OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oregon roster boasts an All-American pitcher in Cheridan Hawkins, an outfielder in Janie Takeda who is rewriting the record book at the plate, and a freshman third baseman in Jenna Lilley who leads the team in hitting.
Catcher Janelle Lindvall can't match any of those superlatives. UO coach Mike White reserves another for her.
"I tell you what, this is the MVP of our team," White said while seated next to Lindvall at a press conference following the Ducks' Super Regional victory.How does that sit with Hawkins, who on Wednesday became Oregon's first two-time first-team All-American? "I would completely agree," she said Wednesday, a day before the Ducks were to open the Women's College World Series against UCLA.
"She's not just a catcher," Hawkins said. "She does so much more than that -- especially for me, and I know for the other pitchers, as well."
Lindvall is no slouch in her traditional duties. She's hitting .341, with a team-high 51 RBI. She's thrown out six of 19 potential basestealers, and has just four passed balls in 53 games.
Her ability to impact the team beyond that is what endears so much respect from White, Hawkins and the rest of the program.
"She doesn't just catch the ball and throw it back," Hawkins said. "She calls the pitches, she runs [defensive] plays, she keeps the energy up on the infield, she keeps a good mindset for us as pitchers."
Lindvall has an intense, stoic demeanor that exudes confidence. Working with a pitcher in Hawkins who wears her heart on her sleeve, Lindvall is a steadying force for the UO ace.
On Tuesday, the Ducks held practice at Oklahoma City University, whose field showed the effects of the record rainfall the area endured in May. The circle in the bullpen was a muddy mess, and it became a bother for Hawkins.
Freshman Gwen Svekis was catching Hawkins, while Lindvall sat along the fence giving the pitcher feedback. White, who was throwing batting practice at the time, calls Lindvall "a second coach" in the bullpen. Lindvall could see the frustration mounting for Hawkins.
At that point, Lindvall the UO softball player transitioned into Lindvall the UO psychology major. She and Hawkins took a seat on top of the dugout, chatted for a few minutes, and soon enough Hawkins had a smile on her face again.
"I like to get to know my pitchers as well as I can -- on and off the field," Lindvall said. "I'm a believer in the benefits of the mental side of the game. I feel like it's helped me personally, so I do try to have my teammates see that side of the game as well. Try to control that, if I can."
One area in which Hawkins has improved as a junior is in her reaction to a mistake. If she gives up a home run, it's less likely to snowball into a big inning. Part of that owes to her own development, and part owes to Lindvall's ability to help manage her pitchers' emotions during a game.
Her background in psychology helps Lindvall pick up "tendencies, thought patterns" in her teammates, she said: "When they are successful, when they get in trouble. And it's my job to try to prevent [the latter] if I can."
This season, Lindvall has also taken on the added responsibility of calling pitches. She shared those duties with an assistant coach last season, but this spring Lindvall took over full-time.
Game-planning how to attack hitters is a collaborative process among coaches and the battery. But when Hawkins is in the circle, it's Lindvall picking the pitches for the most part.
She's enjoying the added responsibility. "It keeps me more focused," Lindvall said. "When I have a game-plan and I know what I want to happen, it's easier for me to relay that to whoever's pitching and be on the same page. When the pitch's called from the dugout, it's harder to do that."
Lindvall is also blossoming into that "second coach" role in the bullpen that White has come to appreciate. A former ace fastpitch pitcher himself, White often mimics opposing starters for the sake of his hitters. That means he's not watching over every pitch Hawkins and No. 2 starter Karissa Hovinga throw in the bullpen, making Lindvall's ability to work with them in practice invaluable.
"He's the master at all that -- but I've had the opportunity to sit in on bullpens and listen to everything he says," Lindvall said. "I'm not oblivious to the points he's trying to make, because I've spent so much time learning with him."
Lindvall is a student of the game, and a teacher too. For those reasons and more, there may be no player more valuable to Oregon's run to the Women's College World Series this season.