Photo: Connor McCourtney
This season has been exceptional for the Drake softball team. Led by senior Jenna DeLong, the team is out to a 29-15 overall record and a 15-1 record in the Missouri Valley Conference, which is good enough for first place as of April 21. There have been ups and downs to the season, including a five-game losing streak and an eight-game winning streak.
But when DeLong is in the circle, good things seem to happen for the Bulldogs. What makes the season even better is that next year the Bulldogs will have another strong senior leader in Torey Craddock.
“Torey reminds me of myself in a couple of ways,” DeLong said. “Both of us have a passion for the game, and Torey’s passion is expressed through her leadership on and off the diamond.”
Craddock, a junior second baseman, has a team-best 30 runs batted in as of April 21 and leads the team in batting average at .331. Craddock also leads the team in hits, and she is second in home runs only to senior Erin Mollohan and — guess who — DeLong.
“Torey is often times the spark that ignites our offensive rallies,” DeLong said. “She has come up many times with game-changing at-bats and game-winning hits.”
Craddock has proved to her teammates that she can be just as much of a leader off the field as on it. After starting her career as a quiet player, she has really evolved into a more vocal presence.
“It is so helpful to have her voice in my ear from second base when I am in the circle and need some helpful words of wisdom,” DeLong said.
Younger players have also noticed Craddock’s leadership. Freshman Amy Pierce sees nothing holding Craddock back from being the team’s leader next season.
“Torey is definitely prepared to lead this team next year and will step into the role easily,” Pierce said. “She is someone who can be looked up to, and she always plays with a positive attitude.”
Craddock attributes much of her leadership ability to the team’s current leader, DeLong.
“Jenna is such a team cheerleader,” Craddock said. “Even when she is having a bad game, she is always there to pick up the rest of the team and keep us motivated, which really makes my job a whole lot easier.”
It took Drake seven MVC games before it lost its first one of the season — a feat that has never been accomplished by a past Drake softball team. Much of the success this season can be attributed to Craddock and DeLong, and hopefully Craddock will be able to continue the success next season without DeLong’s help.
“I will be the oldest player in the infield next season, so I will need to step up and take responsibility,” Craddock said. “It’s nice to know I won’t need to be loud and obnoxious to lead, I can just be myself and play, and it will work out itself.”
Pierce said that Craddock’s presence next year will help the team adjust to losing a talented senior class after the season.
“It will definitely be big shoes to fill with this senior class leaving,” Pierce said. “But Torey is someone who can make the transition easy.”
DeLong also sees no problem with the team remaining consistent under Craddock’s wing next season.
“The team is always welcoming of Torey’s leadership,” DeLong said. “Her abilities as a player are unlimited and her leadership skills are constantly evolving, and I am positive she will be effective for this team the rest of this season and into next season.”