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Clemson's Valerie Cagle Can't Be Stopped

valerie cagle photo by clemson athletics.jpg
(Photo by Clemson Athletics)

The opportunity to play for a brand new program is something many athletes simply can't pass up. That was true for Valerie Cagle, who felt instant chemistry with the Clemson softball program and its head coach John Rittman.

Cagle, who made the commitment to join the new program before a single pitch was thrown in its history, was ecstatic to find a college team that matched her needs and wants.

“I came to a camp, had an unofficial visit and it felt like an awesome fit,” Cagle said. “I am a super competitive person, and the opportunity to be a part of a brand new program in its first year, I just couldn’t pass that up.”

Cagle, a Yorktown, Va. native, took the entire nation by storm in her true freshman season in 2020, before the campaign was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. The dual-threat player showed everyone that she could light it up at the plate, while also dominating opposing hitters in the circle. During the shortened season, she racked up 10 home runs, while also picking up nine victories.

Rittman knew from the start that Cagle was destined to do big things at Clemson, in part due to her versatility as an athlete.

“Valerie is a tremendous athlete, very talented,” Rittman said. “From the very first time you watch her, the ball explodes into the catcher's glove, she can play the outfield and when you watch her at the plate, she hits for power. She is a pitcher that hits for power.”

During the 2021 season, Clemson’s first full campaign as a Division I softball program, Cagle was able to lead her team to a regular season ACC title, while also garnering ACC Player and Freshman of the Year honors. The latter was thanks to the COVID eligibility waiver that gave impacted athletes a year of NCAA eligibility back.

The honors did not stop there, as she was named an All-American, a Top 10 finalist for National Player of the Year and a Top 3 finalist for National Freshman of the Year. Cagle earned these honors as the team's ace in the circle, posting a 28-7 record with a 1.16 ERA, while being one of the team's biggest threats at the plate, blasting 17 home runs with a .404 batting average.

When asked about the success Cagle has already enjoyed at Clemson, Rittman again emphasized that he is not surprised by it at all.

“You knew that she was going to be successful, you just didn’t know how successful and how soon,” Rittman said. “The COVID year really helped her develop, gain experience and she has just continued to get better.”

Two-way players are not as common in college softball these days, but when asked how she is able to excel both at the plate and in the circle, Cagle said both play off each other.

“Doing both is something I have always done, managing both to me is normal,” Cagle said. “Relying on one to help the other. I have the inside information about a hitter as a pitcher and vice versa having the pitcher's information from a hitter's standpoint. Balancing those off each other helps me be successful in both aspects of the game.”

Clemson ended up getting sent to the Tuscaloosa Regional in 2021 and ran into buzzsaw Montana Fouts. This year, Cagle and the Tigers are using the disappointing end to their 2021 season as motivation for 2022.

“Last year, playing regionals at Alabama was a good experience for the team to grow, to learn and it's something we're going to take into this year,” said Cagle. “This year, we're focusing on the fact that last year wasn’t enough. We're not satisfied with winning an ACC championship, we want to make it past regionals and go really deep in the tournament.”

Rittman said that while there are a lot of expectations this year, he is excited to see Cagle and the rest of his squad compete against any opponent.

“We want to build off our success from last year,” Rittman said. “Our non-conference schedule is tougher, to prepare us for the ACC schedule. We're a better team this year.”

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