May 13, 2004 - by
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May 13, 2004

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Just two days after being named the first ever FSU player to be a top three finalist for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, Jessica van der Linden kicked down another barrier Thursday. The all-everything senior took home the ACC’s top honor when she was named ACC Player of the Year at the 2004 softball banquet. van der Linden is now not only the first-ever back-to-back winner of the award but she is the first-ever two-time ACC softball Player of the Year in conference history. This is the sixth time a Seminole has won the award and three of the last four ACC Player’s of the Year have been from Florida State. van der Linden is the fifth player to win both ACC Rookie of the Year and then go on to win ACC Player of the Year. FSU players have now won 46% of the player of the year awards handed out by the conference and the last three times FSU has taken home the player of the year honor the recipient has been a pitcher.

When Jessica van der Linden was named 2004 ACC Player of the Year, it was the sixth time a Seminole has won that award and it has been won by five different players. That’s pretty good but nothing compared to what head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf did. When the Tribe coach was named back-to-back ACC Coach of the Year, it marked the sixth time in 13 years that she has won the award. Graf is the only ACC coach to ever win the award in consecutive years and she has now done that twice in her career. The Seminole boss has taken home the coach of the year trophy three times in the last four years. The only other coach in ACC history to even win the award on more than one occasion is North Carolina’s Donna papa.

As dominant as FSU has been in its 13 years of ACC softball, the one award that has been the most elusive for a Seminole to attain is ACC Rookie of the Year. Coming into 2004, only three Seminoles have won the award in school history. While winning 25% of the rookie of the year awards is nothing to scoff at, FSU has captured 46% of player and coach of the year honors and 69% of the ACC Tournament MVP honors so the percentage of rookie awards is a little behind the rest. That is why Veronica Wootson’s accomplishment is so amazing. The freshman captured the ACC Rookie of the Year award this season and became the first Seminole to do that since Jessica van der Linden in 2001. Rookies don’t often start for FSU so that has a lot to do with why not many Seminoles have captured the award. With the win, FSU moved into a tie with Georgia Tech for the most rookie of the year awards won by a single school.

With Jessica van der Linden, Dr. JoAnne Graf and Veronica Wootson sweeping all three major awards at the 2004 softball banquet, FSU can lay claim to the rare triple for the second time in school history. Florida State is the only school in conference history to sweep the three major awards on two occasions. North Carolina has accomplished the feat once when they won all three trophies in 2000. The last time FSU pulled off the triple was 2001 when Leslie Malerich was named player of the year, Jessica van der Linden won rookie of the year and coach Graf took home her fourth coach of the year title. No team that has ever swept the ACC major awards has gone on to win the ACC Softball Championship. In 2000, UNC pulled off the triple but FSU won the title. In 2001, FSU won all three awards but North Carolina took home the team title. I am sure the Tar Heels hope the trend repeats in 2004.

On top of sweeping all three major awards at Thursday night’s ACC banquet the Seminoles left the University Center ballroom with more All-ACC selections (6) than any other team as well. This is the fourth year in a row that FSU has led the conference in All-ACC picks and the eighth time overall in 13 seasons. Florida State leads the ACC all-time with 57 All-ACC players and this is the most All-ACC selections for FSU since 1995 when the Tribe set a conference record with eight members of the all-conference team. Jessica van der Linden (4), Casey Hunter (2) and Elisa Vasquez (2) are all repeat selections while Natasha Jacob, Beth Wade and Veronica Wootson made the squad for the first time ever. van der Linden completes her career as a four-time All-ACC selection and she joins Brandi Stuart as the only Seminole to ever garner All-ACC honors all four years at FSU.

