May 26, 2004
Oklahoma City, OK –
There was supposed to be thousands of people in the stands and the whole World Series field watching but bad weather put an end to the opening ceremonies at the 2004 Women’s College World Series but that didn’t put a damper on the Seminoles winning awards. Just moments before senior Jessica van der Linden was named USA Softball’s 2004 National Collegiate Player of the Year, she and two of her teammates were honored as Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Americans. Casey Hunter and Veronica Wootson were both named second team All-Americans while van der Linden became the first-ever back-to-back first team selection in FSU history.
“This is quite a night for us but this is a special group and they deserve the recognition,” said FSU head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf. “You don’t get to the World Series without great players and we have a lot of them and they aren’t just the three receiving awards tonight. Winning anything is a team effort and that goes for individual awards as well.”
For van der Linden being named a two-time first team All-American puts her in a class all by herself at Florida State. It is something no other player in FSU’s 21 years of fastpitch softball has ever been able to do. That is nothing new for van der Linden whose accomplishments and firsts never seem to end.
van der Linden has been dominant all season. 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.
“I couldn’t have drawn up my final year any better except for winning the National Championship and we still have the chance to compete for that title,” said van der Linden. “This is a huge honor and is something I am so proud of and once again it would never have happened without my teammates behind me every step of the way.”
This is the first ever honor for Hunter and it comes on the heels of back-to-back amazing seasons. After going 27-6 with a 0.67 ERA in 2003, Hunter finally broke through on the national stage this season. This season Hunter had a 21-game winning streak and in the last NCAA statistics she was ranked second in the nation in ERA and sixth in the nation in wins. She is half of the No. 1 pitching staff in the NCAA and became just the sixth 30 game winner in FSU history this season. The Illinois native recorded wins against (ranking at time of the game) No. 15 Texas, No. 20 South Carolina, No. 23 Arizona State and (current rankings) No. 20 Notre Dame, No. 23 Georgia Tech (three times) and No. 21 Florida this season. She has issued three or less walks in 32 of her 37 starts and was dominant in conference play where she went a perfect 6-0 with a 0.00 ERA in ACC games. In conference play she had five complete game shutouts, 39 strikeouts and just four walks while not allowing a single run. Hunter finished ACC play first in the conference in wins, second in ERA, second in innings pitched, second in starts, third in shutouts, third in complete games, third in opponent batting average and fifth in strikeouts. Hunter has allowed just six earned runs in her last 165.1 innings. She has had streaks of 51 innings and 86 innings without allowing an earned run this year. 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 30 games and has not allowed an earned run in 25 of those appearances. The junior has never given up a triple in her career and that spans over 1800 at bats. She is also the first FSU pitcher since Toni Gutierrez in 1992 to put together back-to-back sub 1.00 ERA seasons.
“This feels great. It has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to be an All-American and it feels great to see that dream come true,” said Hunter. “This is a little bit of a strange feeling though because even though you dream about it you never really feel it is going to come true and when it does, it’s kind of surreal. To get to pitch in a World Series and be named an All-American, it leaves me almost speechless.”
Wootson came to FSU and had to fill the shoes of two-time All-American Brandi Stuart, which is not an easy task. First she became just the fourth Seminole to ever win ACC Rookie of the Year honors and now she is the first Seminole to ever be named an All-American in her rookie season.
“I am so excited. I came to Florida State and for that matter to college not knowing what to expect,” said Wootson. “I wasn’t looking to be an ACC Rookie of the Year, an all-region selection and definitely not an All-American. Yet I happened to experience it all in one year and I am thankful and so happy.”
The sparkplug at the top of the order that makes the 14th-ranked FSU offense run (14th in scoring and 16th in batting average), Wootson is just five runs away from breaking the single season record held by All-American and Florida State Hall of Famer Shamalene Wilson. She is 15th in the nation in runs scored and she has set new rookie records for runs, total bases and home runs. Wootson is just 10 total bases away from setting a new FSU single season record in that category as well. When the California native gets on base she comes around to score a run over 61% of the time on top of leading FSU in hits, runs, triples and total bases. She is second on the team in batting average, slugging percentage, home runs and steals.
“I could never have done this without this team behind me,” said Wootson. “They accepted me and made my transition from high school to a great team like Florida State so easy. It is a great feeling right now and I hope they all share in this because it is a reflection on my teammates more than it is on me.”
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.