The California Nine
Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 13, 2014 09:02
There are about 60 students from California attending NDSU; nine of them are on the softball team. Head Coach Darren Mueller said the program began recruiting from the Golden State 18 years ago when he was an assistant coach. They haven’t stopped.
Their pitch to recruits from California is working. There are more players from California on the team, nine, than from any other state. In contrast, the team only has one player from North Dakota.
Seven of the Californians will return next year and Mueller said there aren’t any plans to let up recruiting from the West Coast.
“We started going out there because of the ability for them to play year round and the number of games they play in added experience to our program,” Mueller said.
While there are upsides and downsides to playing softball in North Dakota, two of the team’s seniors say they never regretted their decision to choose NDSU.
Senior catcher Jenina Ortega, from San Jose, Calif. was recruited by Mueller about four years ago, it didn’t take her long to commit to the school.
“I was really excited about the people that were here,” Ortega said.
“There were other options but I kind of just knew this was the right place,” she added. “It only took me a day to commit.”
Brandi Enriquez, from Norwalk, Calif., joined Ortega in 2010.
“I honestly just wanted to get away from California,” Enriquez said. “I just wanted something new, something different.”
THEY DIDN’T COME FOR THE WEATHER
In many areas in California, the difference between summer and winter is just a few degrees. It’s not rare to find Southern Californians at the beach in the middle of January.
“The weather was kind of a struggle, I had never seen snow before I got here,” Enriquez said.
But after three and a half years of trekking through the snow, Ortega and Enriquez have gotten used to it. Their fellow Californian teammates are getting used to it, too.
“We do hear a lot about the weather, however I think NDSU sells itself,” Mueller said.
“We have excellent academic programs here and also one thing we consistently hear is how friendly the people are here,” he added. “We have also had some success in our program and feel that helps us in our recruiting.”
California and the Midwest have their cultural differences. Californians say ‘soda,’ North Dakotans says ‘pop,’ California has Carl’s Jr., North Dakota has Hardee’s and the list goes on.
Enriquez and junior Krista Menke, a Nebraska Native, are roommates and they say they are always learning more about each other and their different cultures, especially recipes for food and lingo.
“I feel it’s a culture shock sometimes, learning things about each other,” Enriquez said.
Ortega said she learned to love Fargo and said the people are nicer here.
But it doesn’t matter what the makeup of their team is because they are all one family now.
“We all have one goal in mind and that’s to win,” Menke said. “I feel like it’s not that big of thing having nine teammates from California.”
Coach Mueller said the team is close but the true test of how they mesh as a team will take place during the season.
Culture isn’t the only difference for the nine women from California.
Practicing in a gym is not typical on the west coast, but at NDSU it is the norm.
“I’ve never played in a gym before I got here,” Enriquez said.
Mueller said they don’t use the fact they can’t practice outdoors until mid-spring as an excuse.
“We use the time to break down and sharpen their skills and enjoy the time on the road,” he said.
The team isn’t scheduled to play their first home game in Fargo until April 4. So far that hasn’t hurt them, they are 3-1 with big wins over Morehead State, a blowout against Tennessee Tech, 13-0 and a win against Notre Dame, 4-1.
Coach Mueller joked that he should buy an apartment in Southern California.
Mueller and his staff scout players at large tournaments, primarily in Orange County, Calif.
He said he is out there five to six times per year.
NDSU isn’t the only area team recruiting from California either.
Minot State has five Californians on its softball team, South Dakota State has four, South Dakota has three and Valley City State has two.
While the team will lose Enriquez and Ortega, Mueller said they have two incoming freshmen from California to fill their spots.