Monday, May 23, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Our interview with 2-time MW Pitcher of the Year Jill Compton

Fresno State pitcher Jill Compton and head coach Trisha Ford

Just hours after one of the greatest careers in Fresno State and Mountain West softball history came to an end, we got an exclusive interview with the reigning 2-time conference Pitcher of the Year, Jill Compton.

The season ended for Compton and her 18th-ranked Fresno State teammates Saturday evening, as the Bulldogs finished one game shy of reaching the NCAA Los Angeles Regional championship game.  Over a sterling 4-year career, Compton was the winning pitcher in 88 of Fresno State's 143 victories during that time span.  She's the third Mountain West player to win conference Pitcher of the Year honors twice, but the first to ever do it in back-to-back seasons.

She ended her career with the most wins in conference play ever for a Mountain West pitcher, and ranked in the top 5 of numerous categories in Fresno State history.  For such a decorated program with a history of wins, that says a lot.  Earlier this month, Compton was named Fresno State's Bulldog of the Year, signifying the school's top female student-athlete, regardless of sport.

A 4-time first team All-Mountain West selection and 2-time first team NFCA All-Pacific Region pick, Compton is a big reason Fresno State was able to go 42-5 in conference play the last two seasons.  It's the best 2-year record ever for a Mountain West softball team.

As talented as she is on the playing field, those who know her best always say the same thing:  She's one of the most humble, hardest-working, and nicest people away from the field too.

Please enjoy our exclusive interview with the reigning 2-time Mountain West Pitcher of the Year, Fresno State's Jill Compton. 

MW Softball Blog:  The season, and your college career, literally just ended this weekend.  What was it like waking up Sunday morning after Saturday's season-ending loss to Cal State Fullerton? 
Jill Compton:  Waking up Sunday morning was definitely very difficult, and a feeling I’ve never felt before. The feeling was perfectly described by my teammate, Hannah Harris, when she texted me Sunday morning and asked how I was feeling. She said she felt “empty” and that’s exactly how I felt. I felt like I was a freshman just yesterday and my college career flew by. It’s weird not knowing what the future holds, and not having another season to look forward to, or something bigger to work toward. Every summer I’ve worked harder to be better than I was the previous year, and this time I don’t get that opportunity. The most challenging thing is knowing that I will never be in a Bulldog uniform again, and won’t be able to play on one of the best fields in the country with girls that have become my best friends.

Your team had an outstanding season this year and set numerous records.  Was there one moment this year where you realized, "Hey, we are really a great team!"
The moment I knew this team was special would have to be our opening game versus Utah State [where Fresno State rallied from a 10-2 deficit to win]. Up to that point, we were able to fight back and win games even when we were behind, but this game was one of my best memories. Although I gave up 9 runs through 3 innings, and was pulled, Kama [Fresno State freshman pitcher Kamalani Dung] came in and shut them down; it was so fun to watch!  She had 13 strikeouts! On the offensive side, our team never gave up and fought hard until we walked off with a win in the ninth. That 12-11 victory would unquestionably be the moment I realized we had a great team.

Did you think any one Mountain West team in particular played the Bulldogs the toughest this season?  Or was every series tough?
I thought that every series was tough. From Boise State to San Jose State, every conference opponent played us strong. Throughout the season we had targets on our backs, and we were the team everyone wanted to beat.

 You won 88 games as a pitcher in your Fresno State career and will rank as one of the all-time greats to wear a Bulldog uniform.  What does that mean to you?
I don’t see the 88 career wins as an individual accomplishment, but rather a team accomplishment. Certainly it’s an honor to see my name surrounding some of the best Bulldog pitchers, but it takes a team to win, my name is just attached to it.

In all of your wins, your fellow senior Paige Gumz was there at catcher for every
single one of them.  Describe that pitcher/catcher relationship and her role in your success. 
Paige is one of my best friends and just an amazing teammate and person. Over the summers, we would spend a lot of time together working out and getting better for the season coming up. She’s the best catcher that has ever caught me, she pumps me up with one fist pump, and I trusted her with everything.

You were originally recruited by legendary head coach Margie Wright.  What sold you on Coach Wright, and what made you choose to be a Bulldog in the first place?
Obviously Coach Wright was someone who did wonders for our sport and fought for many of the things I have received at Fresno State. Coach Wright made me feel at home the moment I stepped on campus, and I instantly knew Fresno would be the right fit. Coach Wright made it possible for me to play at an amazing facility with the most loyal fans there are.

After you signed your National Letter of Intent to attend Fresno State, Coach Wright announced her retirement.  Did that cause any anxiety or make you regret your decision in any way?
I was very surprised when Coach Wright announced her retirement, but it didn’t make me want to change my mind to go to school at Fresno State. I was disappointed, because I would have loved to be coached by one of the winningest coaches in college softball, but I don’t regret my decision.

