Stanford's Alana Vawter Becoming Next Pac-12 Ace
The flight back home to Kansas City was already booked. The fires in Northern California continued to rage. The world was still in the midst of a global pandemic. Nevertheless, Alana Vawter sat in the Poway, Calif. home of teammate Sydney Steele pondering about the possibility of driving seven hours to Stanford’s campus in hopes of improving herself before her second season.
Vawter and Steele picked up the phone and started making calls. They asked head coach Jessica Allister if it was even manageable with the circumstances at hand? Was pitching coach Tori Nyberg even going to be able to work with Vawter? They didn’t get straightforward answers, but they decided to make the trip.
Vawter’s mom had a connection with Hilton Hotels, so for three months, Vawter and Steele lived out of a hotel. That way, at any time, they could end the reservation and drive back to Steele’s home in Poway. Not everyone on the Cardinal roster could make those types of sacrifices for the makeshift fall practices. Vawter wasn’t going to let anything stand in her way.
“She moved Heaven and Earth to find a way to be on campus this fall,” Allister said.
The extra work, the drive, it fielded results for Vawter in the circle. Entering May 5’s non-conference slate against Cal, she sits at a 19-5 record and 1.04 ERA with superb outings against Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon. In three wins over Oregon State, Vawter tossed 22.1 shutout innings, including two complete games.
According to Allister and Nyberg, the Pac-12 breakout star has three key characteristics: her competitiveness, her curiosity and her consistency.
“She’s put in a tremendous amount of work,” Allister said. “There’s a determination and a work ethic that’s very evident.”
Each weekend in the Pac-12 is a battle. In Vawter’s first round against her conference foes, she’s enjoyed every pitch of the challenge given to her.
“It’s been such a joy to be able to experience Pac (play),” Vawter said. “It’s a challenging opportunity every single weekend. You’re playing against the top teams in the country and it’s never going to be easy. This is such an amazing opportunity. Little girls dream of this type of competition.”
That’s who Vawter is. She enjoys the hard. She enjoys taking in information, opportunities and challenges.
Stanford has a belief that when a person walks into a room, they either make it better or worse. Vawter’s radiant positivity enhances everyone around her.
“She’s really well-rounded. She has good speed, good control and a really good mental approach. But her attitude is exceptional and takes her a really long way,” Nyberg said. “She comes to the field every day with a happy, positive and grateful approach to her work.”
Vawter’s mom still quotes her daughter’s kindergarten teacher that “Alana is a friend to everyone.” Nyberg jokingly has to remind Vawter to not approach strangers without masks on. Vawter’s curiosity, the same one that led her to make a three-day trip to Zion National Park into a three-month stay in a hotel for fall workouts, comes from a genuine joy of being around people.
“It’s fun to show up and do the work every day because with her positive attitude and how she treats her teammates, she elevates everyone around her,” Nyberg said. “When she’s in the circle, she brings a calm and a confidence that’s really helpful to the team. I’m very lucky to be able to coach her.”
For two years at Stanford, Vawter has walked into every single practice with a “hello” and “how are you?” and leaves by saying “goodbye” and “thank you.”
“She’s just a wonderful personality and a kind human. She really just enjoys life,” Allister said. “It’s a great energy on the field because she loves to get after it out there. It’s also her presence every day and she’s a pleasure to have.”
Since eighth grade, Stanford was Vawter’s dream school following a visit. She didn’t know how she was going to make it happen, she just knew she’d end up there. But the journey was far from smooth sailing.
Vawter went to a Stanford camp her freshman year of high school. The previous coaching staff informed her they didn’t need a pitcher from her class. She was devastated, but she still wanted to play for a top program. She committed to the University of Texas as a sophomore until the Longhorns went through their own coaching transition from Connie Clark to Mike White.
She was lost in the shuffle before an old club coach told her that Stanford had changed its coaching staff and Allister had taken over. The rest is history.
“Going through challenging experiences and realizing that not every day is guaranteed, you have to make the most of every situation you’re put into,” Vawter said. “That’s something I’ve prided myself on over the years. It shows every single practice how grateful I am to be playing softball at my dream school since I was a little girl. And I just hope that I never forget that.”
At the end of the day, Vawter’s lights-out pitching in 2021 comes from her arsenal and mentality. Allister mentioned that generally to be a successful pitcher, you need at least two of three things—velocity, movement and/or location. Vawter checks all three boxes.
However, it’s also the consistency that she brings as previously mentioned. The mentality is the same for her day in and day out.
“Alana is one of the rare pitchers that can do all three,” Allister said. “Her change of speeds is tremendous, her location is exceptional and she has great movement on her pitches...She’s also very consistent, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.
“When you can be consistent mentally and emotionally, it allows you to be consistent physically. Alana has done that, and it’s been really fun to watch her come into her own and grow this season.”