Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ashley Czechner Steps Into Justin's World

Filling a hole left by a departed multi-time All-American or otherwise-recognized star can be difficult in any sport at any position for any team. When the replacing is occurring on a perennial top-ten team, the pressure is just all the greater. Yet that was the task given to Ashley Czechner in 2014.

After pitching behind Rachele Fico in the rotation in 2013, Czechner was left as the lone senior statesman to help lead a staff that also included two freshmen. A two-year Tiger after transferring from community college and, prior to that, the University of Maryland, Czechner's senior season's statistics are quite respectable, highlighted by a 3.45 ERA and an opponent's batting average of .276.

Though freshman Baylee Corbello ended up with about forty innings more of the workload and led in many of the statistical categories, Czechner's statistics were quite comparable and, as we Southerners say, within spittin' distance of her young counterpart.

Ashley answered many of my questions in this interview, and some of the topics we discussed include

  • Other sports she has played, besides softball
  • How she chose both of the Division 1 colleges she has attended
  • First-hand thoughts on the future of LSU's sophomore hurlers Corbello and Kelsee Selman
  • Thoughts on being left behind while her team traveled to Regionals
  • Her plans for the future

How did you get started playing softball?
I started playing softball when I was about six years old and I started pitching when I was about ten. I played coach’s pitch softball first, then moved into fastpitch softball when I was about nine. I played lots of different sports growing up, but I always excelled at softball and I loved the game, which is ultimately why I continued to play in high school and college.

Did you play any other sports besides softball?
Throughout my childhood, I played many different sports. I took golf and tennis lessons. I rode horses, did ballet, and played basketball and soccer as well as softball. I think it’s important to play as many sports as you can as you’re growing up, not only to make yourself into a versatile athlete, but playing sports helps you grow as a person by teaching you so many great life qualities.

Starting off your career at Maryland, what appealed to you about becoming a Terp?
During my recruiting process, I always told myself that I wanted to attend a big Division I university out of the state of South Carolina. Maryland just seemed like the right fit at the time; during all of my visits, everyone was very friendly, the campus was beautiful, and the whole environment was very different from South Carolina. At the time, Maryland was coming off a great softball season and I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to make an impact in the pitching rotation.

Then, jumping off of that, coming to LSU for your final two years of school and ball, how did you pick the Tigers as the place to finish your career?
As soon as I stepped onto LSU’s campus, I immediately felt at home. The atmosphere of Baton Rouge is incredible, especially on a Saturday during football season. I loved the softball stadium, I loved the girls on the team; everything just seemed perfect which is why I chose LSU to finish my softball career.

You were almost billed as the defacto replacement for Rachele Fico at the top of the staff for the 2014 season; did that add even more pressure to you and, if so, how did you handle it?
There was added pressure but I tried not to let it get to me. I didn’t handle the pressure well during the first part of the 2014 season; I tried to be perfect with hitting my spots and I was afraid to make mistakes. This mindset hurt my pitching quite a bit and it showed in my pitching performances. However, after our first SEC series, I began to calm down and just focus on winning games instead of how many strikeouts I got or how many hits I gave up. My pitching performances got better and I had a lot more fun as the season progressed.

Having pitched and practiced with them, I want you to give me your thoughts on Corbello and Selman coming in as freshmen and impressing like they did, and how bright you see their futures in Baton Rouge.
Baylee Corbello and Kelsee Selman aren’t just great pitchers, they’re also great people. They are so different from one another in regards to their pitching style, yet each is so effective when they’re facing a hitter. Baylee pitched more than Kelsee last season and she did terrific but I expect to see Kelsee get a lot more innings this upcoming season. I think that each one of them will have a huge role in the success of the LSU softball program in the years to come.

For Regionals, you were left off the roster and didn’t travel to Arizona. I’m not going to ask why because there’s no reason to, but I did want to ask what kind of feelings you had when you were sitting at home watching them on TV instead of cheering from the dugout or throwing from the circle.
Honestly, it was one of the lowest points in my life. I was devastated when I found out I was unable to travel to regionals with the team; I felt like I had wasted my senior season. I would have given anything to be out there in Arizona competing with my team. What made the situation worse was the announcers kept bringing up the fact that I hadn’t travelled and showing my picture on ESPN so everyone in the country was aware that I wasn’t in Tucson.

If you can describe it, tell me what you felt when you realized your career was officially over, when the last out was recorded and your last game was done. Just describe what you felt, if you can.
It honestly didn’t hit me until months later that I wasn’t going to be able to put on a LSU softball jersey again. After we lost in Arizona, and during the summer, it just felt like the offseason. It wasn’t until I got back to Baton Rouge to finish out my bachelor’s degree, and I didn’t have to go to practice or run the conditioning test, that I knew my collegiate softball career was officially over. It was a tough pill to swallow. I felt like I no longer had a purpose since I wasn’t getting to do the thing that had been a part of my life for the past decade. Nevertheless, being a regular student has given me so much more free time to get involved more on campus and enjoy college in a new way.

What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to stay involved with the game of softball in some shape, form, or fashion?
My future plans ultimately include attending dental school and becoming a dentist. I’ve recently applied to several dental schools and I’m just waiting to hear back from them regarding my acceptance. I love the game of softball, playing the game as well as coaching. I want to continue giving pitching lessons and if I’m not accepted into dental school this first time, then I would love to be a graduate assistant for a softball program and get my master’s degree. I think it would be cool to play softball professionally in Europe, Australia, or Japan if I got the opportunity as well.

Let’s say you were stranded on a deserted island, but you could take three things with you. No boats, no phones, but anything else goes. What would you take?
My dog, sunscreen, and a comfy bed.

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