VALPARAISO | Prevailing wisdom led many to believe Valparaiso softball would rebuild in 2013.
Personnel losses hit the Crusaders at nearly every position, but none harder than on the pitching staff, where Beecher product Alex Lagesse and senior teammates Sam McGee and Shaleigh Jansen graduated after leading Valparaiso to the NCAA tournament last year.
Without experience in the circle, the Crusaders appeared destined to struggle.
Enter Taylor Weissenhofer and Sierra Pico.
The freshmen hurlers, affectionately known by their teammates as “Tall and Squirrel,” haven’t missed a beat in guiding Valparaiso back to the NCAA tournament this season.
“They still drive me a little nuts in that they’re still learning how to pitch, but you can see them making in-game adjustments better now than they were earlier in the year,” Valparaiso coach Jordan Stevens said. “They are very much learning their craft.”
Weissenhofer (20-11, 2.29 ERA) stands at 5-foot-10 and has used her height to set a school record with 220 strikeouts. The Homer Glen native has notched 20 wins this season, the second-most in school history and the most by a pitcher in her rookie season.
“We’ve been able to show what we can do this season and we know that if we put the work in, we can grow even stronger,” Weissenhofer said. “Squirrel and I are close and we’re always sharing strategy with each other.”
Pico (11-9, 3.66), a freshman who hails from Las Vegas, hasn’t started as many games as her classmate, but that hasn’t stopped her from winning Horizon League Pitcher of the Week honors twice. Pico relived Weissenhofer in Saturday’s championship game against Youngstown State and got the Crusaders out of a jam when the Penguins got within one run.
“I would’ve been so devastated had we lost because I would’ve thought it was my fault,” Pico said. “I know that when my number is called, I have to go out there and deliver. That’s what I do when I come in, and that’s what Taylor does when she is in.”
The pair have differing styles. Weissenhofer is a pure strikeout pitcher, while Pico frustrates batters into making mistakes. Stevens knows the Crusaders will have a challenge with Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament this weekend, but he is confident the freshmen pitchers will be able to handle the big stage.
“They compliment each other well and they make it difficult for the opposing offenses,” Stevensa said. “I’ve made more pitching changes this year than I did in the last two years combined. With Taylor and Sierra, we’re able to make matchup changes and that will help us.”