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Softball

Work Ethic Fuels Jones-Wesley's Success

5/10/2014

by Mike Villamor

Sitting on a stool in the middle of the front lawn, decked out in a right knee brace, the last thing anyone might have expected was the work ethic of Erin Jones-Wesley on display.

But that’s exactly what her mother and father, the neighbors and anyone else who cared to notice witnessed on that day in the summer of 2013 in Alta Loma, Calif.

Erin Jones-Wesley, Long Beach State softball pitcher and three-time All-Big West First Team standout, working religiously in the midst of rehabilitation on her right knee, throwing pitches to her dad, Robert, from the stool.  Practicing her spins.  Throwing overhand while standing on her one good leg.  Hampered, but not halted.

She had suffered the knee injury that April during the middle of her junior campaign with the 49ers.  Ultra competitive, Jones-Wesley refused to be sidelined and continued to pitch, even playing through a hard fall she sustained in a game at Hawai‘i.  She gritted her teeth and toughed out the remainder of the season.

Rest did not improve matters, and an MRI revealed a completely torn anterior cruciate ligament.  Jones-Wesley had surgery in July, and her doctor informed her that recovery time would be 6-8 months.

Instead, Jones-Wesley returned in five and a half months.  She sat in that chair on her parent’s front lawn a mere three weeks after the operation.

“I was a crazy lady and getting sick of sitting on the couch,” related Jones-Wesley.  “I couldn’t take that much time off.  I have a fear of not being successful, so I want to work hard because I feel if you don’t work hard you can’t have things happen for you.”

Her mother, Darcelle, said Erin learned all about a strong work ethic from her parents at a young age.  The spectacle of the stool on the front lawn did not surprise her in the least.

“Erin is so competitive.  She never wants to lose that edge,” she said.  “We never could get her to sit still long enough.”

Darcelle related the times when a young Erin would wait for her father to return from work, and ask him to help her with reading so that no one could be ahead of her.  Or hand him a glove so they could go out in the yard and play catch.

It is no surprise then that success has come in buckets for Erin Jones-Wesley while donning the yellow and black jersey for four seasons.

She’s the school’s all-time leader in wins (83), strikeouts (720) and appearances (143), and ranks second in innings pitched (773.0).  In the Big West record book, she is tied for fourth in wins, fifth in strikeouts, third in appearances and ninth in innings pitched.

The Big West Pitcher of the Year and Freshman Pitcher of the Year in 2011, Jones-Wesley is bidding to become just the seventh individual in league history to claim first-team all-conference honors four times. 

Outfitted with a brace to give her knee support during each of her 34 appearances in 2014, Jones-Wesley continues to shine as she overcomes her injury.  She is 19-9 overall with a 2.84 ERA, striking out 182 batters in 172.1 innings.  Jones-Wesley seeks her fourth straight 20-win season when the 49ers take the field Saturday afternoon against UC Santa Barbara with a Big West championship on the line.

The 49ers reached the NCAA Tournament when Jones-Wesley was a freshman and sophomore, and sit right on the doorstep for a third trip entering the season’s final weekend.

The self-effacing Jones-Wesley jokes that she wasn’t always exceptional at pitching, but she always has had the love for it.

“I think pitching is so fun,” she said.  “But even when I was in rec ball, I honestly was the pitcher where everybody was ‘Erin is going in the game?  Great, now we’re going to lose.’

She chuckled.

“I’d walk a bunch of batters and hit people.  I had trouble controlling my pitches.  But as I got older and learned to practice, it helped me get better.”

Erin’s favorite athlete is Los Angeles Laker icon Kobe Bryant, no stranger himself to postseason appearances, accolades, or, for that matter, knowing how to practice.  Renowned for his legendary year round training sessions, Jones-Wesley admires Bryant’s work ethic and appreciates that he’s a hard worker.
 
Kim Sowder helped recruit Jones-Wesley to Long Beach when the then-senior was dominating at Los Osos High School.  The eighth-year 49er head coach saw the talent and the competitor, and the program has reaped the rewards of signing the pitching phenom.

“As a player, Erin came in as a freshman and started off really well,” said Sowder. I wouldn’t say we had any expectations set, but I think she came in and with her work ethic and our strength coaches, and just being with our pitching coach Stephanie Swenson everyday, I think she grew immediately and really gained the confidence.

“She had a great freshman year, and I think over the four years has been consistently good.  She works extremely hard in the weight room and at practice, and is as much of a competitor as you can be.”

Several factors attracted Erin to Long Beach State.  For one thing, both of her parents met at and graduated from LBSU.  Darcelle met Robert in 1982 when he played on the baseball team.  They will have been married 30 years this coming October.

Erin also lauded the positive attitude of her head coach and the staff.

“I really liked the coaches on my visit,” said Erin.  “Kim was talking about positive energy.  That really struck a chord with me because I’m all about positive energy too.”

Sowder directed the team to read a book called “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon, focusing on positive attitudes and team building approaches.

With her father’s baseball background, which continued past college as he later competed in the Police Summer Games with an infant Erin in the crowd, softball drew her in naturally like an electromagnetic field.

By her own admission, Erin is quite the talker.  She has been known to “commentate” from the dugout and dissect various situations that come up during a ballgame. 

So for the Communications Studies major, a career in television might just be right up her alley.   Perhaps an ESPN gig, talking up the sport of softball as an analyst?

Doesn’t sound too farfetched.  Danielle Jones-Wesley, her older sister, is an entertainment reporter at FOX News Channel and with US Weekly.  If her dad drew Erin into softball, could Danielle do the same with media?

Time will tell.  In the meantime, Erin has immediate plans for life after college.  She has an internship lined up with the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, tasked with helping grow the Softball Development program.  Modeled after the Academy’s successful baseball program that is headed by former major leaguer Don Buford, the softball program offers tutoring and SAT Prep as well as coaching for kids aged 6-18.  The program provides structure and opportunities.

“It’s cool to help people.  Maybe I can be an influence to at least one person,” said Erin. “Having a role model to look up to so that they will want to play softball and make good grades, and stay out of trouble.”

Perhaps just as important as the work ethic, the talent, the competitiveness is the heart of the 49er student-athlete, who has made the Dean’s Honor List at LBSU the last two semesters.

Said Darcelle, “You knew she’d be successful if someone gave her a chance.  She has grown as a young woman and matured.  People come up to me and say ‘You have such a nice daughter,’ and it’s unsolicited.  I’m very proud of her.”

So are many others in 49er circles and beyond.

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