Jessica van der Linden didn’t come to Tallahassee in 2001 as a fire-balling strikeout machine but when she leaves Tallahassee she will be the all-time strikeout queen. This past week the senior smashed the single season record when she hit 308 and went all the way to 320 before returning home from Michigan. Most amazingly, van der Linden broke the mark in almost 79 fewer innings of work. Christy Larsen set the record in 1991 and recorded her 307 K’s in 275 innings for an average of 1.11 strikeouts per frame. van der Linden’s 320 K’s came in 196.1 innings of work, which averages out to 1.63 strikeouts per inning. With her 320 K’s, she is now on the cusp of an even bigger mark. With just three more strikeouts, van der Linden will break the career record for K’s, which has stood for over 15 years. Julie Larsen set the mark in 1988 when she finished her career with 834 K’s in 758.2 innings. van der Linden is going to set the record in just over 640 innings, which is over 115 fewer innings than it took Larsen. van der Linden has 10 or more strikeouts in 16 of her 34 appearances this season and in 10 of those 16 games she has 13 or more K’s. AMAZING!

There is no questioning that Jessica van der Linden is FSU’s top hitter. She has led the team in batting average in back-to-back seasons and has been in the top two for three straight seasons. van der Linden is one of just four players to ever lead FSU in average in back-to-back years (Brandi Stuart, Tiffany Daniels, Greta Bahn). Daniels is the only player in FSU history to do that for three consecutive seasons but opponents beware, van der Linden looks to be heating up. The senior is entering postseason play on a tear. In her last five games (three of which came against ranked teams in Auburn and Michigan), van der Linden is hitting .500 with a triple, a home run and a .857 slugging percentage. She has hit safely in all five games and she has also scored five runs in that stretch. The home run was the third of the season for the notorious doubles hitter and she has now tripled her career home run total coming into the 2004 campaign.

Jessica van der Linden was named one of three finalists for USA Softball’s Collegiate Player of the Year this week. She has been a top 10 finalist the last two seasons but this is the first time she has made it into the final group and is just one step away from winning college softball’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. van der Linden joins Mississippi State’s Iyhia McMichael and Arizona’s Alicia Hollowell as finalists for the award. The initial list of 25 finalists was announced April 7 with that list being narrowed down to 10 on April 30. This award is designed to recognize outstanding athletic achievement by female collegiate softball players across the country. van der Linden, who was a top 10 finalist in 2003, has scored more runs, hit more home runs, knocked in more RBIs and fielded better in 2004 than she did in 2003. What she has done inside the circle is even more amazing. Her ERA in 2004 is down from 1.07 in 2003 to 0.57, which is the second lowest in the nation. She has six more wins, seven more complete games, twice as many shutouts (8 vs. 16 in 2004), she has allowed 11 fewer hits in 20 more innings pitched, she has allowed 10 fewer runs, 11 fewer earned runs, she has walked seven fewer batters and recorded 74 more strikeouts. Last year batters hit .154 against her, this year they are hitting .125. Last season van der Linden pitched 14 games in which she didn’t allow an earned run, this year she has done that 25 times. Last year she did not issue a walk in six games, this year she has done that 10 times. She is one of just two pitchers in the nation in the top five for strikeouts and ERA and no other player has a higher batting average and lower ERA than van der Linden for the second straight year.

Fresh off a weekend that saw Jessica van der Linden set a new single season strikeout record and be named a top three finalist for USA Softball’s Collegiate Player of the Year the senior All-America Jessica van der Linden’s big week continued with a feature article in the May 10th issue of Sports Illustrated. After just barely missing out on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s ‘On Campus’ Valentine’s Issue, it didn’t take Seminole softball player Jessica van der Linden long to make the jump to the big magazine. The ACC Player of the Year was chosen by SI to be the featured softball player in the magazine’s spring championship preview. The article was written by SI’s Melissa Segura and only five athletes from all of the nation were chosen for feature stories.

