Wisconsin’s Vasquez adjusting to new spot on infield in 2nd year

Wisconsin’s Vasquez adjusting to new spot on infield in 2nd year

first_imgDEREK MONTGOMERY/Herald photo“Wanna play me?” yells Badger shortstop Kris Zacher over to her teammate Athena Vasquez at second base, in a tone that is meant to mimic cult film hero Napoleon Dynamite.Yes, that is the heart of the Badger softball defense quoting the well-known high school loser, but there is a purpose to their goofing. The line is just one of several catch phrases the two share with each other whenever they can feel a double play coming on, something the duo has grown accustomed to as the season has progressed. The two have combined for a conference-leading 12 double plays this season.“Athena is my other half on the field,” Zacher said of her teammate. “When we’re together, we’re playing as one unit. When one of us is off, we have to find a way to get back into our own game because it’s really important. We have a lot of ground to cover up the middle.”Vasquez has made the transition over to second base with the bumps and bruises that one can expect when changing positions. She played mostly third base last season and did so better than anyone in Badger history, setting a school record with 185 assists. Unofficially, that mark was third at the Division I level.But this year has been a year of change for the sophomore from California. With the addition of freshman Joey Daniels, who alternates between catcher and third with regular catcher Boo Gillette, Vasquez shifted to second base heading into the year. However, she began the season at shortstop, an unexpected turn of events brought about by an injury that sidelined Zacher for the team’s first six games.Now, Vasquez is beginning to settle down at second base, but the transition has been a little rough. She already has 10 errors this season, equaling her total from all of last season, and her .911 fielding average is a bit of a disappointment for one of the best defensive infielders in the country. However, Vasquez is confident she can turn her play around.“I just look within myself to relax myself and go over each step in my fielding — what I do wrong and what I tensed up about,” Vasquez said of her response to slumps.To Vasquez, defense is the essence of the game of softball. Wisconsin head coach Karen Gallagher calls her young second baseman “cat-like” in the field.“When you’re in the flow of things, and you just field a ball that no one else could, it’s just amazing,” Vasquez said. “Defense is huge. When I go out, every practice and every game, I just have fun with defense.”The flipside to that coin is offense. For someone as seemingly well rounded as Vasquez appears, she has struggled with the offensive half of her game. Last season, as a true freshman, she was eighth on the team with a .190 batting average, but showed some signs of power, belting two home runs. This year, things have gone downhill for Vasquez at the plate. She is hitting just .154, good for last place among regular starters, and has no home runs or RBI. She also has posted a team-leading 22 strikeouts.This season, Vasquez’s focus has been on making contact with the ball and getting back into a mode of consistent hitting. Gallagher has all the confidence in the world in Vasquez’s bat simply because of her second baseman’s tireless work ethic.“She has a work ethic second to none,” Gallagher said. “She works hard and comes out here early, just wanting to improve her game.”However, softball isn’t the only important aspect of Vasquez’s life. The sophomore is equally concerned with what the future holds for her academic career as she is with what team she’s facing next.Vasquez came to Madison wanting to be a teacher. After an experience with math didn’t go so well, she decided to major in history instead and will get her teaching credentials in her home state of California after she graduates.As for the rest of season, Vasquez would like to see her hitting improve, but is also content sweeping up anything that rolls or flies in her direction at second base. She also sees herself stepping into a leadership role for the team, especially from a defensive standpoint.“Just being at that position at second base, or when I was at shortstop, that’s a kind of a leading spot on the infield, and that has a lot of communication,” Vasquez said. “Just having that position, you have to either step up to that or just let the other person take over.”For now, Vasquez will continue to play whatever position Gallagher tells her to, and she will continue to wow the crowd with her glove.last_img

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