Jan. 29, 2003
Tallahassee, FL –
If the ninth-ranked Florida State softball team wants to make a return trip to the semi-finals of the College World Series in 2003, they will need to rely on a pair of Californians to get there. Brandi Stuart, an NFCA 1st Team All-American, and NFCA All-Region selection Jessica van der Linden are coming off the most prolific season ever put together by a tandem of players in FSU softball history and as FSU nears its season opener February 1 at Georgia Southern the two Cerritos, CA natives will be a big part of the Tribe’s success in 2003.
“Brandi and Jessica had great seasons for us in 2002,” said head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf. “They both played huge roles in our success and the scary thing is that they are both still improving. The key this year will be for the rest of our players to step up, which I know they are capable of, so all the pressure doesn’t fall on Brandi and Jessica.”
Despite growing up more than 2,250 miles away from Tallahassee, distance didn’t stop the former Cerritos High School teammates from coming to Florida State. Many assume Stuart, a year older than van der Linden, was a big reason why van der Linden made the trek across the country for college but that wasn’t the case according to either player.
“Brandi being at FSU didn’t really influence my decision to come here,” said van der Linden. “Everybody drew that conclusion. We were teammates in high school but now we are teammates and friends. We have become so much closer off the field in college. It was nice that I knew somebody here since I was so far from home but I just felt that this was the place I fit in the best.”
“I don’t think I had a lot to do with Jess coming here (FSU),” said Stuart. “I remember talking to her when she was trying to make her decision and I think my personal insight on Florida State probably helped her because I was able to let her know what it was like here. She trusted my opinion so I think that was a factor but she knew where she wanted to go and nobody was going to influence her either way.”
After playing together for three years at Cerritos High, the duo was reunited in 2001 in Tallahassee. Both players had very good seasons that first year, Stuart was named All-Region and van der Linden was pegged ACC Rookie of the Year, but it was nothing compared to what they combined to do last season. In 2002, Stuart and van der Linden had the most dominating single season of any pair of players in FSU softball history as they finished the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in 11 different offensive categories.
The two combined to hit .363 and slug .553. Together they accounted for 153 hits, 23 doubles, 12 triples, 11 homeruns, 80 RBIs, 233 total bases and 86 walks. No tandem in FSU history has ever combined for more total bases, walks and slugged for a higher percentage than Stuart and van der Linden did in 2002. Only one pair of players has ever scored more combined runs, only one pair of players has ever accounted for more doubles and only one pair of players has ever hit more home runs. On top of that only two pair of FSU players in the program’s 24-year history have ever combined for more RBIs than Stuart and van der Linden.
“I think we take pressure off each other. For me, ever since we have been playing together I know she’ll step up if I’m having a bad day and I would do the same for her,” said Stuart. “It is really nice to have that familiarity with someone who knows your strengths and weaknesses and can help you out. Hopefully we can each do at least what we were able to do last season and maybe even a little better this year.”
As much as Stuart has relied on van der Linden over the years, the junior outfielder and pitcher has learned just as much from Stuart. Just like Stuart, van der Linden has seen her numbers increase every season but it is what she has learned off the field from the Seminoles’ two-time captain that has made the biggest impact.
“Brandi is such a great player and leader with both her words and actions,” said van der Linden. “I try to lead by example more than anything. She is such an intense player and I think she has an impact on anyone who spends anytime around her. She wants to win and that rubs off.”
While both players have had plenty of individual success they both are driven by team goals. When Stuart was a senior, she and van der Linden were key members of Cerritos’ 1999 Division II Championship team. While the two came close to an NCAA title last season, close isn’t good enough and they know 2003 is their last chance to capture the title.
“We talk a lot about how in her senior year and my junior year in high school we won a title and how we need to do the same thing here this year,” said van der Linden. “It is definitely a goal for us.”
After six years of spending almost every waking moment together on the diamond, the pair has formed a special bond they never had in high school. While they may have been just teammates at Cerritos, they are a lot closer than that today.
“We have been playing together for a very long time but it doesn’t even seem that long to me. I think we are like sisters now in so many ways,” said Stuart. “We have our ups and downs like sisters do and we really understand each other. We know which days to stay away from the each other and we know which days one of us may need a hug or support. I am happy I have had the chance to play with her for six years. It has been a great experience.”
For more information on Stuart, van der Linden and the 2003 Florida State softball team please log on to seminoles.com. Florida State’s official athletic website should be your first stop for stats, photos, weekly releases, game posters, live stats and so much more. Join FSU softball as they look to make another run to the College World Series.