Long Way From Home: Softball players acclimating well to Canisius

By Marshall Haim

Sports Reporter

The Canisius Softball team has a good amount of players that come from states that are nowhere remotely close to Buffalo or even to New York State. Eight of the 15 players on this year’s squad hail from the states of California (4), Florida (2), Arizona and Hawaii (1 each). Just to get from their hometowns to Buffalo, they combined to travel 19,954 miles just to reach the City of Good Neighbors.

With being so far away from home, it can be extremely difficult as you aren’t able to get to see your family as much as the players who are located much closer to Canisius. Social media and various ways to communicate, such as Skype and FaceTime, play a pivotal role for those who are far away from home.

One player on the Canisius team, Destiny Holani, has an extremely hard time getting back home. Holani, one of three catchers on the team, traveled the farthest distance to play softball at Canisius. The freshman catcher traveled 4,682 miles from her hometown and state capital of Hawaii, Honolulu. Teammates chipped in during the fall semester to purchase Holani a plane ticket to go back home for the holiday break.

“It was definitely a surprise,” Holani said about the kind act. “I was really thankful and it’s hard to afford a ticket home.”

Holani may have a long trek to Canisius, but so does freshman pitcher and second baseman, Lauren Castro. The native of Gilroy, California (33 miles southeast of San Jose) travels the farthest among the players from the lower 48 states (2,708 miles). Castro has pitched in 14 games for the Blue and Gold, starting in seven of them. She holds a 2-4 record with a 4.45 ERA. When not in the circle, Castro trades the glove for that bat as she is batting .275 on the season, driving home seven runs and stealing five bases in seven attempts.

Castro has three fellow Californians on the roster with her. Senior infielder Alexis Roman (Chino), sophomore pitcher Madi Weathers (Westminster), and junior outfielder Jessica Berzins (Placentia) could be considered the “South Cali Trio” as they all reside in the Anaheim region. Roman, Weathers, and Berzins traveled a total of 7,794 miles alone to further their softball careers.

“In the beginning it was definitely really tough,” Roman said about being away from home as a freshman. “I’ve been really family oriented; I was definitely homesick for the first month. I actually grew a very strong attachment to my seniors at the time (Stephanie Pfentner and Katie Medina) and they took me under their wing and showed me I have a family away from home.”

Canisius opened the 2016 season in Fullerton, California in the Titan Classic, which was hosted by Cal State Fullerton. The tournament was very nice for the three Southern California natives as they were all playing within a half-hour from their hometowns. The tournament was very special for Berzins as she was playing practically down the street from where she lives. Canisius did not earn a win in their five games in the Titan Classic, but playing so close to home was very special for Berzins.

“It’s definitely awesome for my friends and family and past coaches,” she said. “Also, it’s nice for all the California girls, as we host parties. Not only do we get to play in front of our families, but all of our families get together at the parties.”

Berzins is one of the Griffs better offensive players this season, as she is one of two Griffs, joining Lindsey Silfer, to play and start in all 38 games. She is currently batting .296, as the junior ranks second on the team in the RBI category (15). She is also tied for the team-lead in stolen bases (10) with Meghan Cuda. Not only is Berzins a threat in the batter’s box, she holds the highest fielding percentage amongst Canisius outfielders (.963).

Taylor Decker, a junior catcher from Phoenix, Arizona, was not able to play as close to home as the California players were, but she was able to play fairly close to home when playing in the Titan Classic and in a doubleheader with the UC Riverside Anteaters. Decker has only played in nine games this season (starting in three) for Canisius, as she is batting .231 (3 hits in 13 at-bats), driving home one run.

Coming from the West Coast to the East Coast, there are two players from the Sunshine State (Florida), Sami Sharkey and Denver Keller. Sharkey and Keller live 20 minutes apart from one another, but that’s not only the unique aspect between the two. Sharkey and Keller were teammates before Canisius as they played on the same prestigious travel softball team, the Gold Coast Hurricanes.

Keller, primarily a second baseman for the Griffs, is having a stellar freshman season as she is batting .306 with two home runs and 12 RBIs, while posting a .458 on base percentage in her 26 appearances (all starts) this season. Sharkey, who has played third base primarily, has played in as many games as Keller as has been one of the defensive anchors in the infield for the Griffs, as she has a fielding percentage of .939.

“When I came on my visit, I stayed with [Sami] and she kind of influenced me to come here,” Keller said about their relationship. “I loved playing with her and she’s been my best friend for five years. I loved playing with her before, so it’s cool to get two more years with her.”

Those that are from Buffalo know how treacherous the winter season can be like, but all of the girls had one common thread with each other, they enjoy the weather. This past season was a very mild winter compared to previous winters, but the girls all love Buffalo and agree that it is a nice change.

“Obviously very different,” Berzins said about the variety of weather between home and Buffalo. “I don’t think it took me a long time to get adjusted to it. I knew coming into Buffalo I was going to deal with bad weather.”

Canisius won’t have to worry about terrible weather at all this weekend when they play in a pair of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference doubleheaders. Tomorrow afternoon, the Griffs will play at Saint Peter’s with the first game starting at noon. Then, they will go over the George Washington Bridge and play a twin bill with the Manhattan Jaspers beginning at 11:00am on Sunday.

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