Casey Hunter has had a pretty streaky season in 2004 and that’s has been a good thing. When the streak you are talking about is 21 straight wins, which Hunter had earlier this year, that’s good streaky. Although that run came to an end in extra innings versus No. 14 Auburn, the junior is in the midst of another pretty impressive streak. Hunter has gone 51.1 innings with out allowing an earned run and she has only allowed two earned runs in her last 143.1 innings. Before her current 51inning streak she had an even more impressive run where the Illinois native went 86 innings without allowing an earned run. In her first 10 appearances of 2004, Hunter didn’t allow an earned run in just for of those games. Since then she has appeared in 26 games and has not allowed an earned run in 23 of those appearances. That is why her ERA has fallen from a season high of 1.39 at the start of March to a 0.52 now, which ranks as the third-best ERA in America. Hunter does have one other streak worth mentioning as well. The junior has never given up a triple in her career and that spans 1728 at bats.

Casey Hunter is continuing to establish herself as one of the all-time Seminole greats in the circle. In 2003, Hunter went 27-6 with a 0.67 ERA and went pretty much unrecognized by the regional and national awards committee. Now that she has had an even better junior season folks in Tallahassee are hoping that won’t happen again. With her win over Eastern Michigan, Hunter notched her 30th victory of the year and became just the sixth pitcher ever at FSU to record 30 or more wins in a season. She is currently sixth in the NCAA for wins and Hunter is still third in the nation with a 0.52 ERA. She is now the first FSU pitcher since Toni Gutierrez in 1992 to put together back-to-back sub 1.00 ERA seasons.

Traveling to No. 14 Auburn and No. 6 Michigan all in the same week is going to be difficult and the Tribe found that out by closing the season with a 1-3 mark versus those schools. Those losses coupled with a split at Eastern Michigan dropped FSU’s road record to 13-6 on the year. If you take into account the Tribe’s 8-2 mark at neutral sites, the Seminoles are a collective 24-8 when playing away from home with five of the eight losses coming to ranked teams. That puts FSU’s winning percentage at .666 away from the Seminole Softball Complex compared to .971 (33-1) when the Seminoles play at home. After playing 12 of its last 17 games away from home and going 7-5 in those contests, Seminole fans have to be optimistic with the ACC Championships and NCAA Regional both being played on the Tribe’s own field. FSU is 45-1 in its last 46 games at home with the only loss coming this season versus No. 9 Louisiana-Lafayette in a 10-inning, 1-0 game.

While they don’t hurt any less or count any different, it says something that all nine of FSU’s losses have been by just one run and six have come to ranked opponents. With the No.1 pitching staff in the nation, FSU has been in every game this year including all nine losses. Six of those losses came in the opponent’s final at bat and five were walk-off losses so really only three times all season has the Tribe been behind heading into the final inning of regulation and those three times came against No. 6 Michigan, No. 14 Nebraska and No. 2 LSU. FSU really hasn’t been behind late in games enough to see how they respond, which is a good and a bad thing.

With the ACC Championships returning to town, this should be a time filled with great memories for Seminole junior Lesley Palmer. Last season she had a monster ACC Tournament where she broke a tournament record with three home runs in three games and went on to be named ACC Championships MVP. You can’t blame Palmer for being a little hesitant though entering this weekend. If Georgia Tech defeats NC State, the Tribe and Yellow Jackets will meet on the same field where Palmer tore her ACL just under six weeks ago versus that same Georgia Tech team. The Virginia native has rehabbed and is back playing on the torn ACL with a brace. She has appeared in seven games and made five starts. While she is hitting just .181 in the seven games since her return, Palmer’s mammoth home run versus No. 14 Auburn won the game for the Seminoles and she had another RBI in her brief stint. Her other hit should have been a double but the bad knee pretty much limits her to one base.

Another encouraging since for the FSU offense has been the emergence of LaShaun Davis’ bat. The right fielder was one of the most highly touted freshman coming into the ACC last year but she has had some struggles adjusting to the college game after a fall that had everyone in Tallahassee buzzing. Despite the slow adjustment, Davis is starting to show signs of life at the best time of the year. In her last five games (three of which came against No. 14 Auburn and No. 6 Michigan), Davis went 3 for 12 with a run and an RBI. She collected a hit in three of the last five games after going hitless in 16 of her 17 starts before the FSU road trip. If Davis is able to keep the production up, Davis could see more playing time as the Tribe enters the postseason.

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