We’ve heard that California girls are undeniable, and the 2018 DePaul Blue Demons only validate this theory

Pop music icon Katy Perry may not be aware of this, but her 2010 hit single “California Gurls” is just as relevant to some people today, as it was eight years ago when the song was released. Of course, it all depends who you ask.


While it may not be played on the radio with as much regularity as it once was, the track might as well be the official fight song for the 2018 version of DePaul University’s varsity softball program.

Incredibly, of the 20 women who suited up for the Blue Demons this past season en route to the program’s second straight Big East conference title, eight are from the nation’s Golden State.

Roster

In fact, several of them grew up playing softball together in the same travel leagues, or in high school. And as infielder Erin Andris explains, this familiarity they have with each other from so many shared experiences playing together prior to their college careers is something that has added to the special bond that existed all season long inside the Blue Demons clubhouse.

“SoCal has a very tight knit softball community, so either you know other players your age through someone else, or you know them yourself because you played with them or against them. We’re just such a small group there that we all seem to know each other somehow some way,” said the Valencia, California native.

“It’s definitely cool because you’ll go somewhere like South Carolina, and you’ll see old teammates that you can catch up with and run into,” Andris added.

Pitcher and outfielder Megan Leyva also reaffirmed that there is a comfort level on the team which exists from knowing that so many of her DePaul teammates are similar stomping grounds.

“With our young [California] players, you can definitely see that they’ve come up and stepped up to the plate, and played like they’ve been with us forever and I think it’s great that we have such a great bond on the team that when we play together we really work together to get to our goal,” said the recipient of the 2018 BIG EAST tournament’s most outstanding player.

“I think it only made the team closer,” echoed Blue Demons head athletic trainer Ryan Grebner, who also attributes praise to the Illinois sector of DePaul’s softball roster for helping all the California recruits when getting settled during their transition to the Midwest university in Chicago.

“From the beginning I think the kids who are from around here all assisted each of them in making a comfortable transition to DePaul. Having teammates that can assist them in making that transition off the field only makes the product and trust on the field better in my opinion. And working with them was a great experience just like the rest of the team. Easy going and extremely kind individuals to be around and always wanting to do their best for the team in any situation.”

However, when you’ve traveled so far across the country to go to college and be a varsity softball player like so many Californian members of the Blue Demons have, naturally it becomes more challenging for family to attend as many games.

But Erin Adris’ mother, Katrina, that is a part of the deal when you have a daughter who plays softball at such a highly competitive level.

“If your daughter plays softball, or your kid plays travel sports, it’s just something that you get used to doing. You pretty much get used to traveling everywhere. Especially softball. They pretty much play all over the country,” said Mrs. Andris, who made the 2,000 plus mile commute to watch her daughter defeat the Creighton Blue Jays by a score of 6-2 in the BIG EAST championship game.

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Katrina Andris (left) with daughter Erin Andris (right) at the BIG EAST championship game during a prolonged rain delay

“I traveled here from California by myself. It’s important for me to try and make it here for big games and tournaments, and I always make sure I meet the team to watch their games whenever they play on the west coast,” added the sophomore’s mother.

This past season, the Blue Demons participated in the Rebel Classic tournament, which was held in Las Vegas Nevada. DePaul also competed in Fullerton, California’s Easton Invitational tournament, which allowed Andris and some of the other California parents to watch their daughters play.

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DePaul Blue Demons huddle up prior to a game against Northwestern at Caciatorre Stadium on May 2.

Through the 2018 softball year, the Blue Demons roster collectively combined for 39 home runs and 211 runs batted in. Amazingly, DePaul’s eight California products produced 17 of those big flies, and 97 RBIs.

Maybe Katy Perry was right. There must be something in the water.

Content creators throughout the American Hockey League deploy unique strategies to keep their fan base energized

When it comes to creating content for a professional sports enterprise, market conditions are always a vital component in terms of identifying a particular approach to marketing your brand. After speaking with content creators for two separate American Hockey League franchises, the notion that each market is unique was only reinforced.

For the Laval Rocket, Claudia Richard had the exciting challenge of producing content for an AHL club that is the Montreal Canadiens affiliate. The Canadiens, who have a rich history as an original six franchise who’ve won an impressive 24 Stanley Cups, recently moved their farm club to Laval in advance of this past regular season. Since Laval is approximately a 20 minute drive to the Bell Centre, where the Canadiens play, Claudia Richard indicated that the club’s marketing strategy is different since the two teams are so close in proximity.

