Centerfielder flourishes for Rutgers after gunning down mental block
When Jackie Bates was researching schools to attend after earning her high school diploma the list was neither extensive nor expansive.
It did not have a slew of schools strewn out across the country — in fact, she composed a list of just one. She wanted to be a part of the softball program at Rutgers.
“When I was being recruited, I didn’t look at many colleges far away or many to begin with,” said the senior centerfielder. “I really only wanted to come to Rutgers.”
It was an easy decision for her to be close to her home in Lincroft, New Jersey, and play at a prominent university.
But things weren't always easy at first.
An athlete’s freshman season can be the hardest in college due to how they must adjust to elevated levels of competition on the field and in the classroom.
Despite earning starts in 50 of 52 games, Bates struggled with a .213 batting average in her first season at the Division I level in the Big East Conference. During her sophomore campaign, she saw an increase in her batting average moving up to .258 and she started in every game.
At that point, she began to alter how she approached the plate.
“I changed my mental approach a lot,” Bates said. “I know coming in as a freshman and a sophomore, I would get very stressed out and down on myself. I’ve learned how to ignore that and believe in myself more.”
Her adjustments showed as she raised her batting average by a staggering .177, going from hitting .213 in her freshman season to .390 in her junior campaign last year. Bates also started every game of the Scarlet Knights' first and only season in the American Athletic Conference.
“It’s a natural improvement,” said head coach Jay Nelson on improving hitting. “But she kind of over-excelled in her improvement from her freshman season. It’s also getting used to the college pitching and figuring it out. She had two years where she was still figuring it out, and then last year she completely figured it out."
He went on to praise her for the type of player she has become since arriving to the program.
“She has all the tools,” Nelson said. “She has good speed, she tracks balls well in the outfield, she has a good arm and she hits well. She’s durable and doesn’t get hurt much."
As someone who has started 158 games out of a possible 160, Bates has instituted her leadership and durability as a constant on this team.
“I think that just experience helped,” Bates said. “Right now, I’m doing a lot of things differently from my freshman year that I would have never thought to do. As a freshman, you are adjusting and try to learn the program and how to play at this level. By your junior year and senior year, you get used to it and have all the time to practice."
Bates will be the first one to tell someone that she is not a vocal leader — the Middletown South High School product leads by example to help her teammates. It’s just the way she sees herself having an impact on her fellow teammates.
Bates credits senior left fielder Chandler Howard and senior left-hander Alyssa Landrith with playing a part in her development. She said the three of them feed off one another.
Now in her final year, taking her third conference head-on in the Big Ten, she has established herself as one of the most consistent players and leaders of the team.
Five games into the last round at her dream school, Bates hopes that she and her senior classmates can go out with a bang.
“As a teammate you love having her on your side because you know she will work hard for you,” Howard said. “It’s been great being able to play next to her in both the lineup and the outfield. She handles the game with such poise and never lets anything affect her. It shows how well she plays."
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