By Isaac Harris
Four years ago, Debra Jones entered her freshman season coming to a Rider softball program that historically has not seen a lot of success. Since her first season ended with a 17-33 record, Jones has grown into an impactful leader, so much so that in her senior season the softball team is in striking distance of a playoff berth.
“She has carried the weight of the team on her shoulders in terms of being a go-to pitcher,” said Head Coach Davon Ortega.
From being a freshman struggling to figure out her role on the team to a senior that is a revered leader to young players, Jones credits the hard work and resilience throughout the years shaping the success for the final collegiate season.
“It’s just always been the theme to turn it around and turn it into a winning program and it’s really good to see and even though it has taken four years to able witness the impact I and my teammates made to make this a winning program,” said Jones.
Jones has been the reliable “go-to” pitcher for Ortega since the beginning of her Rider career. The senior hurler has grown into that role after struggling early in her career on the mound.
In her first career game, Jones gave up a grand slam in the bottom seventh inning, diminishing a four-run lead for Rider that tied the game. Since then, Jones has grown into a reliable pitcher, notably recording a season-high nine strikeouts in an outing against Siena on April 3.
The growth from struggling early on in her career has not only helped her grow into a strong pitcher but a strong leader. She is the “mom” figure of the bullpen for the younger players.
“What she brings is calmness and steadiness [in the bullpen] and they see that and it puts everyone at ease,” said Ortega.
Ortega added that Jones provides confidence for the younger pitchers with experience in the circle, especially when she has a good outing in the first game of the weekend series and a younger pitcher takes the mound after her.
“She’s always been reassuring to me,” said freshman pitcher Anne-Marie Groskritz.
Like Jones, Groskritz started her career with first year nerves in her first outing on the mound this year, and Jones has been supporting her with encouragement and offering advice when needed throughout the season.
Groskritz said, “When I first came in, she took me under her wing and [the] team jokes that she’s my mother because she always helps me, and she tells me what to do…and that has been a huge factor to my success.”
The first-year pitcher is not the only player Jones has made an impact on. Freshman second baseman and pitcher Jessie Niegocki said Jones has also been a great role model to her during this unique season.
“I’ve looked up to Deb for the composure she holds [on the mound],”said Niegocki.
Niegocki admires how Jones carries herself on and off the field. Like her teammates and coaches, she feels that Jones fits the “mom” or role model of the team quite well, always being approachable giving advice and giving teammates rides in her minivan if needed.
Even with the uniqueness of the shortened season, Jones feels that her role as leader on the team with senior teammates has helped this team have a good balance and helped the underclassman adjust to the season.
“I pride myself on leading by example; I’m not always the loudest person on the field or the most hype, but I think keeping the team composed in difficult situations or helping people out when they need it gives a good balance on the team,” said Jones.
Jones hopes that the team finishes strong toward the end year, makes a run in the playoffs and wins the conference tournament. Jones hopes to be remembered as a player that worked hard and respected her teammates when her career is all set.
Jones said, “I always thought it’s important to be respectful and to be a good person so don’t leave your legacy half full and have people take away from what you did [on field].”