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Jan. 19, 2006

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – First-year pitcher Madi Gore and first-year outfielder Sarah Tacke took some time over the recently concluded winter break to answer some questions to give Virginia softball fans a chance to become more familiar with the newest additions of the Virginia softball family.

What made you decide to attend college at Virginia?
ST – The University of Virginia has a lot to offer. It has a great academic reputation so I knew I would get a great education. Athletically, I think being a student-athlete in the ACC is pretty awesome. The girls are great. When I came on my recruiting visit, it was pouring rain, and I still thought the campus was beautiful. Everyone was extremely friendly and I could sense that they loved Virginia. They really made me comfortable and I felt I would fit in with them. I also felt I could fit in softball-wise and make an impact on the program. I have lived in California all my life, so I was excited to have the chance to experience another part of the country and see what life is like outside of California. Virginia is a place where I can grow both as an athlete and an intellectual.

MG – I chose Virginia because of the beautiful campus and the academic possibilities provided by the school.

You were recruited by the previous coaching staff. What were your first impressions of the new coaching staff?
ST – I found out we were getting new coaches during the summer. At first, I was a little worried, because for a while there were no coaches hired, and I didn’t know what to expect. As soon as the new coaching staff was announced to the public, my mom did outrageous amounts of research on the internet and multiple gossipy softball websites to find all the dirt on the new coaches. However, there was no dirt. All the information we found was very positive and I became very excited. All the softball experts I knew, meaning my old travel-ball coaches and other dads who seem to know everything about everything, were also very excited to tell me how lucky I was and how great they thought the new staff would be. My parents and I got to meet Coach Johns and Coach Carie at Nationals and in no time they were joking around with my parents and eating dinner until well past my team’s curfew for the night. Arriving in Virginia with all this encouragement, the first meetings with the coaches did not let me down. I felt they had the knowledge and power to push everyone to reach their potential and bring this program to levels not yet reached. I knew then I could become a better softball player because of them.

MG – The coaches are very professional yet they also make softball fun. They know how to get us to work hard yet enjoy what we are doing.

How was your first semester of college and was it what you expected – both on the field and academically?
ST – My first semester was great in every aspect. On the field, I expected to work harder than I had ever worked before. I expected to get great instruction and new knowledge and ideas. This is exactly what I got. We have worked hard thus far and I can only imagine how hard we will work during the season. The coaches constantly have helpful tips that somehow always seem to fix everything. For example, during a hitting session, I was getting a little frustrated and Coach Johns brilliantly put a spare ball on the back half of the plate where I was to make contact. Magically everything was fixed the next pitch. I really don’t know how they do it!

Academically, classes were challenging. In contrast to high school, I studied instead of watching TV, and it usually took more than an hour. Granted TV did not get totally deleted from my life, but it did greatly decrease. I liked the atmosphere of a college classroom, however. Students actually want to be there and engage in the subject, another contrast to high school. The professors care about what they teach which makes learning easier and more enjoyable. I am very pleased with my academic experience of my first semester.

MG – On the field, I was surprised at how hard it is to throw at 43 feet as opposed to the 40 feet I was used to in high school and travel ball. Academics were harder than I thought they would be as well. It’s definitely a learning experience, but life on campus is a lot better than I thought it would be.

How has the transition to collegiate softball been? (Has it been harder or easier than you expected)?
ST – My transition to collegiate softball has been very enjoyable. Practices are much more focused now. It’s great to see how much we can accomplish in one afternoon if we set our minds correctly. I think I have adjusted well to the workload of practices and workouts. Softball is really what I look forward to every day. I am determined to work hard and at the least keep up with everyone else. The jump to 43 feet was harder than I expected, however. I am still working to wait longer on the ball. Other than that, things are not exactly hard. They may be challenging, but that’s the part that makes it fun. I look forward to being challenged and seeing how far I can go. That’s part of competition and bringing yourself to the next level, which is exactly what I want to do.

MG – In addition to the new pitching distance, which I mentioned before, pitching with metal cleats was harder than I thought it would be. Now that I’ve gotten used to them I really like them. The overall transition wasn’t to hard because I have great teammates and coaches who helped me through it.

There are only two first-years on the softball team so you are both experiencing some of the same things for the first time. Have you been able to develop a bond with one another?
ST – Madi and I have definitely developed a strong bond being the only two first-years. We have had to figure a lot of things out for ourselves and I am glad that she has been there to share in all of the experiences. We even had two classes together so we were able to talk about how sore we were from the last conditioning and weight-lifting sessions as well as how hard the last calculus test was. I’m glad she was always there to be my speaking partner in German class because I would have been lost without her. We can ask each other questions that we feel stupid asking anyone else, even though it’s rare that we know the answer and end up asking someone else anyway! I think we make a pretty good team and that our four years together are going to be great.

