The Humboldt State softball team added to its rich history as a national powerhouse in 2016. The Jacks reeled off their first 50-win season since 2013, landing themselves in the finals of the NCAA National Championships. They fell just short of their third national title, losing to North Alabama in three games.
With a roster full of returning players, you can be sure that series has not been forgotten.
This veteran team has a starting lineup featuring six players who have championship experience. Ranked No. 2 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association preseason poll, the Lumberjacks also have three of the best players in Division II softball headlining their roster.
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Three Jacks made the Schutt Sports/ NFCA DII National Player of the Year preseason watch list. Junior centerfielder Hanna Holland — the reigning California Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year — is the youngest. She led Humboldt in batting average (.413), hits (83), runs (58) and walks (42), while setting a new school and CCAA record for stolen bases with 70.
She is a major threat atop the order as the first batter an opposing pitcher must see each game.
“It’s great,” senior shortstop Tiffany Hollingsworth said of having Holland leading off. “I’ve played with Hanna for four or five years now. We played travel ball together. I know what to expect from her, and she knows what to expect from me. If she gets on base, she expects me to hit her in, and if she doesn’t get on base, I’m going to pick her up.”
Entering the circle for her final season at Humboldt State is senior Maddie Williams. Williams is coming off the best season of her career with the Jacks, going 26-4 with a 1.34 ERA. 257 strikeouts and 10 shutouts. She is now the ace of the staff, as last year’s CCAA Athlete of the Year and All-American Katie Obemma was lost to graduation.
She has taken to the role in dominant fashion. Williams is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA and 21 strikeouts to start the young season.
“I’ve played with Maddie since I’ve been 12, so I’ve known Maddie for awhile,” Hollingsworth said. “Since freshman year until now, she has grown to be an amazing pitcher. She shuts everyone down. Honestly, it’s hard to find words on how great she is doing this year in the start of the [Desert Stinger] tournament and the past two years. She’s just unstoppable.”
Hollingsworth returns to the heart of the lineup. She has been as consistent as they come, both in the infield and at the plate. The third of the Jacks’ trio of preseason watch players, Hollingsworth brings her RBI prowess to the heart of a potent lineup. Her 58 runs batted in led the CCAA last season, and she is already out to a hot start with nine in her first five games this year.
“It is stressful hitting No. 3,” Hollingsworth admitted. “At the same time, my job is not to hit myself in. It’s to move the runners, or get them in. That’s my thought when I get up: I’m getting those girls in no matter what it takes.”
The Jacks opened the season out in Las Vegas, sweeping through the Desert Stinger Tournament, winning all five games by a combined score of 55-10. Hollingsworth took home MVP honors in that tournament after batting .438 with three home runs and those nine RBIs.
“I think that last year had a little bit to do with it,” Hollingsworth said. “We came in and we were just smashing the ball. We all talked about it and said, ‘It’s a new year, let’s get this stuff done.’ We all were just hitting and hitting. Maddie [Williams] and [Kalyn Paque's] pitching was great this weekend. It was an all-around team win.”
It was just the start the Jacks needed. This weekend they host their rivals, Chico State. The Wildcats also swept through the Desert Stinger, winning the first five games of their season for the first time since 1978. This early CCAA matchup pits the two teams predicted to vie for the CCAA title this season.
“It was nice to go out there to get the kinks out,” Hollingsworth said. “But we are really excited for this weekend. It’s going to be great.”
Last season may be in the rearview mirror for the Jacks, but it is not completely forgotten. While Humboldt State's main focus right now is keyed in on their program’s 21st CCAA title, there is no doubt that their eighth West Region title and a return to the championships is their highest goal.
Being on top of their game so early in the season certainly helps.
“I don’t think we think about it too much,” Hollingsworth said. “We just play, and it happens. We know that we are a good team and we have a lot of depth, so we go out there and just play our game. If we lose, we learn from it. And if we win, we learn from that, too.”