She stood up in the dugout and took in the majesty of the stadium.
Then she pinched herself.
Samantha “Sam” Derickson simply had to confirm that this was actually happening.
The 5-foot-11 freshman shortstop gazed out toward the women’s softball diamond known as Jim Frost Stadium on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
She felt the twinge and realized that she and her East Stroudsburg University Warrior teammates were about to play No. 3-ranked University of North Georgia in their May 25 opening-round game of the 2023 NCAA Division II World Series.
“It has been my dream all my life to be a part of this tournament, and being able to be there was awesome,” said Derickson, a 2022 graduate of Indian River High School. “It was such a cool experience. We received merchandise and special treatment at the field and at our hotel, which was decorated specifically for the event. There were World Series stickers on the floors and doors that read ‘Welcome to the NCAA D2 Softball Championship.’ And each team had its own conference room, with its team picture on a banner.”
The transition to college
When Derickson left the women’s softball field in Chattanooga on May 27, it marked the end of a pivotal, memorable and productive freshman year in the classroom and on the diamond.
Majoring in business management with a data analytics minor, she had made a very successful transition from high school to college.
“Attending ESU has been a great experience so far,” she said upon returning to her family’s home in Frankford recently. “It wasn’t that difficult transitioning to college. I understood as early as high school the importance of having good time-management skills. Each day, I had so many responsibilities, so utilizing my time in the right way was important.”
Derickson answered the challenge of managing her schedule beginning last fall.
“We were scrimmaging against Division I schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Lehigh and Penn State, and my schedule was much busier, with morning weightlifting sessions, classes, practices and study hall,” said Derickson, a standout girls’ field hockey and softball student athlete at IRHS from the fall of 2018 through the spring of 2022. “Academically, I made sure to utilize my study hall and free time to keep up with assignments.”
Did she ever.
Derickson earned Dean’s List honors in both semesters, with a 3.9 grade point average of a possible 4.0 GPA.
On the softball diamond, she practiced with passion, soaking up as much knowledge and strengthening herself as much as possible. She became an integral part of a record-setting team that was ranked No. 1 in the Atlantic region late in the regular season.
“Being a member of the softball team gave me a sense of family, and I know I’ll be friends with my teammates for the rest of my life,” said Derickson. “I’ve also met new friends in my dorm and with the other ESU athletics teams. The lesson I learned, and the message I’d pass on to younger players in high school, is to cherish every moment that you’re playing. Make the most of your time in college and don’t have any regrets, because the time passes very quickly, and one day you’ll miss it.”
Derickson played behind fifth year senior shortstop Lexi Wright (Thornton, Pennsylvania), who batted .473 for the season. The right handed throwing and hitting Derickson started two of the eight games in which she played, hitting .273 and smacking three hits, including a double in 11 official at-bats. She also scored two runs and stole a base.
“Playing behind our older and more experienced players enabled me to develop my skills this season,” she said. “I was able to learn from them what was expected for our program. This allowed me to improve as I continue to grow into my role at shortstop.”
Head coach Jaime Wohlbach said he was pleased with Derickson’s progress during her freshman season.
“Sam got some playing time and contributed in a nice role with our team’s success,” he said. “We are excited in anticipation of the new school year this fall as we get back to work.”
The Warriors came out to play
The Warriors caught fire late in the season and earned a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament berth in Quakertown, Pa., on May 3-5. ESU advanced to the Atlantic Regional tourney after defeating California (Pa.) and Kutztown, and losing to Slippery Rock University and Mercyhurst.
Ranked No. 1 in the region, the Warriors hosted the tournament May 11-13 for the first time in school history.
They won three straight games, defeating Bowie State, West Chester and West Virginia Wesleyan, advancing to and again hosting the two-team best-of-three super-regional tourney on May 18-19.
The Bobcats rebounded from a Game 1 loss to blank Charleston with consecutive shutouts in Games 2 and 3.
For the first time in school history, they reached the eight-team NCAA Division II championship tournament in Chattanooga on May 25-27. ESU lost the opener, 3-0, to eventual national champion North Georgia before defeating No. 7-ranked Nova Southeastern, 2-1.
Their amazing season ended with a 6-2 loss to No. 1-ranked University of Texas at Tyler.
The Warriors finished with a school record No. 5 national ranking among 272 NCAA Division II schools.
Their 44 victories in 63 games also set a new school mark.
“The ride to the championship tournament taught me to appreciate every moment, and it taught our team that we had the fight and talent to advance deep into the postseason,” said Derickson. “The playoffs were different from the regular season — there was more intensity with the way we played. I felt that we played with more heart and desire in the playoffs. We knew we had something special when the regular season ended, which drove us to play better. And as we kept winning, our confidence grew. So did our fan base.
“East Stroudsburg, Pa., is a small town with a lot of local support, which really showed during our postseason run,” she added. “Playing at home during the regional and super-regional that attracted larger-than-normal crowds also contributed to our team’s success by requiring us to play at an increased level of intensity.”