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Love Of Family Leads Jala Wright To Duke

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(Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics)

Jala Wright’s exposure to the diamond sports started out differently than most players. Growing up, she watched her dad play professional baseball in the farm system of the Seattle Mariners, and it was basically a given that her future would look similar.

“(My dad) was the first one to introduce me to softball,” Wright said. “Ever since T-ball, I knew softball was going to be a big part of my life because of him. Since he didn’t make it as far as he wanted to go, he always pushed me to reach the levels that I wanted for myself, such as playing on a D1 platform, making it to the World Series and even possibly playing pro softball.”

Wright spent the first part of her youth playing career as a catcher, but after every game, she felt like pitching was something she wanted to try. So she did a complete 180 at the age of 12 and had to play catch up, while other pitchers had years of experience by that time in their softball careers.

But that fact may actually have been an advantage for Wright, who did not spend countless years of her youth overusing her pitching arm. Now, Wright is at the top of her game.

After transferring from Michigan State in the offseason, Wright is 9-1 with a 1.71 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 65.2 innings of work for Duke so far this year.

Her decision to leave Michigan State had everything to do with family, which is at the center of Wright's world. With her grandma in North Carolina battling Alzheimer's disease, Wright knows time is precious, and spending as much of it as possible with her family is of the utmost importance to her.

“I am very family-oriented and they mean everything to me,” Wright said. “My mom is my best friend and my grandfather is my biggest fan. The opportunity to have them come see me play home games and midweek games is really important to me.”

Entering the transfer portal was admittedly a scary experience for Wright, as she had no clue where she would end up. But, luckily for her, Duke was looking to add to its pitching staff.

And Wright also already had a connection to the program. Duke head coach Marissa Young previously recruited her in high school, and having a second chance for Wright to become a Blue Devil meant the world to both of them.

“It was a full-circle moment,” Wright said. “The first time around, Coach Young recruited me, but I chose Michigan State over Duke. To have that opportunity again knowing the circumstances of my family and them being able to come to all the games was the main factor I wanted within this situation.”

Due to pitcher Shelby Walters' injury, Wright is in the circle more often than she thought she would be as just a sophomore. When she first got to Duke, the transition to a new school and adjusting to the level of play in the ACC was initially challenging.

“I had to fake it 'til I made it,” Wright said. “I didn’t have that much confidence coming in. Everybody here has so much confidence playing with their heart on their sleeve. I was just going in to have a spot on the team, not necessarily to start. Over time, that confidence grew within me and now it oozes when I play.”

To fill the shoes of Walters, Wright began a new pitching approach and weight-lifting routine that helped her elevate her game in the offseason.

“When I first came to Duke, I was only throwing about 62, 64,” Wright said. “Lately, I have been hitting 71. I definitely had to improve my game and step it up.”

Now that she is settled in at Duke and throwing quality innings for the Blue Devils, being a part of an ACC championship team is her next goal, with her family watching her every step of the way.

“I know the team won the ACC championship last year, but I want to be able to experience that for myself,” Wright said. “I will often look in the stands (when pitching) at my parents, take a deep breath and remember I do it for them.”

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