Latrobe grad Gumbita develops into senior leader for Gannon softball team
Two words are written in gold Sharpie on the inside of Olivia Gumbita's black softball glove.
“Fun” and “pop.”
They are reminders that the game the Gannon senior pitcher plays is as much subjective as it is physical, as thoughtful as it is visceral.
Gumbita, a Latrobe graduate, has become more mindful of the brainy side of softball.
“I have taken a much more mental approach this year,” Gumbita said. “I know the physical part, the pitching, will be there because I have done it all my life. But the mental part — a lot of people don't realize how important that is and how much goes into it.”
Now, Gumbita is having more fun. And making the catcher's glove pop reminds her of that. And she is having a career year as a result.
On the eve of the weekend — which includes a homecoming doubleheader Saturday (1 and 3 p.m.) at Seton Hill — she had an 11-4 record with a 1.71 ERA, 13 complete games, 108 strikeouts and 26 walks. She ranks in the top 10 in the PSAC in most pitching categories. She began the season fifth in program history in complete games (45) and shutouts (11), and eighth in strikeouts (332).
Gannon was 21-10 and in first place in the PSAC West (8-4).
Casting light on the mental side of the game has allowed Gumbita to become a better senior leader, she believes, and has freed her mind of the clutter that can come with working the circle.
Gumbita said Parris Baker, an assistant professor who works in Gannon's Social Work Program, has given she and her teammates advice on the mental side of sports — and life.
“He also has worked with our women's basketball program,” Gumbita said. “He says little things that help you put things in perspective and move forward. He asked who the fastest player on the team is and we told him (Deer Lakes grad and freshman outfielder) Rachel Tanilli, by far. He said if she is running to first base she would never look back because it would slow her down. It's those kind of things that help you put things behind you.”
Winning more games than it did last season (20-10) was not exactly in the cards for the Knights.
“At the beginning of the season we had no idea what we were capable of,” Gumbita said. “We had six freshmen coming in, and we lost our second baseman to an ACL injury. We thought we might have a rough start, but we took off instead.”
Gumbita has taken on the role of mother hen to a young and talented team, setting an example for 11 freshmen.
“More or less what has helped us is having a close relationship off the field,” she said. “And we play like that too. We did a big sister, little sister program where the older girls took the younger girls under their wing.”
Gannon has an all-freshmen outfield, which includes former Deer Lakes home run-crusher Maria Taliani.
“Liv has been a tremendous and influential leader in practice and games. She is tough, smart, and full of heart,” Taliani said.
“Everyone definitely looks up to her and wants to perform well for her when she's working hard on the mound. She's always the first to say ‘thanks for having my back out there,' or ‘nice catch,' or ‘great hit.' Liv would do anything for us on and off the field. I can't say enough about the senior leadership on the team, truly.”
Gumbita never saw herself as a vocal leader, but found her inner voice at Gannon.
“We have three seniors, and we all try to take on a vocal role,” she said. “It's about what to say and when to say it.”
The coaching staff appreciates that approach.
“Olivia is an incredible leader because she leads by example and is not afraid to speak to her teammates about their effort or lack of effort,” Gannon coach Tom Jakubowski said. “She is honest with them, and they appreciate that. She works very hard at her craft of pitching — never settles for the easy way out.”
Jakubowski said Gumbita's progression from high school to college has “improved by volumes.” That's saying a lot: Gumbita played on Latrobe's 2011 WPIAL AAAA championship team, struck out 120 as a junior and went 13-5 with seven shutouts as a senior.
“Her velocity is only slightly faster, but her command is 100 percent better,” Jakubowski said. “She has also developed her rise ball and change-up dramatically from high school. Her best pitch right now is probably her screw ball, with the change-up a close second.”
And it really pops.