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Prose and Kohn: Lakewood Ranch softball alumna earns Patriot League Rookie of the Year nod

Jillian Herbst hit .365 with 20 RBIs in the leadoff spot at Colgate, where she quickly got used to the snowy environment.

Former Lakewood Ranch High softball player Jillian Herbst, a freshman at Colgate, was named the 2022 Patriot League Rookie of the Year. (Photo courtesy Colgate Athletics)
Former Lakewood Ranch High softball player Jillian Herbst, a freshman at Colgate, was named the 2022 Patriot League Rookie of the Year. (Photo courtesy Colgate Athletics)
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She didn't even get a full day off. 

Colgate softball freshman Jillian Herbst, a Lakewood Ranch High alumna, had never experienced a snowstorm before and she was somewhat looking forward to it during her first year at the upstate New York university.

In Hamilton, New York, where Colgate is located, snow arrives in droves each winter. According to Best Places, Hamilton averages 86 inches of the stuff each year. Coming from Lakewood Ranch, Herbst could be forgiven for thinking she would get a few snow days so she wouldn't have to go to class. 

But no. Herbst said during the winter's first big storm — and all subsequent storms — Colgate only canceled classes in the morning, not the afternoon. By then, she said, snow plows have cleared the roads and everyone can safely get to class.

She did get to go sledding with her teammates, though, which she said was a blast. Her Colgate team parka kept her warm, as did her snow boots, some of the first purchases she made upon arrival. 

"It was an easier transition than I thought it would be," Herbst said. "I thought I would be freezing all the time, but it isn't so bad. I got used to it." 

If the parka and snow boots didn't keep her warm, her softball bat would have. Herbst, who hit .438 during her Lakewood Ranch career, instantly became one of Colgate's best players when she stepped on campus. She led the Raiders with a .365 average from the leadoff spot with nine doubles, four triples and two home runs. She had a team-high .509 slugging percentage with 20 RBIs and she also played multiple defensive positions.

Her performance earned her the Patriot League Rookie of the Year award as well as a spot on the league's all-conference First Team and the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Northeast Second Team. 

"Receiving those awards, it was a sign that my hard work is paying off and I'm being rewarded for it," Herbst said. "I know that I'm doing all of this for a reason now. Like, I'm good at this."

Herbst is a slap hitter, which means she's a lefty who focuses on making contact. Left-handed slap hitters get a moving start in the batter's box, taking a few steps toward first base as they swing in order to get an advantage running to first base. Think of how Ichiro Suzuki used to hit for the Seattle Mariners and you'll have the basic idea, only slap hitters take it even further

Herbst said her biggest challenge in the transition to college softball was the sheer workload. There is more of everything, Herbst said. More time in the weight room, more homework, more practice time and more pressure. It was an adjustment, but it was nothing she couldn't handle.

She had a nice head start because of the high school and travel programs where her skills were fostered. Herbst played for Coach T.J. Goelz at Lakewood Ranch, which just won back-to-back Florida High School Athlete Association state titles, and on his Tampa Mustangs T.J. travel team, which annually competes for national travel team titles. 

"The speed (of Goelz's practices) is the same as it is here," Herbst said. "Everything is fast-paced. He runs a tight ship. He also taught me to always compete for my position. I was not a starter as a freshman at Lakewood Ranch. I had to prove myself in practice and eventually I earned a lineup spot right before the postseason. I knew I had to have the same attitude here." 

The lineup spot came quicker at Colgate. Herbst said she did not enter the season with any expectations. She was focused on improving her approach at the plate and always "barreling" the ball. If she did that, she said, the results would come. She was also focused on having fun. Herbst said college athletics can become too much to take if you're not enjoying yourself. Luckily for Herbst, her teammates are a fun-loving group and have provided strong leadership. 

"I found my people," Herbst said. 

Colgate's season went by in a flash, Herbst said, but one moment managed to stand out. On the team's week-long road trip to play teams in Alabama, Herbst hit her first collegiate home run March 17 against Samford. Not only that, but Herbst's father, Richard Herbst, was in attendance. Colgate would lose the game 4-3, but that was secondary to Herbst sharing such a moment with her father, she said. 

As a team, Colgate did not have a stellar year. The Raiders went 20-28 and bowed out in the second round of the Patriot League tournament. But having Herbst at the top of their lineup provides hope for 2023. Herbst said she is taking a few weeks off from on-field drills to rest her body, but she is still lifting weights every day. Once she returns to on-field drills, Herbst said she plans on improving her conditioning and getting stronger, in an effort to increase her extra-base hits.

She will also be enjoying herself. It might be snowy in Hamilton, but Herbst feels right at home. 

"A lot of high school players are scared to leave home or leave Florida," Herbst said. "I get that. It can be intimidating. Being in that area (Lakewood Ranch), your world is small. Leaving Florida has opened up my world a lot. Plus, home is only a plane ride away. I would tell everyone to not let distance affect your decision. Follow where your heart tells you to go because it is probably right." 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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