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The Diary Of A College Softball Player - Peeling Back The Layers

jala wright dugout photo by duke athletics.jpg
(Photo by Duke Athletics)

Readers of my diary, I think it‘s time we get a little personal. I want to be transparent with you all as you are taking the time to read my words to understand me and the Division I softball lifestyle. This diary entry will hopefully help you better understand who Jala Wright is.

In the beginning of the season, I knew what was expected of me. I would become the ace due to having the most experience, I would have to become a leader to the incoming freshmen coming in as an upperclassman and I would have to reach new accomplishments that surpass my success last year. I was ready for it! I had been mentally preparing for it ever since we took the loss to UCLA in super regionals last year. I remember after that last devastating team meeting, one of the seniors pulled me in for one final hug to say, “Jala, this is all on you now! I believe in you and go get it next year!” At that moment, I knew next season would be crucial for me.

In the summer and throughout the preseason, Coach Young made it evident that this year would be entirely different for me. I wasn’t the new kid on the block anymore. Opponents would circle my name on the scouting report and do everything possible to prepare for me.

Of course I listened intently, but in the back of my mind I thought, so what? Even though teams are prepping for me, I am still going to dominate. I am still that confident pitcher who will shut anybody down who steps into the box. I felt that way up until the Alabama game earlier this season.

In the first inning of that game, Alabama went up 3-0. It felt as though Alabama’s hitters knew exactly what was going to come out of my hand every pitch. Next inning, a two-run home run was hit to deep center. I was pulled in the second with the score 5-0. This would be the first game I knew I truly wasn’t the new kid on the block anymore. The Crimson Tide were hunting my drop ball, making sure to get under it and drive it to the gap. They had picked my changeup and were seeing it fat. My game plan to make hitters chase my pitches and get roll-over ground balls was out the window.

In the following weeks, it was a roller coaster ride. On the highs of the roller coaster ride, I had a great outing against Arkansas in relief, a win against the scrappy Campbell Camels and some key innings of relief against the Charlotte Niners. Even during the highs, however, it still didn't feel right. I wasn’t confident in myself or my pitches. I was careful and only hoping that I would come out on top. Through the lows, NC A&T hit me hard. It felt as if I couldn’t get any movement on the ball. In an ACC matchup against Louisville, I would leave pitches fat over the middle, serving them up to their hitters. Lastly, in the first inning of the UNC series, I gave up a 4-0 lead that my teammates worked so hard for. I was absolutely devastated by the way I was performing after the first inning, looking at a 4-4 tie. One minute I would be doing well, building back consistency, and the next minute it felt I was being smacked in the face all the way back to square one. I could tell I wasn’t the same Jala Wright from last season.

In the midst of the roller coaster, I was also becoming a terrible teammate. I was not giving high-fives after being pulled or respecting my teammates' feelings. Therefore, they started becoming standoffish towards me. I was in the bullpen changing my motion multiple times. I would throw quantity pitches over quality in hopes of restoring my trust in myself. Moreover, I was suffering from self-doubt, grief and losing my joy for the game. I had never performed so inconsistently. I was wearing emotions on my sleeve and equating my self worth to my performance. I was still learning how to manage not having my two biggest fans in my life. I didn’t know how to cope knowing I couldn’t call my grandparents on the phone to get their support. As a result, I cried a lot in my car, room and anywhere else I was granted solace. I didn’t want to share my frustrations with anyone.

Finally, enough became enough the week before the Virginia Tech series. I decided it’s now time to let this weight off my chest. I love and appreciate my teammates dearly, as I was able to have a long conversation with them and my coaches telling them why I was acting the way I was. Now I will tell you.

Softball is a game I hold dear to my heart. I ultimately want to be a part of it for the rest of my life, whether that's through coaching, mentoring, playing professionally or broadcasting it. I am wary of my performance in college because I know without performing well, I will not reach my dreams beyond it. In addition, it is the worst feeling in the world to look into the stands and not see the people you care the most about because they have passed away. Their appreciation, validation and comfort are only in my memories now. Dedicating this season to them has only heightened my stress to not play poorly.

In having that conversation, vulnerability shined through. I was able to have genuine and heartfelt conversations with my coaches, teammates and myself. I knew what my team needed from me to be better and what I needed from myself. Finally, I unbuckled my seat belt and got off the roller coaster.

In the Virginia Tech series, I was able to help my team win with my first seven-inning complete game of the season after only giving up one earned run. In a midweek game against UNCW, I posted a season high of 10 strikeouts in a 8-0 win. Even in practices leading up to those games, I was smiling more and enjoying where my feet were. The weight was finally off my shoulders.

I came to realize all these self-inflicted frustrations and pressures were making me doubt myself and lose my confidence. Always strive for greatness, but don't define yourself by your setbacks. This quote I love by Lalah Delia puts it all into perspective for me: “She remembered who she was and the game changed.”

To wrap up this entry, I would like to state a few points. To the girls who are struggling to play in the midst of losing someone you love so dearly, I know it sucks. I know you wish that special person could be there for you physically, but I promise they are there for you in more ways than one. They are watching over you and rooting for you to be your best. They are still proud of you no matter what.

To the girls in a slump right now, I promise you will get through it, but only if you have those tough conversations with yourself and others. You can only hold the wall of the flood for so long before it starts creeping up and spills all over. When you feel fear, doubts and worry, speak it out. Do not hold it in. When you realize your worth and know nobody will ever be you, everything changes. You are your own best version of yourself. Comparison is the thief of joy, so play with your heart and for your sisters next to you. Be proud of yourself, and believe that you will accomplish your goals.

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The Diary Of A College Softball Player - Season Reflections

Duke junior pitcher Jala Wright reflects on the season that was and looks ahead to next year.

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