In its first two years of existence, the Clemson softball program has continued to turn heads and bring the heat both in the circle and behind the plate.
The Tigers’ ace, second-year freshman Valerie Cagle, has set the bar high for the tradition that is Clemson pitching.
The right-hander and utility player currently leads the ACC in total wins with a 12-1 record. Earlier this week, she earned national player of the week honors, a first for the program, following her strong performance in Clemson’s weep of Louisville last weekend.
“This past weekend was the first weekend this year that I felt like my hitting and my pitching kind of all came together,” Cagle said. “I felt comfortable at both, so it’s nice to see all of that coming together.”
For Cagle, her love of the game started at the early age of six. With a family that played both baseball and softball, Cagle grew up with the sport. The Virginia-native also had the unique experience of developing her softball skillset alongside her father since she was homeschooled throughout her academic career.
While going from a class of one to a class of 100 would be a challenge for many heading into their freshman year of college, Cagle has taken it in stride both on and off the field, earning All-ACC Academic honor roll last spring and was tabbed a pre-season All-ACC selection prior to the start of the 2021 season.
“It wasn’t as big of an adjustment, especially in the classroom, as I kind of expected,” Cagle said. “I think we have so much academic support here with tutoring, academic advising and just all of the resources we have that whatever we need, we have access to, so if you’re struggling with something, it’s there. Even though you’re in that classroom with a hundred people, you still have that one-on-one when you need it. So that was definitely something that was very helpful for me in the transition.”
Although her first season in the Clemson uniform was cut short last spring due to the pandemic, Cagle is thankful for the experiences that she was able to have alongside her teammates and the types of opponents that they were able to face, giving them a glimpse into the success that they would later have this spring.
“I think the biggest thing was just the experiences we had, you know, we played Georgia, we started conference play and just taking those experiences and becoming more comfortable in those situations and just being able to build off of that this year,” the righty said. “I’m going into weekends way more comfortable than I was and I’m more comfortable with the player that I am and not feeling like I have to force something to make it happen, so just the experience aspect was the big thing.”
Now with some game and classroom experience under her belt, Cagle has taken full advantage of the opponents and many challenges Clemson has faced, including their lone pair of losses earlier this season versus Virginia Tech.
“That was definitely a big series,” Cagle said. “It was the first ACC games that we were playing this year and we knew it was going to be a big challenge. We came out that first game and we got the win and then the other two we didn’t, but we still played very competitive softball against them.
“We had great at-bats against top tier pitching, so starting off like that and proving to ourselves that we were at that level that early in the season was definitely a building block to prove what we can accomplish the rest of the year.”
Since then, Cagle and her teammates have taken that minor setback and instead made it into a major comeback. With 17-straight wins and five-straight series sweeps, the Clemson softball program is on the verge of making Clemson history in its upcoming three-game series against No. 11 Duke this weekend in Clemson.
“I think the big thing for us is just to not overhype the situation,” Cagle said. “It’s going to be a big series and it’s a big deal, but just playing the way we’ve been playing and staying within ourselves like we have for the whole season so far because we’ve been successful this far for a reason. Just because we’re playing maybe a tougher opponent, we can’t change our plan too.”
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