SOFTBALL: Zabriskie exemplifies resilience, confidence

ISU pitcher Rachel Zabriskie winds up for a pitch against Missouri during Wednesday’s game at the Southwest Athletic Complex. Zabriskie has thrived in her junior season at Iowa State. Photo: Rebekka Brown/Iowa State Daily

Jordan Wickstrom —

In order to be a successful pitcher, one must possess a number of abilities, including resilience, confidence and leadership … and a killer fastball doesn’t hurt either.

Not all players can have those, but, for junior pitcher Rachel Zabriskie, those words have been used to describe her pitching from the first game she took the mound.

“When she came in during her freshman year, she had success and made the jump that a lot of freshmen do between freshman and sophomore years,” said coach Stacy Gemeinhardt-Cesler.

“We always knew that [her talent] was there, and we just wanted to see her become what we thought she could and, really, she can become anything she wants to.”

Although Zabriskie has enjoyed a great deal of success, there have been times when things have not gone smoothly for the Texas native.

But no pitcher can say they have never experienced rough times in their careers.

Showing resilience in tough situations is what acts as the true test of a great pitcher.

And that is exactly what Zabriskie has brought to the team during her three years.

As a sophomore, Zabriskie was asked to take the majority of the workload because of injuries to the pitching staff.

Despite being an underclassman with only one full season under her belt, Zabriskie did what pitchers are supposed to do: She picked up the ball and kept throwing.

“When you know that there’s nobody else, you have to do as much as you possibly can, because nobody else is there to back you up,” Zabriskie said.

“My mentality was that nobody was there. There wasn’t another pitcher available, and when you have no back-up, you have to learn to deal with things yourself.”

Resilience is not the only thing pitchers need on the mound.

They will also need a swagger, or a sort of confidence, while facing hitters.

In the Big 12 conference, especially, confidence is extremely important, because it can be a humbling experience facing some of the best hitters the conference has to offer.

But it has been that amount of confidence that has helped to put Zabriskie in a unique position.

As a junior, she has already broken the all-time strikeouts and wins record. With one more season left, she will more than likely be in a position to break the all-time innings pitched, appearances and games started record.

“It’s kind of nice to be [in the record books],” Zabriskie said.

“I feel like I’ve been breaking them every weekend, because it seemed like they were on consecutive weekends. So when it’s over, I don’t think I’ll feel any different, but it’s kind of nice to know your name will be in the books and you helped a team get somewhere.”

Trying to break those records may seem like a huge burden on any player, but, according to senior catcher Alex Johnson, who knows what it feels like to chase after all-time records, Zabriskie hasn’t allowed the pressure to get in the way of how well she performs.

“I love catching [Zabriskie],” Johnson said.

“She’s just so efficient, and she works hard and has a lot of confidence and she doesn’t beat herself up too much. I love people who are confident, because it helps our team tremendously.”

Heading into the current season, the Cyclones took comfort knowing they would have a healthy pitching staff.

With Zabriskie entering her junior year as the most experienced pitcher and no longer being considered an underclassman, it was clear she would be asked to take on an even bigger leadership role than the previous season.

It was a role Zabriskie embraced, and Gemeinhardt-Cesler says she has excelled at it.

“She has already done so much,” Gemeinhardt-Cesler said.

“I think she’s great. She’s going to continue to do well and just her leadership on and off the field is remarkable. I think she’s just going to continue to get better and better.”

When her senior season inevitably arrives, Zabriskie will not only be considered one of the best pitchers on the team, but one of the best in the conference.

Looking past the records and accolades, however, the only thing she wants to be recognized as is a stepping stone for something much bigger.

“The only thing I would want to be recognized as is someone who is helping to make the program better,” Zabriskie said.

“That was one of the main reasons I came here. I didn’t want to be a part of a program where I could go there and just be a player, I wanted to be an impact player for a team. So I just want people to think I’m helping Iowa State get somewhere, and that would be the best thing someone could say about me.”

It takes resilience, confidence and leadership to be a great pitcher, and Zabriskie has all three.

About that killer fastball?

Ask any of the 598 strikeout victims in her  collegiate career what they think about it.