right time.

“She’s very smart with learning different parts of the game, always asking questions and soaking in everything she can,” Gibson-Loftin said. “Just zoning in and taking control of the bullpen and taking care of our pitchers.”

Though it was challenging, it was a huge learning experience. Vesely even said Vannoy should be able to put two months of coaching experience on her resume.

Vannoy was responsible for reading scouting reports, putting together pitching patterns that would help her team beat opposing hitters and other duties.

“That was honestly probably my favorite part of last year,” Vannoy said. “I felt really involved, and it was fun putting patterns together. But I learned a lot from (Gibson-Loftin) before she left, so it wasn’t too hard to get used to.”

Getting back into it

The team is still getting used to training, and Vesely said the team is not quite in full game shape yet, but it is all starting to come together.

This weekend at the Houston Invitational, the Cougars were finally able to return to action after the long offseason, but Vannoy was greeted by an unfamiliar feeling.

“It was odd actually because I was actually pretty nervous, which is a weird feeling because this is my fourth year and I didn’t really think I would be nervous,” Vannoy said.

The senior started her career as a freshman with a .267 batting average, but that average has gone down over her last three seasons, a trend she is focused on reversing.

“Last year, I struggled a bit more offensively and not defensively. I think I’ve got the defensive part pretty sound, so I’m focusing on being calm in the box and putting the barrel on the ball,” Vannoy said.

The fact that this is her final season wearing the red and white for UH is not lost on Vannoy, who thought her nervousness could be tied into that.

“I’m also taking advantage of my last year ’cause I’m never going to be able to go on the field again. So just having fun with it and being relaxed. Seems to be working out alright,” Vannoy said.

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