Raw talent served former Phillips Academy star Michelle Hollebeke well as a freshman at Colgate University last year but, with a more business-like approach, she's using much more than talent this year as the team's star pitcher.
As a freshman, Hollebeke was a solid 8-6 with a 2.76 ERA, but she's now the undisputed ace of the staff with a 9-2 record and 1.20 ERA.
"Last year, as a freshman, I was a lot more nervous and concerned more about outside things — what the pitching coach would think, what the umpire would call, what the team would do," said Hollebeke, a resident of North Reading. "Now I'm just focusing on one pitch at a time and doing the best I can."
What's amazing about Hollebeke's success is that it's come while she's dealt with a stress fracture in her lower back, a problem that developed as a result of fracturing her back as an 11-year-old playing basketball.
"I actually have to take therapy and be really careful with what I do," she said. "If I'm not careful, it can be pretty painful. Currently, I can only throw my fastball, a change-up and curveballs. I haven't thrown any screwballs or risers because it hurts too much."
But Hollebeke has persevered and, despite the pain, actually improved her control this year. Last year, with 41Ks and 34 walks in 88 innings, she averaged about a walk for every two and a half innings.
This year, with 31Ks and 16 walks in 64 innings, it's just one walk for every four innings.
Colgate coach Vickie Sax appreciates the sacrifices that Hollebeke has made.
"It's really a matter of keeping her body as healthy as possible," said Sax. "She does have her limitations and her back not being 100 percent keeps her from reaching her full potential as an athlete.
"We recruited Michelle beyond the circle. Our hope was to have her bat contributing to our offense and play first base when not on the mound. However, her stress fracture in her back doesn't allow her to leave the comfort zone of pitching. Her energy needs to go where she can most help the team.
"She has stepped up mentally to the challenge of handling pressure better this year. Last year, she went through the typical 'intimidation' phase of opponents being college hitters. She is (also) in better pitching shape.
"If she stays the course, the (Colgate) record book will soon have Hollebeke in it."
Hollebeke has also increased her love for Russian studies, which is her major field of interest. In fact, she's considering a transfer to a larger school for a semester in the fall with the intent to return to Colgate for softball next spring.
Rising as sophomore
Year Record ERA Innings Strikeouts Opponents' Average
2009 8-6 2.76 88 41.266
2010 9-2 1.20 6431.190