“It’s easier for the Montreal Canadiens to call-up more guys. And the more players get called up, it’s better for us. For instance, when [goaltender] Charlie Lindgren was recalled by the Habs and played well, there was a lot more buzz around the Rocket when he came back. Because he was playing in Montreal and it’s only like 20 minutes away, people know what he did for the Canadiens,” explained Richard, who initially began her career with her sights set on being a journalist.

“I’ve always wanted to work in sports. I started my career in the media, and I started my career as a journalist for about two years working for a French radio station and creating content for the station. From there, I started to work for a junior team for one season. After that, I applied for this job here in Laval and I got it. So that was my path to where I am today,” she recounted.

The Rocket, who just completed their inaugural AHL season in 2017-18, emphasized the idea that a player’s path to the Canadiens begins in Laval.

“We want to let people know that the road to the NHL starts here in Laval. We tend to promote the players who got drafted, and who will probably play with the Montreal Canadiens. That’s what the Canadiens are asking from us, to get their names out there so that when they arrive in the NHL, people will know who they are.”

Moving forward in year two, however, Richard indicated that she and her staff will be making more of an effort to promote the league as well.

“Yeah, we want to promote the league as well. In Quebec and in Montreal, a lot of people still don’t know much about the American Hockey League, and how high the level of hockey is here. So moving forward next year, we want to make even more of an effort promoting the skills and the league, just to show people that we’re a professional team and it’s a good level of hockey,” she said.

The major challenge that the Rocket face, is that they don’t really play in a hockey town. Instead, it’s more of a Montreal Canadiens town. So for the Laval Rocket, it’s crucial that they try and offer certain things that the Habs may not.

“I think it’s to promote the players. We’re like a brand within a bigger brand here in Montreal. When the players come to Laval, they’re either young, or they are career AHL players. We need to promote the players, and put them out there. We also need to show a lot of behind the scenes, because that’s what people are looking for. We always try to offer things that the NHL team cannot.”

Conversely, the AHL’s Chicago Wolves are an established organization and are partners with a team that is in the midst of an inaugural season. Like the Laval Rocket, the Vegas Golden Knights came into the 2017-18 campaign without much of an identity. But while Laval is clearly trying to position themselves alongside the Montreal Canadiens for promotional purposes, the Wolves try hard to distinguish themselves from their NHL brand as much as possible.

“We are the Wolves. Yes, we were partners with the Thrashers, we were partners with the Canucks, we were partners with the Blues, and now we’re partners with Vegas. But hey, we’re still the Wolves. Don’t worry about [whoever we’re affiliated with], you can like the Wolves on your own,” said Lindsey Willhite, the Chicago Wolves director of public relations.

Obviously with the Stanley Cup run that the Golden Knights are currently enjoying, the Wolves have been using the opportunity to promote some of their past players who are now starring in Vegas. But in general, the Wolves see themselves as a conservative brand.

“We’ve always portrayed ourselves as conservative. We haven’t been splashy just for the sake of it. We haven’t pumped out obnoxious tweets or obnoxious social media posts just to stand out,” he added.

Willhite also echoed a sentiment expressed by Claudia Richard of the Rocket. Which is that right now, social media is perhaps the single most area of focus as far as the media platform is concerned.

“Now that social media is so dynamic, and so massive, you’re almost feeding that beast first. You want to hit people right. You don’t want to write something that they’re going to ignore because who knows how many thousands of impressions you could be missing out on. I would say the ability to read social media, to communicate via social media, and to craft good content for social media is probably number one right now.”

 

 

 

Athletic trainer Ryan Grebner brings more than just strength and conditioning prowess to DePaul’s softball program

Ryan Grebner isn’t a player, or a coach, but his impact on the DePaul Blue Demons women’s softball team is positively immeasurable.

Normally, a team’s athletic trainer will work exclusively with the players who are rehabilitating from an injury, but Grebner’s dedication to fitting in as a member of the group has almost superseded his primary role as a support staff member. In fact, outfielder Angela Scalzitti acknowledges that his goofy and uplifting personality contributes immensely to the positive mood around the team.

