May 26, 2004
Oklahoma City, OK –
Senior Jessica van der Linden thought she got the perfect ending to her softball career when her team qualified for its second Women’s College World Series in the last three years. Little did she know. The Cerritos, CA native won the highest individual honor in college softball at the WCWS Opening Ceremonies Wednesday night when she was named USA Softball’s 2004 National Collegiate Player of the Year. She is just the third ever recipient of the award, which is considered the Heisman Trophy of college softball.
“I feel so honored that USA Softball and its panel of voters think of me and my abilities so highly,” said van der Linden. “It is so exciting but this is just as much my team’s award as it is my award. I need a defense behind me and our hitters to come through for this to happen. It belongs to the catchers. This is all because of my teammates and I want to thank them for this.”
“This is the first player of the year we have had for softball. When you think of all the tremendous athletes at the institutions across the country it is a testament to the accomplishments of the team and of Jessica,” said FSU head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf. “Jessica is a special player.”
If there was ever any doubt that van der Linden deserved to be USA Softball Player of the Year, the 2004 NCAA Region No. 4 Tournament erased it. The senior went 3-1 with a 0.24 ERA in 29 innings of work. She allowed just one run and eight hits while fanning 38 batters. At the plate she led FSU hitting with a .462 average, four RBIs and a .611 on base percentage. She was walked five times and all five were intentional.
Versus No. 12 Oregon, she pitched 22 innings consecutively in about 30 hours and allowed just one run in that time leading her team to the College World Series. When van der Linden’s team was down 4-0 in a winner’s bracket game versus the Ducks on Saturday, she came in and held Oregon at bay for nine innings as she and her teammates not only tied the game but they came back to win it. Then she went 13 innings in two games Sunday allowing only four hits and one run as FSU sealed its trip to Oklahoma City. For her efforts, van der Linden was named the NCAA Region 4 most outstanding player in a unanimous vote of SIDs and media.
“Jess is a real champion, a real fighter,” said Oregon head coach Kathy Arendsen after the regional championship game. “We saw (USF pitcher) Leigh Ann Ellis throw two games back-to-back yesterday but not in the same circumstances. She’s tough. She didn’t make mistakes, has great location and probably some of the best poise I’ve seen. Obviously, how she goes, is how Florida State goes.”
Over the most important stretch of the season van der Linden has been at her best. Against ranked teams in Auburn and Michigan to close the season, Georgia Tech at the ACC Tournament and Oregon in the NCAA Regional she has hit .500 with seven runs scored, a triple, a home run and eight RBIs. She has slugged .639, been on base 60% of the time and she has just two strikeouts in 36 at bats. She also has a 0.52 ERA and four shutouts. In those 13 games she has wins over No. 14 Auburn and two victories against No. 12 Oregon inside the circle. In that span she has raised her average 24 points and kept her ERA a stellar 0.52.
van der Linden has been dominant all season and simply secured the award with her play down the stretch. She leads the team with 20 game-winning RBIs and between game-winning hits and wins on the mound, she has accounted for 35 of FSU’s 61 wins this season. In the last NCAA stats, van der Linden was fourth in the nation in ERA, fifth in strikeouts and 19th in wins. She is half of the No. 1 pitching staff in the NCAA and has recorded wins on the hill over No. 8 Washington, No. 20 Oklahoma, No. 24 Texas A&M, No. 7 Michigan, No. 15 Fresno State, No. 12 Oregon (twice) and No. 16 Auburn. She also has game-winning RBIs versus No. 20 Oklahoma, No. 24 Texas A&M, No. 15 Fresno State and No. 21 Florida. van der Linden has set a new single season record at FSU with 366 strikeouts and a new career record at FSU with 878. She has also established new career records for RBIs, doubles and walks at the plate. No player in the nation has a higher batting average and lower ERA than van der Linden. This year she has been a NFCA and USA Softball National Player of the Week, a five-time ACC Player of the Week and she is the first-ever two-time ACC Player of the Year. van der Linden was named the MVP of the FSU Invitational Tournament and named to the all-tournament team at the prestigious NFCA Leadoff Classic as well as at the Seminole Challenge Tournament. The senior fields 1.000 at pitcher and in center field and has led FSU to its highest ranking in 21 years at No. 2 in the nation.
No. 4 Florida State opens the 2004 Women’s College on ESPN2 Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. EST. If you are unable to get to a TV, Campo will be bringing you the play-by-play live as the action unfolds versus No. 2 Cal. For all the latest news from the 2004 WCWS check out the official home for Seminole softball on the web at www.seminoles.com.