You had a good freshman season, a very good sophomore year, and then just kept getting better throughout your career.  How do you explain that?  Is it a case of just gaining more experience, or is it something more?
I think it’s a little bit of both. As a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect, especially with an entirely new coaching staff and no returners being instructed by Coach Ford to lead the way. Kiley Shae [Aldridge], Hannah [Harris], Taylor [Langdon] and I had to figure it out on our own, but our different strengths helped us as a group. Throughout my career, I learned new things about my game and became more mature as a pitcher. Coach Ford has taught me so much mechanically, and I’ve progressed substantially from year to year because of it. But I think what has helped the most is my dedication toward my mental game. The mental aspect of pitching is something that is very hard to learn and it takes a lot of time to master. I’ve learned so much from our assistant coach, Coach Wynn, and the exercises I did at practice, and the articles I read are all a huge reason I have progressed as well as I did in the circle.

Did your senior season turn out to be like you thought it would? 
My senior season wasn’t my best season if you look at my statistics, but I can honestly say that this group of girls was the best team I’ve been on throughout my career. Winning the Mountain West, the 23-game win streak, and beating Tennessee were all memories that made my senior year unforgettable.

You went through a difficult time in March of this year when you were hit by a comebacker in a game against Cal.  It caused you to miss some playing time.  How severe was that injury and do you think it changed you in any way?
Trying to protect my face, I put my hands in front of my face and the comebacker hit my pitching hand. The pain was through my pinky and knuckle, and the training staff thought it was fractured. The next day I went and got an x-ray and the results showed that it wasn’t fractured, but it sure felt like it was. The doctor told me that I had a deep bone bruise and that I would be able to pitch in a week if I wasn’t in too much pain. I got treatment on it three times a day, and it helped significantly, but I never really felt the same. The pain was partially gone by the time conference play started, but I couldn’t seem to find my groove. I think I created some bad habits pitching not completely healthy, and it was difficult getting that confidence back that I had before I got hit.

Fresno State traditionally plays one of the nation's toughest non-conference schedules.  What was your feeling each year when you'd take a look and notice that you were about to play teams like Oklahoma, Washington, Florida, Arizona and others?
Our non-conference schedule is traditionally very strong, and as a freshman it could be somewhat overwhelming, but it’s so much fun. It’s fun to compete with the top teams in the country and show yourselves, fans, and critics what you’re made of. Seeing those teams on our schedule made me excited and gave us an opportunity to put Fresno State on the map. Also, it prepares us for the Mountain West Conference, and this year was a great example of how our strength of schedule was important in our success.

Your team had the best conference record in Mountain West history.  How much did you think about the winning streak this year?
Honestly, we never spoke about our winning streak, nor thought about it. We only thought about the game we were about to play, and going 1-0 that day.

How disappointed were you when Fresno State was overlooked and not named an
NCAA regional host this season? 
I was disappointed because we have an amazing facility and I think we deserved it. However, I think it was more disappointing for our fans because we would have hosted a great regional, and the softball community would have loved to see some of the top teams in the country at Margie Wright Diamond.

From a fan's viewpoint, it seems like college softball is becoming more and more about offense every year.  From a pitcher's perspective, do you see it that way too?
I definitely think it has. The first indicator that really changed the game was the rubber getting moved back to 43 feet.  Bat technology is improving every year, teams have the newest bats out there, and fields can be at 190 feet… It’s not very helpful for a rise ball pitcher [laughs].

Did we hear correctly ... you may be returning next season to Fresno State, assisting Coach Ford in some aspect?
Yes you did!  I have another semester of classes to complete my degree in Accounting, so I’ve decided to help Coach Ford and the rest of the coaching staff; I’m definitely not ready to walk away from Fresno State softball just yet!

Do you have any interest in becoming a coach at the collegiate level?
To coach at the collegiate level would definitely interest me.  I have so much love for this game, and it would be enjoyable to give back and teach girls that have the same passion.

If you could have a do-over and get one game back to play completely over, which one would it be, if any?
If I had to do a game over, it would have to be the Nevada series my sophomore year. We had to win the series to win the Mountain West and our destiny was in our own hands. If we won the MWC, we would have gotten an automatic bid to postseason, giving us even more experience with what post season felt like. With that said, we may have performed better in the Oregon regional we went to last year and the UCLA regional this year.

What would you say to a 14- or 15-year-old softball player who might be following in your footsteps and thinking about heading to Fresno State in the future?
I would say that Fresno State takes care of their athletes on and off the field. We are spoiled with the best coaches, staff, facilities and gear. We’re a Top 25 program because of our committed coaching staff, hard-working athletes, and amazing fan base. Fresno State has excellent professors, and you will get a quality education, and even if you have trouble, we have some great tutors and support staff that will get you the help that you need. But overall, the best feeling is stepping on Margie Wright Diamond and inspiring so many young ones that want to fill your shoes one day.

What are your interests outside softball, and where do you see yourself a decade from now?
Outside of softball, I love spending time with my family, and the outdoors. Hiking and yoga are things I’ve really enjoyed when I don’t play softball, but I think a decade from now I will still be around the game in some aspect. Since I’m getting my degree in accounting, I’ve thought about going for my CPA and possibly working for a firm in Northern California, but right now I don’t really know what’s in store. In 10 years, I could be working behind a desk crunching numbers, or being on a field sharing my passion with others.

Top:  While seniors in high school, the six future Bulldog freshmen (Bria Kennedy, Taylor Langdon, Whitney Smith, Jill Compton, Hannah Harris and Paige Gumz attended a Fresno State football game.  Bottom:  Here are those six again, as college seniors, alongside seniors Alyssa Villalpando (left) and Victoria Trevino (right).