Willamette University

Culture of Camaraderie

Softball players in pink
Coach Damian Williams

Coach Damian Williams

By Jamie Timbrell ’06

The softball players weren’t wearing their usual home uniforms.

Instead, they wore black shirts with “Willamette Softball” and their numbers printed in hot pink, along with pink knee-high socks.

It was all to raise funds for breast cancer research during a doubleheader this spring. Primarily, players hoped that they’d reach people impacted by cancer — but what they knew beyond doubt was that the effort was also a reflection of the bond they shared together.

The Bearcat softball players feel like they’re part of a family, and that’s by design. Head Coach Damian Williams has taught the team to be this way throughout his 14 seasons at Willamette. His players have responded to the concept of unity and made it work consistently over time.

Williams has led the Bearcats to a combined record of 288-219 (57 percent) over 10 winning seasons. Impressively, the team has earned 185 wins during the past eight years. This year, the team put together an 11-game winning streak on its way to clinching a Northwest Conference Tournament berth.

Still, Williams stresses a team culture that values trust, loyalty and patience over individual statistics or rivalry. “I t helps the players on the field to know that every day they can count on the rest of us,” Williams says. “When players really believe that, victories come. Nobody wants to let their teammates down.”

The players have taken this ideal to heart and carried themselves through the 2012 season on cooperation and the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Seniors on the team are providing leadership by being friends first.

“So many of my teammates are best friends,” says Carolyn Cava ’12. “We’re able to hold ourselves accountable on a level we couldn’t normally because we have mutual respect for each other. We can push one another.”

“There is an understanding of what is good for the whole and that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves,” she adds. “I would drop anything if my teammate was in need because I know she would do anything for me.”

As a result, the incoming student leaders are already proving themselves. Kelli Snyder ’13, a catcher, led the Bearcats with a .400 batting average; outfielder Yvonne Drabin ’13 hit .364. Heather Winslow ’15 posted five home runs, and Theresa Martin ’15 was clutch with both positional hitting and hitting for power with a .398 average. The future, as it has been for a decade and a half, is bright.

But, as always, the stats and the wins are really byproducts of another priority: camaraderie.

A Chance to Help the Bearcat Softball Family

During the soggy spring months in Salem, the softball team has had to conduct many of its practices in a gymnasium. Athletics has received a leadership gift of more than $23,000 from the family of a former player to help construct a new, much-needed indoor hitting and pitching facility, but it will take an additional $40,000 to begin construction this summer.

If you’d like to learn more or join other alumni, parents and friends of Willamette softball through a contribution to the facility, please contact David Rigsby ’00, director of athletics, at drigsby@willamette.edu or 503-370-6548.

From left: Mele Ana Kastner ’15, Lettajoe Gallup ’15, Nicole Smith ’15, Mckenzie Weinhold ’15 and Coach Noah Horstman

From left: Mele Ana Kastner ’15, Lettajoe Gallup ’15, Nicole Smith ’15, Mckenzie Weinhold ’15 and Coach Noah Horstman.

The New Par

By Jamie Timbrell ’06

A new generation has taken to the links at Willamette, and four talented golfers are leading the team to resurgence in the NWC.

Mckenzie Weinhold ’14, Nicole Smith ’15, Lettajoe Gallup ’15 and Mele Ana Kastner ’15 have wasted no time lending their talents. “We have very dedicated ladies this year who have been putting in tremendous effort on and off the course,” Head Coach Noah Horstman says. “They’re definitely motivated.”

In fact, they are seventh in the nation in Division III for their freshman class impact ranking, used to gauge a team’s trajectory for the coming years.

The elder of the four is Weinhold, a sophomore transfer with freshman eligibility. Her transfer to Willamette came after she saw Willamette on a road trip with her cousin; with some encouragement from her mother, she sent an email to Horstman to find out about playing for the Bearcats.

When she arrived in the fall, Weinhold quickly came to appreciate the switch. “One of my favorite things about Willamette is that when we play tournaments, everybody waits for their teammates at the end. They’re at the 18th hole cheering you on,” she says. “Only the Willamette team does this.”

It isn’t just about golf for Weinhold. She’s also joined Pi Beta Phi, the Committee on Campus Honors and Awards, and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Her campus involvement hasn’t stopped her from excelling on the green. At the Northwest Conference Fall Classic she shot a 78, her lowest score of the season, to help Willamette edge past Linfield into third place on the last day of the tournament.

Smith was critical to Willamette’s success at the Fall Classic as well, shaving off five shots from her previous outing to boost the Bearcats’ late surge.

“Both really stepped up when they needed to,” Horstman says. “They’re born leaders. They know how to motivate the team and they know how to keep it light.”

Smith, a Portland native, was on Horstman’s recruiting radar since early on when he saw her play at Westview High School. During the first day of the NWC Spring Classic, Smith improved her season best when she shot a 77.

On the second day of the Spring Classic, it was Gallup’s time to shine, and she beat her personal best by an incredible seven shots — with 40 mile-per-hour winds howling through the fairways.

“Lettajoe broke out there,” Horstman says. “She is one of the most passionate people on the golf team and she was a boost to us all.”

When Horstman recruits athletes, he stresses that they don’t have to fight each other for positions on the team and that Willamette has some things that larger schools don’t. “If you want to study abroad, do it,” he says. “It makes you grow and gives you more experience, just like sports. It doesn’t have to be one or the other here.”

Kastner, nicknamed “Bomber” for her ability to crush the ball off the tee, has also contributed to the team’s growth. “With experience, she will surprise everyone,” Horstman says. “She will be one of the best golfers in the conference in a couple of years.”

