In a team brimming with personality, not everyone can be the clown. Senior Blaire Luna plays a silent role, letting her teammates assume center stage in the dugout before stepping up to star in the center of the diamond.
Certainly a positive influence on most games, Luna holds a career record of 80-23 with a 1.61 ERA while striking out 1,006 and walking 280 in 662.2 innings and holding opposing hitters to a .165 batting average. Last season, her records included: 286 strikeouts (fourth in the Big 12, 17th nationally), 10.6 strikeouts per seven innings (third in the nation) and 35 shutouts (sixth in Big 12 history).
But after Luna allowed five runs on three hits in the final game against Oregon last season, she wanted to reassess.
“It was really tough watching the World Series from home on the couch, not being there,” Luna said. “But we’ll use that as motivation. The thing that affected me last year was confidence. This year, I’ve worked on hitting my spot so I can go out there and not think so much.”
With a dual focus on conditioning and confidence, Luna spent the offseason training. Her assertion is clear to head coach Connie Clark, who believes last year’s Regional was a “series well played but [makes Blaire] hungry because she had an opportunity to shut the door.”
“I think she’s going to keep that in the back of her mind through this season,” Clark said. “Blaire’s always that quiet competitor but she’s speaking up more in team meetings than in the past. When she says something, people listen. She’s competitive, hungry, has the experience and wants to go out on a high note; I don’t think she’ll be satisfied without that.”
When pitcher Rachel Fox transferred to Texas A&M before the season, Luna’s role as mentor elevated. She joins fellow senior Kim Bruins, sophomore Gabby Smith and freshman Holly Kern for what Clark describes as “a lot of different looks.”
“We’ve got a staff of four and all four of them will get the ball early, probably in our initial tournament,” Clark said. “Blaire is someone we’ll have to rely on heavily this year — she’s going to be our go-to girl — but it’s a good year to have youth whether it’s in the circle or anywhere else, when you still have a couple of very good pitchers like [Luna and Bruins].”
Smith looks to Luna not only as a go-to teammate but also as a teacher.
“She leads by example because when she’s out on the mound, she’s ready — ready to go,” Smith said. “That helps us be ready as well.”
Smith said Luna has taught her to be patient and relax.
“If something goes wrong, someone hits a home run or gets a good hit? [Blaire taught me] to just breath it and don’t take it too seriously, to have fun.”
As she teaches others, Luna also constantly works to improve herself. She’s practiced a new change-up for the season and aims to pitch every game, though she admits it may not be realistic. Drawing inspiration from the volleyball team’s championship, Luna looks to competitors as well to intensify her hunger. Namely, 2012 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and rival pitcher, Keilani Ricketts of Oklahoma.
“It’s tough [being in the same conference as Ricketts], she’s a great pitcher and she’s very dominating,” Luna said. “But she helps our team. Our mentality is that if we can hit her, we can hit anyone else.”