Catcher Heather Haberman has been one of Hamburg's most reliable bats as a freshman this spring. Photo by Staff Photographer Jeffrey Barnes.
Freshmen are fascinating. In sports, they always seem to yield the most attention.
We’ve seen in college athletics, freshman success is becoming more and more prevalent. The last two Heisman Trophy winners have been freshman; Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Florida State’s Jameis Winston. There also could be a record number of freshman chosen in the NBA Draft later this month.
But the impact that first year players can have, starts years before they venture to college. Hamburg’s girls softball team used three freshmen this year to lead them deep into the Class A playoffs once again.
Maggie Vesneske, Heather Haberman and Jordan Stando understand the pressure that comes with playing a varsity sport. They also know the importance of continuity and chemistry, something they have gained by playing together on the New Era Diamond Girls travel team.
“It’s really cool, because varsity is a big deal and sports at Hamburg obviously are too,” said Vesneske. “It’s cool being on a team that’s been so successful in the past.”
Hamburg won the state championship in 2013, but fell in the semifinals this season to Starpoint. Although the disappointment, these three freshmen gained valuable experience and learned from the upperclassmen throughout another deep playoff run.
“I think it’s been a really good year because our team has let us in and not made it awkward for us at all,” said Vesneske. “It feels like we belong.”
“It’s obviously intimidating playing with such good players and such good seniors who have played together on varsity,” said Haberman, who played her second season on varsity after playing in eighth grade. “They’ve been good through the whole thing. They’ve taught us more than I could have ever imagined.”
Haberman played the role of hero during last year’s state championship game. After starting the season on varsity, and fluctuating between the JV and varsity rosters throughout the season, she found herself at the plate down two runs, and responded with a two-run home run to tie the game, 3-3, and eventually fuel the Bulldogs to a 5-3 come-from-behind win over Sayville.
Haberman also drove in two runs, including a third inning solo home run in this year’s semifinal loss to Starpoint.
Stando and Haberman have developed a strong connection. The pitcher-catcher combination has resulted in continued growth for both, especially Stando, who had her best start of the season in a 6-0 win over Sweet Home in the opening round of the playoffs.
Stando, who threw a complete game, struck out five batters and allowed just three hits and only five batters to reach base.
“Jordan has been a real blessing for us,” said Dave Vesneske. “It’s been a lot of pressure on her because we threw her right in, and her first game, actually was one of our first games for the season. Then of course, when she had success her very first game, she had even more pressure on her”
Vesneske, while dealing with the added pressure of playing possibly the most demanding position in the game, shortstop, is also coached by her father, Dave, who assists head coach Lisa Palma.
While having a parent as a coach results in many challenges, it also presents the opportunity for a relationship to strengthen. The Vesneskes have enjoyed that feeling and Maggie has excelled on the diamond because of it.
“It definitely gets really annoying sometimes,” Vesneske said jokingly of having her father as a coach. “He definitely is tougher on me in situations because I am his daughter so he can be, but it’s also really cool because I get to talk to him after the game about it, and see what he sees from my performance, to see what I can do better.”
Vesneske grew up in a softball-crazed house with four sisters who all played. She watched and learned and has used that experience to help her own career.
“I’m one of those fathers who couldn’t stand on the sidelines and weasel my way win,” said Dave Vesneske. “I told her, coming up as a freshman, that everyone is going to think you’re up here because of your dad, and you have to prove your worth. It’s been a blessing for me to see her because she’s done that.”
Despite the success on the diamond, all three freshmen still have work to do, but they have the talent and drive. Haberman won a state title, but the other two want a taste of what she was able to achieve, and won’t stop until they get it.
“It’s a lot of pressure on the freshmen, especially coming on a team that won a state championship last year,” said Dave Vesneske. “It’s a lot of pressure, but they’re kind of used to it, and they’ve responded well.”
It may be a lot of pressure, but these three girls have shown that they can handle it.