We can't wait.

What’s Another Sport?

Why Mitch Rowan is a Standout

Mitch Rowan ’12

By Robert Mckinney

Mitch Rowan ’12 knew as he was looking at colleges that he wanted football, baseball and a quality education. He found all three at Willamette.

“I knew I could play at the next level in both sports,” Rowan says, “and Willamette is a great place to get the best of all worlds.”

Willamette football Head Coach Glen Fowles ’96, who was the Bearcats’ offensive coordinator during Rowan’s four years as a player, recalled how well Rowan fit with the team.

“Mitch was an excellent kicker right when we needed one,” Fowles noted. “We knew he could compete right away. He’s just a great example of a guy who has made playing two sports work.”

During his freshman season in 2008, Rowan made five of eight field goals and 62 of 66 extra points. He averaged 38.2 yards per punt. He helped Willamette go 10-0 in the regular season before finishing the year at 11-1.

After the season, he wasted no time in talking with baseball Head Coach Aaron Swick, then in his first year.

“I didn’t know anything about him,” Swick said, adding he was glad he gave Rowan a chance after the freshman batted 9 for 11 in his first intra-squad scrimmages. “He’s blossomed into one of the best players in the country.”

In football last fall, Rowan was chosen Northwest Conference Special Teams Player of the Year.

Fowles says Rowan is methodical, and that his successes could be related to his eye for mechanics. As a kicker, he went beyond outright strength and learned to increase the hang time on his punts and kickoffs, all while refining his control over where the ball landed.

“Those were two things, hang time and positioning, that he was pretty exceptional at — it’s not always about finding the guy who kicks the ball farthest,” Fowles says. “He wears the other coaches out. It’s always ‘Hey, that guy just pinned us in again.’”

As a sophomore on the diamond, Rowan earned a .403 batting average. He scored 41 runs and collected 42 RBIs to go with 13 doubles and 12 home runs. Swick says that his approach to kicking probably flows over to baseball. “His swing is very compact. He doesn’t have any wasted movement,” he says.

Rowan was a First Team Preseason All-America selection by D3baseball.com prior to the 2011 season. He hit .393 in seven games before a hand injury forced him to miss the rest of the year. After recovering from his injury, he played for the Willmar Stingers (Minn.) of the Northwoods League, a high-level summer collegiate baseball league whose rosters are filled mostly with Division I and junior college players. He posted a .333 average and came away with solid lessons. “I ’m a lot smarter now,” Rowan says. “My mental game has improved from playing over the summer and all of the seasons. I just have a much better mental approach.”

He entered 2012 as an Honorable Mention Preseason All-America pick, despite missing most of the 2011 season. He batted .342 this spring and led the Bearcats with 40 RBIs, 11 doubles and 10 home runs. In his career, Rowan earned a .356 batting average and 27 home runs. He also blasted 32 doubles and was 26 of 28 on stolen bases.

Having graduated, Rowan plans to continue playing baseball — either as a professional or as a graduate student at the University of San Francisco — a short drive from his hometown of Cotati, Calif. His injury last spring resulted in a medical hardship waiver, which will allow him to compete next year.

According to Swick, Rowan could see long-term success because of his focus.

“He stays even-keeled,” Swick says. “It’s not too surprising that he’s excelled in two sports and as an exercise science major, which is hard enough by itself. He doesn’t get too high or too low on his performances and his aptitude is very high — that’s key the higher he goes.”

News and Notes

Women’s Tennis on the Rise, Makes NWC Tournament

The women’s tennis team qualified for the 2012 Northwest Conference Tournament, finally falling to regular-season champion Linfield in the semifinals. Senior Shannon Palmer ’12 was chosen First Team All-NWC, while Sabrina Gutierrez ’14 and Denise Poltavski ’15 were named Second Team All-NWC.

Bearcat Softball Beats Top National Team

Willamette defeated Linfield, the top-ranked team in NCAA Division III, 2-0 April 14 behind a complete-game two-hitter by senior Alex Watilo ’12. The win helped the Bearcats qualify for the four-team NWC Softball Tournament.

At the NWC Tournament, Pacific Lutheran took the title with a 3-0 victory over Linfield in the championship game. The Bearcats finished their strong season with a 21-15 overall record (19-9 NWC).

NWC Standouts in Track and Field

At the NWC Track and Field Championships, Paul Winger ’12 won his fourth straight title in the 400-meter dash and was chosen Men’s Track Athlete of the Meet. Ben Donovan ’12 took first place in the 3,000-meter steeplechase for the third year in a row and Kit Kingstad ’14 won the 1,500-meter run. Leading the women’s team were Jaela Dinsmore’ 12, who won the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash, and Theresa Edwards ’13, who won the 800-meter run and 1,500-meter run.

JA! Stepan Spielt Gern Baseball

Former Willamette catcher Max Stepan ’11 began playing professional baseball for the Feldkirch Cardinals in Austria this spring. The Cardinals compete in Europe’s Baseball Bundesliga. During four seasons with the Bearcats, Stepan posted a .341 batting average and crushed 25 home runs.

It’s FORE Time

This year, FORE Willamette, the Department of Athletics’ annual fundraiser tournament, will coincide with Alumni Weekend in September. Registration is now open for the tournament, which takes place Monday, Sept. 24 at The Reserve Vineyards and Golf Club in Aloha, Ore. Register at forewillamette.golfreg.com.

For complete news coverage, remember to check willamette.edu/athletics.