MG – Totally. Sarah is one of my best friends at the university. We had a couple of classes together first semester so that allowed us to get to know each other off the field as well. We were able to hang out a lot on weekends and after practice too.

How have the other players on the team helped you adjust to life in college?
ST – The other girls have been a great help. I have gotten so much advice from honestly every girl on the team. They are always around to answer any of my questions or just to tell me what is going on. Because of them, I have never been homesick. They have really brought me into the family that is our team. I loved going to football games with everyone and letting them introduce me to a million people. It seems like I often got little pep talks or advice or just handy information every time someone gave me a ride back to the dorms. I am excited for the season to start and I get to hang out with everyone even more.

MG – My teammates have been very helpful to me on and off the field. They encourage me in the weight room even though I’m hopeless! They are more than willing to give me academic advice as well. They are great about giving rides and taking us to places off grounds.

What is your favorite practice drill?
ST – My favorite practice drill is working on balls at the fence in the outfield. I am not particularly good at this drill. I always seem to find a way to make myself look silly! My fellow outfielders and I have a lot of fun with this drill and our ball tosser, Coach Carie, who, might I add, needs to work on her tossing, always throws in a few good comments about my abilities. I do think I’m improving, however, and hopefully will have this skill mastered very soon.

My real favorite drill, though, is hitting off live pitching. I’m glad Coach Johns is skilled enough to be able to throw to us live and we don’t have to use a machine. Live pitching allows me to work on my swing in a game-like environment, which is obviously the best environment possible. It makes you focus like a real at-bat and not just go through the motions because you have a whole bucket to go through. We usually have sets of five pitches or so, so every ball has meaning.

MG – My favorite practice drill has to be the scrimmages. I’m a competitive person and I like competing against the hitters on the team.

Do you have any superstitions or rituals you do on the field?
ST – I’m sorry to say I am unable to answer this question. I was once asked this by a local newspaper reporter after a high school game. I explained my superstition of lowering my pant legs when a crucial hit was needed. This trick had worked its magic in that afternoon’s game. After the article was printed, however, I found myself jinxed. My superstition did not produce with its usual high success rate. I was forced to develop alternatives, which is not an easy task. It took a lot of trial and error when I could have been using my pant leg trick. Learning from this mistake, I have vowed to no longer give out my rituals that are still working to the press!

MG – I wouldn’t call it a superstition or a ritual but more like an unnoticed habit. When I have to concentrate on making a specific pitch I always pick dirt up in my hand and then wipe in on my pants. It’s a subconscious habit because I don’t even know that I do it half the time.

If you could meet and talk to one professional athlete who would it be and why?
ST – My favorite professional athlete is obviously Iyhia McMichael. Luckily, she is already my coach and I have already met her. She is a great outfielder and great hitter, both things I am aspiring to be. If you read her bio, she has done some amazing things but when you talk to her, she is very down to earth. She is very knowledgeable about softball and I look forward to spending more time with her during the season and learning as much as possible from her.

MG – If I could talk to any professional athlete it would have to be Roy Keane (formerly of Manchester United) because of his determination and leadership on the field. He’s not the best athlete but he’s very respected because of his dedication to his job. I’d like to talk to him and ask him how he stays so focused throughout games and I would like to pick up on his attitude so I can incorporate that into my game.

What is your favorite softball memory to date?
ST – My favorite softball memory is signing my national letter of intent. It happened during lunch one glorious sunny day at school. I went into the principal’s office and sat in his fancy chair at his fancy desk. My parents, my high school coach, the principal and athletic director were all there, along with a newspaper reporter and photographer. We opened the manila envelope and pulled out the letter with the fancy letterhead. I signed everything in triplicate with a fancy pen while photos were snapped. I felt important to be causing such a commotion during the lunch hour. I was also proud to be becoming a college athlete and starting on a new path in my life. I felt that everyone present was proud to be there and share in this experience. It was truly a great day.

MG – My favorite softball memory has to be winning my second high school state championship. It was great because we were the major underdogs and had to win three games in a row to win the title and we did it. It was an awesome feeling! The first state championship is another of my favorite softball memories because I pitched a perfect game.

What are your expectations of yourself for the season?
ST – This season, I don’t really know what to expect from myself. I know I have a lot of potential and I plan on working very hard on my game. I want to get better every day. This team has the potential to succeed more than any team in Virginia softball history and I am excited to be a part of it.

MG – My personal goal is to win ACC pitcher of the year, but I know that’s a long shot. I’d just like to become a regular pitcher on the team and get a good amount of inning my first year.

Where do you see UVa Softball in May?
ST – In May I see UVa Softball winning an ACC Championship and going on to Regionals.

MG – In May, hopefully we are winning the ACC title and getting a spot in Regionals. That would be awesome!

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