Softball: Jessica Mendoza
May 7, 2002
Even softball head coach John Rittman will soon have to adjust.
'This has been so easy to do for the last four years,' the Cardinal skipper says with a smile as he begins to pencil in his starting lineup prior to Stanford's game against Washington. 'I'm sure I'll probably end up making a mistake next year just by habit.'Not that Stanford fans would mind if he did. However, senior centerfielder Jessica Mendoza- a fixture in the batting order at the No. 2 spot- will be graduating with a degree in American Studies in the spring and adjusting to life after collegiate softball.
And while she won't be patrolling the outfield at Boyd & Jill Smith Family Stadium next season, she has been a steady contributor throughout her four-year career and will be remembered as one of the most talented athletes in the history of the program. Mendoza, Stanford's only three-time First Team All-American, is currently the all-time Stanford record-holder in several offensive categories. Among them: batting average (.432), hits (321), doubles (70), triples (9), home runs (49), runs scored (225) and stolen bases (83). In addition, she is second in walks, RBI, at bats, and games played.
'I've always told myself not to be satisfied,' said Mendoza. 'After my freshman season, people were telling me that I had accomplished so much so quickly, and that nothing else could really top that. But there is so much more to accomplish, and that is the kind of mentality you need to have as a player, to keep pushing yourself.'
Mendoza has had little trouble motivating herself since her rookie campaign. As a freshman, she was named Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year and garnered First Team All Pac-10 accolades. The Camarillo, Calif., native shattered school single-season records for home runs, batting average, hits and doubles in her initial season on The Farm. There was no evidence of a sophomore slump in her second season, as the 5-9 senior was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year- the first Stanford athlete to earn the honor. Mendoza's junior year offered much of the same, earning All-conference honors for the third straight season and leading the Cardinal to its first-ever Women's College World Series appearance.
Achievements aside, Mendoza's collegiate dream remains to win a national championship. She's done everything possible to make that happen for a Stanford program that was a non-scholarship, club-level operation just five years ago.
'Most of it just has to do with the type of people involved in the program,' said Mendoza, who credits much of her softball success to her father Gil. 'When I came in as a freshman, we were the team everyone would beat. I can remember during that first season, our goal was to win just one game a week. Then it became to just make it to NCAA Regionals. Now as a senior, we expect to win every game and if we lose, it doesn't sit well. We expect to host Regionals. We expect to make it to the College World Series. So the expectations have changed a lot in those four years.'
With just one week remaining in the regular season, Mendoza has been brilliant again as a senior. She has started all but one game and is leading the team with a .387 batting average. Not to mention she leads the club in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, total bases, slugging and on-base percentage and stolen bases. As the 2002 season continues to wind down, Mendoza will be in contention for numerous other end-of-the-year awards.
Whether or not Stanford returns to the College World Series in late May, Mendoza- who is planning to finish her Masters in social science and education while working out with next year's Cardinal club- will have already left her mark on the Cardinal program.
'One of my biggest goals when I decided to come to Stanford was to help build this program,' Mendoza added. 'Our senior class helped build this program. There have always been good players here, but we haven't always had a 'name'. Stanford has a reputation now as one of the best teams in the country.'
As does Mendoza, who is recognized by her peers as one of the best players in the nation. The senior, who competed on the gold-medal winning USA Red Team last year for USA softball, has once again been chosen as one of 22 athletes to move onto the upcoming World Championship camp in May and June of 2002. Another possibility for Mendoza down the road- a spot on the 2004 USA Olympic team.
'That would be the ultimate dream,' said Mendoza.