Q&A With Villanova Gold Glove Winner Victoria Sebastian

VILLANOVA, Pa.—Last week when Rawlings and the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) revealed the winners of the inaugural Rawlings Gold Glove Award for collegiate softball, Villanova rising senior Victoria Sebastian was surprised to learn that she was the winner at first base. In an interview following the historic announcement, Sebastian reflected on how he found out about the award and what it means to be one of the first winners of the prestigious honor.

Did you know it was a possibility to win the Gold Glove award? How did you find out that you were a winner?

“I had no idea. Coach Orchard reached out asking for some defensive highlights for the end of the year and I thought it was just going to be another recap. I was in the city with my teammate Ryan Henry and then I saw the tweet online, so that was a nice little surprise. All of a sudden I got a notification on Twitter and I was a little confused. As soon as I was starting to read the tweet Coach called me and said ‘Congratulations!’ It was really exciting. I was super stoked and Ryan was excited too which was really nice.”

It is long overdue for college softball to get this recognition for the top fielders in the sport. What does it mean to you to represent the first-ever group of Gold Glove winners?

“I am super honored just to have even been considered a nominee. Softball has been gaining a lot of popularity and I think it’s a testament to how much this sport is growing and the attention it should be getting. As young female athletes we put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this sport and the fact that there are steps being taken to show the appreciation for our hard work is extremely important.”

Have you always played first base? How did it wind up being your primary position?

“When I was really young me, my younger sister and my best friend were on a little rec team and we would switch between pitcher, first base and shortstop. I was a lefty, but I got away with it because I was young and athletic , and I could throw it across. In high school I was predominantly a pitcher and when Bridget recruited me she said I would do a little pitching, play a little first base, and I had played outfield before so she said it was more wherever you can find a spot that’s where you’re going to play. Following my exit meeting last year it was determined let’s just focus on first base and see where that takes us.”

Was there a point where you realized how good your defensive play is, where you started to take pride in playing first base at an elite level?

“Honestly, not really. I do believe I’m my own hardest critic. I’ll come off a game and have three stretches and I’ll think about an iffy play when I didn’t scoop the ball. I do think that my background in gymnastics and wrestling really plays a key because I’m very flexible, can do a lot of splits and make a lot of plays happen that might not have happened if I couldn’t stretch. So that’s a cool thing; I like a challenge and I love playing first base. I find it fun because you never know what kind of play you are going to get. I don’t like looking at stats. I didn’t even know that I had a perfect fielding percentage until a few weeks ago when [there was a post on Twitter], If I looked at stats I would have probably started dropping throws.”

Where does your athleticism come from? Have you always felt like that was part of your game or is it an ability you have developed over the years?

“Growing up my family was always emphasizing being a well-rounded athlete. My two younger sisters, my brother and myself all wrestled, we all did karate, we all did gymnastics and we all played soccer. My brother played football and baseball, I played lacrosse and so it was really just about being a well-rounded athlete. When you play different sports you are going to experience different things and not get burnt out. I definitely think my experience in karate, wrestling and gymnastics have played a key. That has kept me very nimble over the years. I continue to strength train and speed train, but my background in gymnastics and karate has played a role in being able to do those stretches.”

What is that you see on close plays that allows you to stretch in front of the bag or go into a full split to make the catch?

“A huge aspect of playing first base is knowing the speed of the runner before the pith is even thrown. That is something I always take note of but then whatever the throw is, it’s a split-second reaction. I try not to stretch unless it is a close play. If it’s in the dirt I know it’s going to be a scoop so that’s a determination of how far short it is going to be and can I stay back on it, can I stretch or do I have to focus on scooping it. If it’s wide, it’s a determination of can I stretch for this ball or if I stretch am I going to miss it. Obviously the priority is always to get the ball no matter what. I don’t want a ball to go past me and the runner advances, so sometimes there are instances where I just make sure the ball gets caught.”

Is there a mental side to those split-second decisions and determining whether to let the ball come to you or to go out and get it?

“I will do anything in my power to make sure an out is made. I am so focused on making an out. Especially being predominantly a fielder his year that was my job to make plays and get outs. I took that role aggressively and wanted to make sure I could get an out. That was my mindset every single time, just make a play however you can. One issue I had last year is I would get so excited we were going to get an out that I would come off the bag early. My coach would tell me to hold the bag for an extra second longer because they’re going to try to call me for it.”

All of the infield positions require strong footwork but what are the particular dynamics that are unique to playing first base?

“It is so different because as a second baseman covering the bunt your left foot is on the bag so it’s a different stretch mentality. We have had a couple of plays where a ball was thrown from right field [to first base] and you have to position your foot correctly so you can get that stretch. Sometimes I have to think in the moment to put my left foot on the bag because I’m stretching that way. Footwork plays a big role in it because if you are too far up the bag or too far back on the bag your stretch is off and you are not going to be able to get the reach you need to make a certain play. That plays a big role at first base, not more so than the other positions because you have to throw a lot of balls from the other positions but [footwork] plays an extremely important role at first base too.”

Winning the last two BIG EAST titles and playing in an NCAA regional two years in a row has given Villanova a chance to play on national TV and in front of larger audiences on a national stage. Have you had a chance to reflect on the growth of the program during your career?

“The first week of postseason it is nice to relax and decompress, and that’s what you take that time to reflect. As a team we are genuinely just trying to do everything we can to take [Villanova] to the next level. Yes, we have made regionals the last two years, but we can make a run at regionals and make it to the championship game. What can we do in the offseason to get ourselves there? Strides have definitely been made with our new field and our new hitting facility which paid off a lot in our play this year.”

What comes next for you and your teammates as you build off of two successful seasons?

“As a team we continue to band together and have a game plan of what we want to accomplish, what is the best way to accomplish these goals and be there for each other. We are a very dependent sport and thrive off each other’s energy. Having that cohesiveness and team mentality that whatever it takes for the team and the program to do well is very important in our culture. Next week I start a job in [at PwC in New York, over for the summer] and I am doing a side job coaching a local club team, but I will stay active hitting every day and when I can strength train. A lot of my teammates have internships and other opportunities but we will be putting in the work so we are ready to come Fall. We don’t just want another BIG EAST Tournament. Making a run at regionals is our goal.”

Villanova went 22-7 over the final 29 games of the season, including an undefeated run through the BIG EAST Championship and an NCAA regional appearance? What was the key to the team’s success?

“The beginning of the season was not what anyone wanted to see. We started off rocky but as the season went on we really clicked and bought in as a team. We trusted each other more and focused on the mentality that I have your back no matter what and I know you have mine. When you have that buy in it creates a culture of winning and success. I am very excited to see what the future holds for us.”

Have you thought about coming back to campus in the Fall and it will be your class that is the senior class, or will that realization not come until everyone gets back?

“It’s definitely going to be weird because the upperclassmen have been a huge part of my life since I was a freshman. Angela [Giampolo] and Paige [Rauch] have been two of my best friends as I grew up in this Villanova culture, so having them not be there and not seeing there faces is going to be more weird than taking a leadership role. I think myself and my class, we are very leadership oriented and we’ll be able to fill those shoes as best we can. It will just be weird not having the presence [of the graduating seniors] because they bring a smile to everyone’s face and they are such amazing people on and off the field.”

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