During a Thursday interview with GoHatters.com, Chelsea Whalley couldn't help but smile. In fact, the Hatter senior was so excited to be talking about this year's softball team, by the end of the six minute conversation she said she had given herself goose bumps.
"I think everyone is really buying into the idea of the team this year," Whalley said. "You hear people constantly picking each other up, saying things like, ‘no one better than you,' or ‘you've got that curve ball.' All the little things add up to the fact that we truly believe in each other to the depths of our core, and it's the most amazing feeling. I have never been on a team like this. It's fantastic."
Whalley will help lead red-hot Stetson (15-6) south to Fort Myers for the start of Atlantic Sun Conference play this weekend as the Hatters face defending league champion Florida Gulf Coast (17-9) in a three-game series. The teams will play a doubleheader at 2 p.m. Saturday and a single game at 2 p.m. Sunday.
To say Whalley is having a career season would be an understatement. In her first three seasons combined, Whalley batted .213 with a total of four home runs and 16 RBI. In the first 21 games her senior year she is batting .345 with a team-high six home runs and 25 runs batted in.
Why such a drastic turnaround?
"I think a couple things have taken place that has improved her game," head coach Frank Griffin said. "One is that she is playing with a lot more confidence, and two, I think she has found that she can be successful hitting backside. That is something I try to teach all the kids because when you get to this level, taking it to the opposite field is a lot easier than pulling it. Some of them buy into it and some of them don't. I think Chelsea sees it."
The left-handed hitting Whalley certainly wore out the left side of the field on Wednesday against Colgate, hitting two opposite field doubles and a pair of home runs that threatened to take out the HatterVision camera located in the left field bleachers.
The Calgary native will be the first to agree that she is playing with a lot more confidence, but she also credits her turnaround to the new strength and conditioning program that was instituted this season.
"This past fall is the first time we ever did any sort of Olympic lifting," Whalley said. "Olympic lifting is a very specific power movement that works with concepts of triple extension and basically it increases your force production. I have always lifted hard no matter what it was but I had never done explosive power training like this.
"Within three weeks of being on that program, my mentality towards training, my mentality towards my sport, everything heightened, like it came to this new level," Whalley added. "I was training like an elite athlete and now I had to play like an elite athlete."
Whalley says she put extra time in the weight room in the fall because after her first three seasons, she knew she was not guaranteed a starting position. She also said the Strength and Conditioning Coach Brad Lokey helped her from a mental standpoint as well.
"Coach Lokey told me, ‘You think too much, you need to stop. Don't think about this rep, attack this rep,'" Whalley said. "Coach (Bataille) has been telling me to attack balls for three years and finally this year it clicked. Everything all the coaches have been saying has been intertwined; it is the same message. Be aggressive and attack, whether it is in the weight room or on the field."
Whalley has been clicking, and so have her teammates. The Hatters have won nine straight games, and 14 of their last 15 overall. Compared to the 21-game mark last season, Stetson has hit 11 more doubles, three more triples, and seven more home runs in 2013.
"We crushed some weights (in the fall)," Whalley said. "We all worked really hard. Every single person, in the span of 6-8 weeks started to see little improvements on the field, but around the 12-week mark, that's when we started see explosive results. The ball was just jumping off the bat and when girls would hit home runs we would say, 'That's coach Lokey'."
"The softball team has a great appreciation for being in (the weight room) and has a great respect for the knowledge that we brought to the program," Lokey said. "The work ethic from the team overall has been immaculate, it's really been amazing. I feel we are a very small piece of the puzzle, but I do feel that it is a piece of the puzzle. I am glad that they have been able to see the results of the training, and I'm glad it has been successful for them up to this point. I hope it continues to grow."
Whalley, who is interning with the strength and conditioning department, pointed out that lifting as a team has another key benefit besides improved performance.
"I believe that's where we started to build all our team chemistry," Whalley said. "The training gets so mentally tough, you really need your team right behind you. We would go into ‘beast' mode, yelling at each other every rep, saying ‘you got this, you can do it!'"
That positivity has carried over onto the field, especially in Wednesday's doubleheader sweep of Colgate where the Hatters had to rally from behind on four separate occasions.
"I had no worries in our game (Wednesday) even when we were losing 5-0," Whalley said. "I don't even know how to explain it. In the fourth inning I wasn't nervous. In the fifth inning I was like, "let's do it." We just turned a switch."
Griffin was also excited to see the Hatters rally Wednesday and says the players appear to be pulling for each other really well.
"The chemistry on this team seems to be real good and I think Chelsea is a big part of that," Griffin said.
This weekend will be the team's first time playing in the new three-game conference series format. All three games will be broadcast (audio only) on GoHatters.com. Fans can also follow the action with live stats, twitter updates, and Hat-Alerts text messages.