April 6, 2006 - by

Returning to Glory

April 6, 2006



        If your first year on the Florida State softball team includes a trip to the Women’s College World Series and All-America honors you wouldn’t know any better, you’d think you’ll be spending the first week of June in Oklahoma City every year. And then you wake up from the dream.


        For junior second baseman Veronica Wootson, this dream was a reality.


“It was one of the best experiences a freshman could ask for,” Wootson said. “Making it all the way to the World Series was a dream come true. We had a really strong team so you knew if one person wasn’t playing well, you could depend on one another to hold the team together.”


        The columniation of her magical freshman season came at the 2004 WCWS where she had a .444 slugging percentage and hit a home run against LSU. The Fontanta, Calif. native earned NFCA Second-Team All-America honors, a first for a Florida State rookie. Not van der Linden or Malerich nor Stuart or Wilson. None of the most decorated players in Seminole history had accomplished what Wootson had done in her first year.


        Her accolades – including Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year – were well deserved given her gaudy offensive numbers. Wootson led the Seminoles in hits (83), runs (70), home runs (8), triples (7) and total bases (129), setting new single-season freshman records for home runs, runs and total bases. Not only was she one of the best hitters on the team and in the ACC, but she also ranked 12th in the country in home runs and 15th in triples.


        “My first year, honestly, I just came in and played softball,” she admitted. “It wasn’t until later that the numbers started creeping in. I had a few records and surprised everyone, but I was just out there having fun. I expected a lot from myself and just had an off year last year.”


        It’s called a sophomore slump for a reason. Your first year in the game there isn’t much of a scouting report on you; pitchers do not know how good of a hitter you are. Maybe they’ve heard about you, or someone on their team has played against you during travel ball, but until you rope a double over their left fielder’s head you’re just another face in the media guide. That all changes the next year, especially when that face in the media guide includes the moniker “All-American.” The stakes are a lot higher and that proverbial bull’s eye is on your back.


        “I really thought we’d go back to the World Series last year,” Wootson admitted. “I thought our team chemistry was great. We had so many talented players that everyone thought we were going back, but that’s one of our goals every year and every year we have the talent to make it all the way.”


        As high as the highs were for Wootson’s freshman year, the lows of her sophomore year were just as low. Her runs, triples and home runs as a sophomore were less than half of her 2004 numbers. Wootson’s batting average was 28 percent lower while her hits and RBIs were significantly lower. Forget the sophomore slump, this was crash and burn.


        Her own toughest critic, Wootson did everything she could to dissect what went wrong last year. While she couldn’t pinpoint the exact source of her struggles, the struggle itself and the search for the solution made her a stronger person, on and off the field.


        “When I reflect on last year I can’t honestly tell you if I was doing one thing more or one thing less from my freshman year to last year, it just happened,” Wootson said. “It did make me grow up, though, and I think I matured a lot. I realized that not every year is going to be a great year and that I have to keep working hard.”


        One thing Wootson learned from trials and tribulations of the past was to leave it all exactly there, in the past. She has moved on and is excepting new challenges. Characteristically a leadoff hitter with a pension for bunting and slapping during her high school tenure and through her first two seasons at Florida State, she has been moved into the third position in the Seminoles’ line-up, a spot that is reserved for the best hitter on the team.


        Never one to back away from a challenge, Wootson is accepting her new role as an opportunity to make herself the complete player. An opportunity to regain the notoriety she enjoyed as a rookie and forever secure her place in Seminole history, not as freshman flash, but in the pantheon of Florida State greats that are distinguished by just one name and a host of All-American awards.


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