All Rochelle Friend has ever known at Linfield is success.
By the end of her freshman season in 2007, she already had a national championship to her name. Starting 42 games that year, Friend established herself as mainstay in the Linfield outfield while being honored with the club’s Rookie of the Year award.
For Friend, being part of Linfield’s “golden age” of softball is something that is hard to put into perspective.
“I don’t think I realize how special it is sometimes because I haven’t seen it outside of what it is now,” notes the senior from Hood River, Ore., on her four years at Linfield. “It’s cool to be in a program that wins consistently because that expectation makes you work harder. It’s motivating.”
The memory of a national championship is one that Friend cherishes.
“It was crazy,” says Friend, an accounting major. “I played and was a part of it, but I also felt like it was other people’s year because I was young and hadn’t been around. This year I am excited to see how far we can go.
“The national championship feels like it just happened yesterday. In the same respect, it feels like it was a while ago, because we have had other opportunities (to reach the NCAA Finals).”
Now Friend is a senior.
Having been part of 146 wins, Friend is one of the program’s winningest players. If the Wildcats were to sweep the remainder of their Northwest Conference schedule, as well as win three games in the regional tournament, Friend would be part of the winningest senior class in Linfield history.
What Friend has provided in her four years is constant leadership and an unwavering enthusiasm that is hard to miss. Her humor has proven to be the right fit on a team with plenty to smile about.
“Our team is a riot,” says Friend. “Everybody is chiming in with their two cents all the time, which makes practices entertaining. Our team is pretty loose all the time.”
Sami Keim, a sophomore catcher, has had a first-hand look into what Friend has brought to the club.
“Her leadership is crucial for this team,” notes Keim. “Although we've all had experience, we are still quite a young team. Rochelle has been a starter for four years. She's won a national championship and she knows what it takes to be competitive on a national stage.”
Echoing Keim is Wildcats head coach Jackson Vaughan. For Vaughan, it is Friend’s experience that others look up to.
“All of her experience is a big plus for our team,” says Vaughan. “A lot of our players look to her in big games and see someone who is eager to take on the challenge, but really stays within herself and just plays the game as hard as she can on every pitch.”
While intangibles are the backbone of Friend’s game, the senior has also made some very measurable growth during her four seasons, most notably with the bat. Friend’s batting average has steadily risen from her .240 mark as a freshman.
A year ago, Friend tallied a .326 mark on her way to a second team all-NWC selection. She kept her swing smooth as the postseason came around, batting .500 in the 2009 NCAA West Regional.
“When I came in as a freshman I did not hit well at all,” recalls Friend. “I think hitting has been the biggest improvement. Just being consistent, working hard and getting better. I think it’s just more confidence. As I play more, I gain more confidence and that helps tremendously.”
Playing in the outfield for four years, Friend’s defensive abilities have served the ‘Cats well. Along with making big plays, she embodies an aggressive mentality that carries over to the rest of the team.
“She is the leader of the outfield and has great work ethic and hustle,” states Vaughan. "Rochelle has made a number of big diving catches during her career and really helps set a tough, sell-out attitude for our team defensively.”
As the season winds down, Friend’s only goal is a second trip to the World Series.
“The last couple years, we had a lot of pressure to win in the playoffs and it’s hard to live up to that,” explains Friend. “I don’t feel that pressure this year. Having a lot of new people who weren’t around when we won the national championship really relieves a lot of the pressure. We are just playing to play and see how we can get.”
With just a handful of games remaining in the regular season, the Wildcats hope to take their shot at another regional tournament. As pressured-packed games become a staple of late April and through the month of May, Linfield has a leader in Friend that understands the moment.
While others may be gripping the bat with white knuckles, this senior will be happily enjoying her final weeks on the diamond.
- Eric Evenson ‘11
Winning is habit forming
Director of Sports Information
McMinnville, OR 97128