Thursday, May 10, 2012

Zgrabik's Big-Game Experience Benefits the Top-Seeded Eagles

That fact that Florida Gulf Coast University’s Chelsea Zgrabik was as comfortable with her game as she has been all season entering the 2012 Atlantic Sun Softball Championship was not good news for the other five teams in Spartanburg, S.C., this weekend.

Just ask Jacksonville, who Zgrabik victimized with a grand slam in the eighth inning to complete a FGCU comeback and help shake off the Eagles' first-game tournament jitters.

In her first year with FGCU, the Venice, Fla., native is in the top 15 in the A-Sun in batting, leads the league in runs batted in with 47, is fourth in home runs with 11 and is fifth in total bases with 94. She also leads the Eagles with a .331 batting average and a .635 slugging percentage. Zgrabik was a unanimous selection to the 2012 A-Sun Softball All-Conference Team and her 47 RBI also ranks her 55th nationally.

Like many who will be competing in Spartanburg this weekend, Zgrabik enjoyed much success prior to beginning her collegiate career. At Venice High she broke school records including home run totals, slugging percentage, and batting average. Beginning the 2012 season she owned the state of Florida record for home runs with 13 (previous record was six) in a season, and racked up numerous awards including the 2010 MVP and 2010 Offensive Player of Year and served as Team Captain during her senior season.

Then came what she refers to as “the best experience of my life.” Zgrabik was selected to play for USA Softball, occupying one of the 17 slots that hundreds of young ladies dream to have and compete to earn. She was a member of the 2010-11 USA Softball Junior Women’s National Team, winning a medal in the Junior Women’s World Championship in Cape town, South Africa, and also earning a gold medal in the 2010 Pan American Championship (18 and Under).

“I didn’t see that coming at all,” says Zgrabik, “but it was a chance for me to be in a situation that obviously I would benefit from. It put me in a situation in which I had to get to know and spend time with 16 new girls and coaches that I previously did not know. Having a chance to play at that high of a level was crazy, but it was the best experience of my life.”

Zgrabik says the selection process for USA Softball, along with the level of competition, helped prepare her to help the Eagles win an A-Sun championship this weekend. Through scouting of travel softball teams and other competitions, a coaches committee selects those who they feel would be good representatives for USA Softball. Those selected travel to Chula Vista, Calif., where they compete from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for days to earn one of 17 positions.

“There is very much a physical and mental aspect to the tryouts, but I think they are very concerned with your mental ability – can you stay with the game if things aren’t necessarily going your way,” says Zgrabik. “Are you sulking back at the end of the dugout or are you back up cheering for your teammates?”
Out of high school, Zgrabik committed to play at Florida International University. However, not a “big-school” kind of person, she began to rethink her commitment and reestablished contact with FGCU Head Coach Dave Deiros. FGCU was more of what she was looking for, both athletically and academically.

“First of all, being from Venice, the area in which FGCU is located is one of the best,” she says. “I like a small campus better, because I am not a big school person. I was recruited by Michigan, but that was too big and too far away from home. I had talked with Coach Deiros before committing to FIU, and I liked him and his ideas for the program.

“I wanted to be a part of something that you can build on, not just go somewhere to add to the program. I wanted to stand out, and FGCU gave me that opportunity. Plus, academically my classes are one-third the size they were before. That means I can have more of a personal relationship with my professors, which is something that is important to me as well.”

Following her transfer from FIU, Zgrabik sat out the mandatory year before becoming eligible this season. So, understandably, the season opener on Friday, February 10, 2012, could not come soon enough for her. It had been a year since the sophomore had been in competition, and admittedly in the early part of the season nerves were limiting the transfer’s success. But as she got back into her routine, in some respects her progression throughout the season mirrored that of the team, a team that shared the regular season championship and begins the A-Sun championship as the No.1 seed.

“I was having a hard time in the beginning of the season,” she admits. “I had not played softball in a year, and I was nervous. I had to prove myself and show that I was capable of what I had done before FGCU, and that I was there to help out.”

Early in the season the Eagles, like Zgrabik, struggled a bit, splitting double-headers and allowing one bad inning in several games to prove costly. But as the season progressed, things came together for the Eagles, and for Zgrabik.

“As the season progressed I got comfortable, changed my stance a bit, and I began to see pitches better and settled in to a groove. As a team, we continued working hard, spending time together and developing confidence. Our defense has been amazing, and we are playing with a great deal of confidence right now.

“In most of the series we played against the teams we could face this weekend, we split. The biggest things that we can focus on are not to press, to limit the amount of frustration we that we experience and to just stay within ourselves.

“Like I said, we are playing with a lot of confidence right now. And I am the most comfortable with my game that I have been all season. Isn’t that where we should be at this point?”

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