“Ryan’s energy is awesome. He works so closely with us between practice and helping us rehab. He’s on the road with us all the time. So we know him very well. I think he just brings a lot of energy to the team, and he keeps us loose,” she said.

The sophomore also praised Grebner’s athletic ability, and the effort he puts forth on the field during practices as an on-field participant.

“He’s very athletic. He’s played baseball before, so it’s fun to watch him in practice because he goes all out,” Scalzitti added.


But the players who work with him one-on-one to recover from injuries believe he brings a tremendous breath of support and positivity to them during such adverse personal situations.

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Ryan Grebner posing during practice

“We have rehab every day. It helps that he’s played baseball and that he’s athletic. He’s awesome, and he really genuinely cares. He came with me to every doctor appointment, and he was there for the surgery, and he’s met my mom. So it was nice to see someone who actually cares that much, because he really doesn’t have to,” explained, Sabrina Kuchta, whose been sideline for the majority of the season with damage to her MCL.

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Photo of Sabrina Kuchta, courtesy of the DePaul Blue Demons

To the average fan, it might not be clear as to how much responsibility an athletic trainer has in terms of caring for the players on a daily basis.

“So, for me I’m the athletic trainer, any medical needs that they have, injury related, sports psychology, any illness, contacts and glasses, pretty much the whole realm of any health related issue that they need assistance with. I’m the advocate that’s supposed to help them with said issue,” explained Grebner.

And although he is currently thriving with the Blue Demons in his role as an athletic therapist, he admits that he was also a promising athlete prior to launching his career as a trainer.

“I was a three-sport athlete, basketball, baseball, and football. I got hurt one season, playing basketball, and I dislocated my shoulders. One happened, and then when I returned back to basketball the other happened. I spent a lot of time with our athletic trainer at our high school. That’s how I got into the profession,” he said.

Had Grebner not spent so much time with athletic trainers himself, perhaps he wouldn’t be in the position he is in today. But he doesn’t regret his choice to work with athletes, and he highlights that the 2018 edition of the women’s softball team is an absolute pleasure to work with.

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DePaul’s women’s softball team during a post-practice team meeting

“Getting to work with them and knowing how together they are as a team. They all have a good relationship within the team and they both work together towards the same goal. I don’t think they’re separated in any way, they all know they’re aren’t here for individual statistics, they’re here for the team,” said Grebner, who like DePaul’s softball players, is also a student and understands how busy the athletes are. Fortunately for him though, he never has to physically attend classes.

“My master’s degree is all online, which is really helpful. I can go to practice and travel all the time, I can do homework from anywhere as long as I have internet. For me, it’s a lot of time management stuff. Essentially I have the same schedule as an athlete,” he acknowledged.

Maybe the most important aspect of Grebner’s job with the women’s softball team, is likely his communication with head coach Eugene Lenti’s staff on a regular basis. Grebner said that a lot of information is constantly being passed on from him to the coaches.

“I give them information what their player’s status is throughout the week. How they’re feeling, how they’re progressing with an injury, an assessment I did and what I found. I give them an array of knowledge of how the team is feeling as a whole to help them decide who is going to play, how effective are they going to be on the field. So that’s communication with the coaches, I tell them how their kids are feeling on a certain day,” Grebner offered.

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The DePaul BLue Demons women’s softball team, in advance of the Big East conference tournament

Despite being extremely busy juggling school, and the many hours he spends with the Blue Demons, Grebner feels bonded by the fact that both he and the players have such busy schedules.

“I think it’s making me a better trainer as a whole because I’m trying to multi-task and try to do it at a high-level, as a master student and be a good athletic trainer for the team. It’s hard, but just like the kids, they do it; they push hard, and they’re successful.”

DePaul alumna makes smooth transition from student to teacher with the Blue Demons softball team

“Bubbly,” “positive,” and “inspiring” are words DePaul’s women’s softball team volunteered to characterized Lynsey Ciezki, their beloved assistant coach, who is now on her second season with the team.

Veteran pitcher Kennedy Garcia, who is a senior and one of the club’s more vocal leaders, actually went as far as to say that Ciezki’s optimism is infectious throughout their entire clubhouse.

