Stepping onto the college diamond for a freshman can be daunting.
Under the lights, in front of several thousand fans with television cameras surrounding them, they play with and face some of the best players in the country.
When Oregon softball’s freshman catcher Mary Iakopo stepped up to the plate against Weber State on March 9, she had the bases loaded with the Ducks up 3-1. With the swing of her bat, Iakopo launched a grand slam – her first home run at Jane Sanders Stadium.
“It’s a great feeling,” Iakopo said after that game. “Haven’t had a packed stadium like this – never played in front of a stadium this big. It was a great feeling to have so much support from everyone.”
As a freshman, Iakopo has the difficult task of getting play time for the Ducks with an experienced catcher in front of her: senior Gwen Svekis. However, Oregon has found a way to rotate the two of them with Iakopo being a part of 34 games while Svekis has played a role in 35 games.
Iakopo plays as a designated player more often than as a catcher, leaving Svekis as the go-to catcher, helping Iakopo along to be the natural successor.
One day after her grand slam, Iakopo had another big play, but this time she was behind the plate.
Montana had a runner on first, and as the Grizzlies attempted to advance their runner to second, Iakopo quickly responded with a throw across the diamond to pick off the baserunner.
“Mary has a cannon of an arm, and we’ve been dying for someone who can show it off, and it was great for her to come out and throw one down there,” White said. “I think DJ [Sanders] almost didn’t get there it was that quick. It was a great throw.”
In the circle that evening was junior Megan Kleist, who retired the other 20 batters she faced that night in a no-hitter win.
Kleist has seen several catchers while at Oregon, including Janelle Lindvall — current senior Lauren Lindvall’s sister — and Svekis. Now with Iakopo coming into the rotation behind the plate, just how different are the two catchers?
“I don’t think there’s anything really different,” Kleist said. “Mary has learned so much from Gwen this year. She’s almost like a clone.”
For Svekis, she doesn’t buy the comparison.
“I think Mary and I are completely different players,” Svekis said. “I challenge her to do some things the way I do them and she challenges me to do some things the way she does them, so in that way maybe we have some moments of mirroring each other.
“But we’re completely different players.”
The upside of having Iakopo, along with fellow freshman Shaye Bowden, is there will be experience under their belts, especially in Iakopo, who is in line to be the starting catcher next season when she’s just a sophomore.
“Super proud where she’s going,” Kleist said. “And I’m excited to see where she goes for the next four years.”
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow