Torero softball powered by youth
College freshmen seem to have it rough.
There’s the adjustment to a new environment, often far from the friendly confines of home, and without many of the friends one grew up with. There’s the added challenge of harder classes and higher expectations for extracurriculars. More than anything, it’s often one’s first real exposure to an independent life.
For many, it’s not an easy adjustment to make. Don’t tell that to the University of San Diego softball team, though.
For the second straight year, the program’s best players are underclassmen. Outfielder Taylor Spence, a sophomore, is hitting a robust .424 as the table setter of the Toreros’ offense after leading the team with a .391 batting average as a freshman last season.
Fellow second-year star Lauren Kane, last year’s West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year, is one of the team leaders in slugging percentage. The only girl ahead of her is freshman shortstop Sara Silveyra.
Silveyra has burst onto the scene early in the season and claimed Conference Player of the Week honors last month. It turns out that these fast starts are no fluke. Rather, as all three girls alluded to in a recent interview with The USD Vista, the program fosters an environment where age takes a noticeable backseat to talent. It starts with the performances of Kane and Spence last spring.
“It was good to get a fresh start in college,” Spence said. “I knew as a freshman I had to prove myself, and that drove me to play well right away.”
Kane agreed with the sophomore sensation.
“From the start, I looked at myself as one of the players,” Kane said. “Everybody’s the same on the field regardless of age, so I never really separated myself just because I was young.”
With their strong 2016 seasons in the rearview mirror, both girls are now looked to as leaders of the 2017 Toreros’ roster despite their relative youth.
“Last year showed that I can be a leader regardless of my age,” Kane said. “I learned a lot from the seniors last year and their ways of leadership. I know I can help this team, and that gives me confidence to step up and help my teammates when they need it.”
One of those teammates is freshman phenomenon Silveyra, who was drawn to USD in large part because of the lack of a class hierarchy within the program.
“The environment is really nice here,” Silveyra said. “All of the upperclassmen are very welcoming. It’s more of a family vibe, and I really liked that.”
That sisterly vibe is already paying dividends for the young infielder during both slumps and hot streaks.
“I struggled at the beginning of the year, especially mentally, and I knew I wasn’t performing the way I could,” Silveyra said. “My coaches and teammates helped me through those early struggles, and if I ever start to doubt myself now, I can go back to those conversations.”
One of the foremost mentors in the early going has been Spence, a former teammate of Silveyra’s when both were making their way through the travel ball ranks.
“I always try to encourage her,” Spence said. “I always just remind her to stay humble and to keep working hard and being a good teammate. If you can keep doing that, the results are going to come.”
Silveyra takes comfort knowing that she is surrounded by considerable talent here at Alcalá Park.
“[Spence has] always been really good,” Silveyra said. “So for her and my other teammates to have that kind of confidence in me makes a huge difference.”
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some growing pains for one of the freshest faces in the Toreros’ lineup.
Silveyra, a native of Camarillo, Calif., has had some struggles that many college freshmen can relate to.
“I would say that the time management aspect of college has been the hardest,” Silveyra said. “School is really hard sometimes, and especially during the season, there’s hardly any time to get everything done. It’s definitely something I’m still learning how to manage.”
On the field, however, there appears to be little that the young shortstop is still figuring out.
Thanks to the impressive precedent set by Taylor Spence and Lauren Kane in their own freshman campaigns, and combined with the familial dynamics guiding the Toreros’ chemistry every time they run onto the diamond, Silveyra is thriving in her first season as a Torero.
“The girls here don’t make me feel young, and I’m not looked at as a freshman,” Silveyra said. “I feel like they respect me and believe that I can do what they can do.”
The notoriously-difficult jump to the college ranks is quickly becoming easy for Torero softballers. A school that each of the last two WCC Freshman of the Year title holders have called home could soon add a third.
The USD softball program is already hovering around .500, and the Toreros’ record currently sits at 14-15. The team appears to still have its brightest days ahead of it, a prospect that can make any Torero fan grin about the possibilities for the future.
Written by Noah Hilton, Assistant Sports Editor