Softball

After an off-season spent training alone, Bryce Holmgren leads SU in hitting

Courtesy of SU Athletics

Bryce Holmgren has fit right in at SU after transferring.

Three days after Bryce Holmgren started her sophomore season in early August at Western Kentucky, she requested a release from the team.

The left fielder simply said WKU “wasn’t for me,” after hitting .313 in 45 games as a utility player during her freshman year. The Roland, Iowa, native sent emails to multiple Division I programs and Syracuse head coach Mike Bosch responded. But the two sides struck a deal too late to enroll in a new school for fall semester, so she remained at WKU.

“I just wasn’t happy and I think everyone knew I wasn’t happy,” Holmgren said. “I got to go to find where I could everything I love and be happy.”

Until Holmgren made it to that new place, though, she had to train without coaches, team facilities or teammates to help out. The left-handed hitter joined the Syracuse squad only a week before the season began but since then, she’s dominated at the plate. The sophomore transfer boasts a .482 batting average, good for fourth in the ACC. She also ranks second in the conference in hits (27) and on-base percentage (.538). Holmgren hopes to sustain those numbers now that Syracuse (12-6) enters conference play on Friday at 5 p.m. at North Carolina State (6-15).

“Same ball, same bat, same sport,” Bosch said. “Just different colors, different teams.”

But a change in scenery made a big difference to Holmgren. After quitting Western Kentucky, she experienced the inconveniences of training for a DI sport without the perks. She found the normal student gym crowded and lacking necessary equipment. Instead of training at Manley Fieldhouse like the rest of her future teammates, Holmgren stayed in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and traveled to a Total Fitness Connection, a local gym down the street from WKU campus.

Will Hicks, the assistant athletics director for athletic performance at Syracuse, forwarded workouts to Holmgren. From nearly 800 miles away, she mimicked the workouts her teammates went through and immediately felt comfortable with the exercises because of her CrossFit background. Ladders and sprints prepared her for the conditioning test that awaited her in Syracuse.

Holmgren, though, said she hadn’t seen live pitching prior to arriving at WKU because she spent a month studying in Mexico over the summer. She reached out to assistant coach Alisa Goler to supplement hitting drills found on the internet. At Total Fitness Connection, Holmgren simulated different pitches by moving the tee around the cage, close for an inside pitch and farther away for the outside. In mid-fall, Holmgren saw her first pitches from a live arm since the previous season.

“It’s one of those things where it’s like riding a bike,” Holmgren said. “It’s not something you really forget how to do, there is a just a lot of fine tuning you have to do when you get back.”

Training sessions made for long days with Toby Baker, a family friend with a little coaching experience whose daughter, Kayla Baker, also transferred from WKU softball. After two hours at the gym, Holmgren traveled an hour from campus to Nashville Christian (Tennessee) High School to hit and field with Baker. She made the three-hour excursion worth it.

Baker took Holmgren through basic soft toss and hitting drills picked up from watching Western Kentucky practices. Then, the pair went into the outfield, where Holmgren felt uncomfortable at first. Her feet needed work and it proved harder to reacclimate there than at the plate. Over time she got quicker and attacked fly balls, often diving for one along the foul line. Even with no coaches around, Holmgren wanted to simulate game play. That meant full speed, full time.

“She was getting herself in shape and ready to play ball right when she stepped on (Syracuse) campus,” Baker said.

A week before the Orange’s season started in February, Holmgren ran sprints with a teammate for the first time in more than half-a-year. Senior Sydney O’Hara and sophomore Hailey Archuleta welcomed the transfer with a practice gasser test, a challenge she was more than ready for.

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