JMU softball players have a deep passion for the game and it’s one of the reasons the program has been successful over the years. But before the players stepped onto the field at Veterans Memorial Park, their journeys began years ago on different fields scattered across the region. Here are different stories from JMU softball players on how they got their start.
Senior utility Kate Gordon had an impressive season in 2019. She enjoyed career-highs in most offensive categories, including batting average (.420), home runs (23) and RBIs (60). In addition to posting career-highs, she broke former JMU standout Morgan Tolle’s single-season home run record of 18, posting 23 of her own — seven of which came in the postseason.
But before her record-breaking season, the Shenandoah, Virginia, native grew up playing basketball and volleyball. She got into softball because she wanted to follow in her parents' footsteps because they played softball and baseball at Bridgewater. Her father played minor league baseball for the Chicago Cubs and went on to play for an amateur baseball team, the Shenandoah Indians.
“I was always at his games, and I was like, “I want to play,” Gordon said. “So when I was four or five, they put me in tee-ball, then went straight from tee-ball to softball, and that’s how it started.”
Another avenue that got her interested in softball was watching the Little League World Series. Since her hometown was 21 miles from James Madison University, she attended games as a child. When she started watching the Women’s College World Series, she became a fan of the teams Clint Myers coached.
Before playing softball full-time, Gordon lettered in basketball and volleyball at Page County High School. She said the reason why she chose softball over the two was that playing softball is more fun.
“I think it’s something about being inside,” Gordon said. “I like the sunlight; I like being outside; I like the weather. It was just different. I still miss volleyball and basketball a lot, but softball’s been more fun for me.”
Gordon played outfield in travel ball, and when she came to JMU, she began to work in the outfield. The reason why she likes left field is that a great deal of action happens there.
The reason she dons No.17 is because of her days playing for TNT Gold Softball. As a kid, Gordon wore No.9, which changed when a former teammate chose her number.
“There was another girl who also wanted to be No.9; her name is Taylor Clark, she plays now at Alabama,” Gordon said. “I just picked No.17 out of the pile — it’s actually my birth date, I was like that worked out perfect. I’ve kept it from ninth grade travel ball through high school to now in college.”
Since coming to JMU, Gordon has made great memories. Her favorite is the regular-season finale against Hofstra in 2018, where senior infielder/catcher Kierstin Roadcap hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the 10th to give JMU a 11-8 victory.
“Kierstin came up clutch and had the game-winning hit for us,” she said. “It was just such a hyped moment because we had tied the game and the atmosphere, and everybody was hyped.”
As half of JMU’s middle infield, junior infielder Sara Jubas has become part of the defense’s backbone at shortstop. Prior to JMU, she was a star player for South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pennsylvania.
Jubas began playing tee-ball, that led to softball when she was in elementary school. Besides softball, she’s played multiple sports, including volleyball, basketball and tennis.
She credited her family as influences during her career. Her father coached her, and her grandfather played baseball, which served as inspiration for her. Throughout her career, she’s learned a number of lessons, such as teamwork and communication.
“There's just friendships you get to build that I don’t think I would have without softball,” Jubas said.
Growing up, Jubas didn’t watch much softball — it wasn’t on as much as baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates got her into baseball. She didn’t have a favorite player, but she liked whoever was playing shortstop because of the position she played.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been put there,” Jubas said. “So I guess I just kept getting better and better at it so I stayed there until now. I don’t think I really chose it as much it was the best fit for me.”
Though she wears No. 2, there’s no story behind her number. Over the years, she’s worn a variety of numbers, including 38 because of former Pirate Jason Bay. She earned the No. 2 by chance.
Jubas said her favorite memories since playing softball all relate to the friendships she’s made over the years.
The second half of JMU’s double-play combination is senior infielder Madison Naujokas. Before being the defensive anchor for the Dukes, Naujokas played softball at Marist High School in Chicago.
Her journey in softball began when she started playing tee-ball and fell in love with it. She was also involved in other sports, such as gymnastics, basketball and volleyball.
In high school, she participated in softball, basketball and volleyball. Her decision to play softball came down to playing the sport she felt was right for her.
“I don’t think it all comes down to which one I want to play,” Naujokas said. “I think it’s just the one you feel you’re meant to play … it’s honestly the atmosphere, having fans out there cheering for you as loud as they do, the feeling of hitting a home run, your teammate succeeding … moments like that some sports don’t have that and I think with softball that’s what drew me to it and all the energy … people have for each other.”
The key influence in her career has been her father, who taught her about working hard and never giving up. She said he was the one who always calmed her down and told her to give her best effort.
When she was younger, she was a massive Chicago White Sox fan. Paul Konerko was her favorite, and she loved to watch him play. She’s recently become a Cubs fan, in part because it's her mother’s favorite team.
Coming to JMU, Naujokas didn’t have a set position. She was going to play one of the corners, but then-head coach Mickey Dean made the decision to put her at second. That assignment made her the player she is now, and she doesn’t see herself playing anywhere else.
Her No. 18, has always been with her throughout her life. When she started to play, she wore the number, which happened to be the number her father wore when he played. However, she eventually learned an interesting fact about the number.
“The first field I’ve ever played on for tee-ball was field 18,” Naujokas said. “I was assigned it at first, then it ended working out well because it was my dad’s. So ever since, I’ve had the same exact number and nothing else.”
Her favorite memory so far has been the Hofstra series during her sophomore year. The reason why it’s her favorite is that everyone in the lineup homered, and the energy from the coaches, players and the fans made her appreciative of what she has here.
All of the different backgrounds have blended well for JMU as it’s continued its success over the years. JMU’s players have become entrenched with softball throughout their lives and have become the fabric of JMU softball — one more reason JMU should have another strong season in 2020.
Contact Jason Clampitt at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more field hockey coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.