Cal duo has decision-making power
Ziegenhirt, Henderson prepare like coaches, make own calls
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Not many collegiate student-athletes can say that they’ve been playing with each other for more than a decade. But for Lindsey Ziegenhirt and Jolene Henderson, they’ve been playing together for so long that they first crossed paths in tee ball.
“We started on the Teal Tigers doing tee ball and rookie league and (Henderson) wasn’t even a pitcher at that time,” Ziegenhirt said. “We wound up reuniting later on a 12-and-under team and that’s when she was a pitcher and I was a catcher. We went to the same high school and obviously we’re at the same college. It’s been really fun.”
The pair grew up in Elk Grove, Calif., a Sacramento suburb. They played together first with Ziegenhirt’s mother as the coach and later with Henderson’s father coaching the pair. A pact between the two, made in a car on the way to a tournament, sealed the deal that they would continue to play together through college.
“They came to Cal with a lot of history and a lot of chemistry,” said Golden Bears coach Diane Ninemire. “It was one thing that really attracted me about being able to recruit both players to Cal. I thought they could bring that unity to our team and it would be something we wouldn’t have to build once they get there. It’s been a great combination to have both of them on our team.”
The duo has carried Cal to the Women’s College World Series, when general wisdom said their hopes for this season were dashed when senior pitcher and hitter Val Arioto broke her leg on the first day of practice.
“Jolene is really a workhorse,” Ninemire said. “She’s had to take this team on her shoulders this year with the absence of Val Arioto.
“[Henderson] has 39 wins this year. That’s the most wins of any Cal pitcher in a single season and that’s saying a lot because we’ve had some really outstanding pitchers with Michele Granger and Kelly Anderson and Jocelyn Forest having come through.”
The relationship between Ziegenhirt and Henderson has been a key factor in Cal's success. Ziegenhirt is one of the rare catchers in the Division I game who calls her own pitches. She works in tandem with Henderson to seal the team’s success.
“It’s not unusual to us,” Henderson said. “[Ziegenhirt] knows how I pitch better than any other person. She knows my snaps, she knows what I’m going to throw, what I’m thinking about throwing and if I don’t want to throw whatever pitch she calls, she knows what I want to throw next. Sometimes I throw the wrong pitch, but it doesn’t freak her out because she can still expect it. She knows what’s going to come.”
Ninemire said that early on in the season, the staff would call the game at times but their trust in Ziegenhirt has won over as the keys to the decision-making have been fully turned over to the players.
“We go over the scouting reports with her. We talk about the hitters and Lindsey and Jolene are pretty much the masters of their own game,” Ninemire said. “That’s really great because I always have believed that in order for your players to be successful, you have to let them be empowered by knowing the game. I’m glad that they are students of the game and they want to be a part of the investment in what’s out there. It has worked out great.”
Luckily for the Bears, the situation is anything but new for Ziegenhirt as she was encouraged to call games herself at a young age, well before high school.
“It helps that I know Jolene so well but it’s kind of just like being a student in school—you’re a student of the game and you watch the tapes and you read the scouting reports,” Ziegenhirt said. “You kind of know the batters before they even step in the box. It’s actually really fun. I really enjoy it.”
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Henderson was named a first-team All-American earlier this week and is the face of the team. Her battery mate has had an equally important but far more anonymous season, batting .216 with a team-leading eight home runs and no postseason honors.
“Lindsey is a real fighter behind the plate,” Ninemire said. “Her numbers are not what they normally are for hitting this year, but she always has that potential and I was so happy that she did finally get a home run at the Kentucky Super Regional to kind of put the icing on the cake for us. She’s a very good catcher for us behind the plate, a very smart, intelligent player behind the plate. So the two of them together really gives us quite an advantage.”
Henderson agrees with her coaches assessment of Ziegenhirt’s ability and meaning to the team. The catcher herself has a simple explanation.
“I’ve always been coach’s daughter,” Ziegenhirt said. “I’ve been there when they’ve been stressed out and worried and complaining about practices and stuff so I always go out of my way to help out the coaches and really help the team understand that we have to help them as much as they help us. I think it’s really helped me play better because I know the intricacies of the game and I’ve been taught the fundamentals for a long time so that helps a lot.”
As the Golden Bears take aim at extending their season in elimination play, Cal’s sophomore battery mates can look back on all they’ve shared while anticipating two more seasons in the same uniform.
“It’s really cool to be able to say that I’ve played with the same person for 11 years,” Henderson said. “I think it’s like marriage when you say it’s our 25th anniversary. We’ve been together for 11 years and not many people can say that. I think it’s really cool and really unique.”