Clemson Far Exceeded Expectations in 2021
In their first complete season as a softball program, the Clemson Tigers certainly made a lasting impression on the softball world.
When the Tigers' first official season was cut short due to COVID-19, head coach John Rittman focused on what the team needed most during that time: community. Ending their inaugural and shortened 2020 season with a record of 19-8 record, the team immediately began to focus on the next time they could all be together on the field again, and what they could control.
They worked on creating camaraderie that brought them together during the uncertain times of the pandemic and that led them into a successful 2021 season.
“When you get something taken away from you that you love and that you’re passionate about, it really makes it that much more special when you are able to do it again,” Rittman said at the beginning of the 2021 season.
Clemson’s success during the 2021 season was even more special than Rittman had hoped. In their first complete campaign, the Tigers were the ACC regular season champions, finishing 2021 with a 44-8 record, including a 29-5 record in ACC play.
The Tigers earned an at-large bid to their first-ever NCAA Tournament, where they came up with two wins before falling in the finals to third-seeded Alabama. With only two graduate students and one senior on the roster, Clemson is full of young talent ahead of the 2022 season.
This year, both Clemson’s offense and defense were led by redshirt freshman Valerie Cagle. In the circle, Cagle was a true ace for the Tigers, appearing in 40 games this season and posting a 1.16 ERA. Offensively, Cagle was a threat at the plate, leading her team in batting average (.404), home runs (17), RBI (45) and slugging percentage (.821). Notably, on April 25, Cagle received the ultimate compliment when NC State elected to intentionally walk her with the bases loaded to bring in a run with two outs in the bottom of the 7th.
Cagle also received more accolades at the conclusion of Clemson’s 2021 season. The ACC named her both the Freshman and Player of the Year. She was also named a top-three finalist for the NFCA Freshman of the Year award, competing with Oklahoma stars Jayda Coleman and Tiare Jennings. While Jennings ultimately took home the NFCA honor, Cagle was named a second-team All-American for her performance this year.
Both Clemson and Alabama fans alike showed their support for Cagle during the Tuscaloosa Regional when Rittman pulled her from the circle for the final time this season. Cagle received a standing ovation from the Alabama faithful in honor of her outstanding performance in 2021.
“To think that she is only a freshman and that we can watch her for three more years is pretty reassuring as a coach,” Rittman said of Cagle following the regional.
Cagle is not the only Tiger that will keep the winning tradition alive at Clemson in the years to come. Along with Cagle, freshman outfielder McKenzie Clark was also named an All-Region selection. To boot, Cagle, Clark, Alia Logoleo and Millie Thompson were all named to the ACC’s All-Freshman Team.
With three years of eligibility left for them and three-quarters of the players on the Tigers' roster returning, Clemson is certainly a team to look out for in the years to come.