Pair of aces aim for national title

They're both blonde, Southern California girls. They've played softball since they were very little, and they've found similar success from inside the circle.

They share common skills and goals alike, both hoping to become teachers one day. But not before the more immediate goal of helping the Concordia University softball team win an NAIA national championship.

Jennifer Simons is 15-2 with an 0.98 earned-run average and teammate Courtney Young is 15-1 with a 1.09 ERA, helping lead the Eagles to a 38-4 record, including 15-1 in the Golden State Athletic Conference. They are ranked No. 3 in the NAIA national poll.

But for as much as they have in common, they are very different, both on and off the softball field. Simons is 5-foot-2, needing to make the most of her technique and mechanics to be successful. Young, at 5-8, is a more naturally gifted pitcher who wowed observers while at Peninsula High in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Off the field, Simons is a chatterbox; Young a bit more reserved.

"Courtney is very unassuming and a very hard worker, she has a quiet disposition," Concordia Coach Crystal Rosenthal said. "Jennifer is also hard working, but she's very outspoken. They've really contributed for different reasons, but also the same reasons."

Simons, a junior who graduated from Villa Park High, makes up for her lack of height with an impressive selection of pitches. She said she throws seven different pitches — a fastball, curveball, screwball, drop, rise, an off-speed curveball and a changeup.

"It definitely helps to be tall," Simons said. "Your stride is longer so you end up closer to the plate, and you have more whip on the ball. So my coaches have worked with me on using my whole body and getting the most out of someone my size."

Simons credits Tammy Kincaid, her pitching coach for seven years before she went to college, and current Concordia pitching coach Rose Imbriano for helping her succeed in the circle. And it doesn't hurt that the game is in her blood. Her mom Kathy was a catcher at Cal State Fullerton and her sister Jessica played at Point Loma Nazarene.

"I started playing when I was 4 and starting pitching when I was 6," Simons said. "I grew up in a baseball-softball family, and I fell in love with it."

Simons, who is hitting .351 as a designated hitter, with two home runs and 19 runs batted in, when she's not pitching, also is quick to credit her teammates.

"The outfield is catching balls that most teams wouldn't catch," she said. "And the infield has been phenomenal, they've made incredible plays. Any success I've had is really our success."

Simmons has allowed 52 hits and struck out 56 with just 18 walks in 1002/3 innings. Opponents are hitting .150 against her.

Young, a sophomore, has been playing softball since she was 6 but didn't start pitching until she was 12. She caught on quickly.

"My little league team didn't have a pitcher so they appointed me," said Young, whose five-pitch repertoire doesn't quite match that of Simons. But she makes up for it with heat.

"She was recruited off her success in high school, and she threw very hard," Rosenthal said. "She's probably hitting 65 mph, while Jennifer probably doesn't hit 60."

Young has struck out 76 in 91 innings, allowing 38 hits. She has walked 38. Opponents are batting .126 against her.

The combination of Simons and Young has been the driving force behind the Eagles' success this season, following the graduation of pitcher Rachel Reekstin from last year's team.

"It's remarkable what they've been able to do this year," said Rosenthal, a catcher during her playing days at Valley Christian High and Concordia. "One-hitters have been a common occurrence for us. Our four pitchers [Simons, Young, Morgan Reiter and Paige Finley] and our pitching coach work harder than anybody. And our catchers [Emily Craig and Carly Smith] have handled the pitchers well and are two of the nicest people on campus."

Simons and Young love being on campus so much, they never want to leave. Well, they may leave Concordia, but both want to be on a campus somewhere as both hope to become teachers.

Simons is majoring in English and said "I want to be a high school softball coach and English teacher. I just love the sport and I want to give back for everything it's done for me."

Young is majoring in education with a minor in art and plans to become an art teacher.

For now, though, the focus is on winning the GSAC and taking their shot at winning a national crown.

"I definitely think we have the potential to win," Simons said. "We've got the offense and we've got the pitching with myself, Courtney, Paige and Morgan. The defense picks us up if we ever give up a hit."

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