“We all love Ciezki because she brings so much positive energy, I literally always call her a ray of sunshine. She kind of balances everything out, and if you’re having a bad day, she’s always there to pick you up,” Garcia highlighted.

Ciezki is no stranger to DePaul’s storied reputation as a women’s softball superpower, having starred for the Blue Demons from 2009-2012 as a player. During that period, Ciezki not only helped the program qualify for the NCAA tournament every year, she also earned BIG EAST Championship All-Tournament team member selections in both 2011 and 2012.

Ciezki
Image courtesy of DePaul Athletics

And according to head coach Eugene Lenti, it was Ciezki’s work ethic and versatility on the field that made her so valuable to his roster nearly a decade ago, but also as a member of his staff since she returned in 2017.

“I always said when I had her as a player that if I had 10 of her, I’d be the happiest guy around because she was just a great team player. She could play anywhere and was very versatile, and as a coach she just keeps getting better every day. She works at her craft, and the girls love her,” said Leinti, in praise of his former player.

In fact, when Lenti’s Blue Demons played Nebraska this past March, he noted that Hall of Fame coach Rhonda Revelle made it her priority to compliment Ciezki’s work with DePaul’s infielders, whose strong defensive play contributed immensely to a 1-0 victory.

“She’s a great infield coach. As a matter of fact, the head coach of Nebraska [Rhonda Revelle] came up to her when we were at Cal State Fullerton, and complimented her on how our infielders played and how she worked them out before the game,” Lenti offered.

But Lenti isn’t surprised in the slightest that his student is now having success as the teacher, “You could kind of see that she had it in her back then, even as a player,” said Lenti, who has been at DePaul for almost four decades now.

Lenti
Photo of Eugene Lenti, courtesy of DePaul Athletics

While Lenti and DePaul’s players only have positive things to say about Ciezki involvement on the coaching side of things, she acknowledges that those feelings expressed by members of the team are mutual.

“Oh man, I think it’s awesome. I love it. When I played here, I had a great four years, everyone is like family to me,” said the 27-year-old assistant coach.

When her playing days were up at DePaul, she admitted that she needed to adjust her mindset. All she knew was playing, and when her four years on the field were over with, the prospect of reinventing herself seemed daunting.

“After my last game here, it was hard. I’ve been an athlete my whole life and not playing a sport, it was a different process. Coming back to coach I feel like I am playing. Sometimes during practices I jump in with them.”

However, her outlook has evolved, and she now appreciates the game of softball from an entirely different vantage point, “Actually, it’s now more fun for me to see someone succeed after we work on something than it is playing in the game. Evolving as a coach has been awesome because you just want to see the smiles on their faces,” she added.

For Ciezki, the biggest difference she has noticed between playing and coaching, is that she now thinks the game a lot more than she ever did when she was in the lineup herself.

“You see a whole different side of the game. It’s more about keeping the kids upbeat, it’s more mental. After the games I’m exhausted just because I’m thinking of everything. When I was a player I would just react to it and play,” she explained.

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Lynsey Ciezki in her playing days, courtesy of DePaul Athletics

Even though Ciezki often wishes she was still playing, she acknowledges that being offered the chance to coach alongside Eugene Lenti at her alma mater is an opportunity that she is still so grateful to have. She remembers the day she received a formal offer from coach Lenti as being surreal for her.

“I’ve always wanted to be a college coach, but I never knew it would be back at DePaul, so when Eugene called me that one day, it was over the summer and I was in Colorado. It was a little shocking, but it was awesome; I called everyone I knew, I was so excited about it,” Ciezki recounted.

Someone else who was ecstatic when Ciezki was brought in last season as an assistant coach, is current sophomore Angela Scalzitti, who has gracefully patrolled the Blue Demons outfield all season.

“She’s the nicest person I think you’ll ever meet on this planet. Sometimes practice can get really monotonous, but she finds fun ways for us to practice with each and every drill. It’s hard not to be happy when you’re around her,” expressed Scalzitti.

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Photo by Agustina Manrique

Prior to DePaul, Ciezky coached Scalzitti on a travel team where they developed a close working relationship that is still flourishing today.

“I did coach Angela Scalzitti before I came here, so I have a prior relationship, I coached her during travel ball, she’s been a slap [hitter] her whole life. This last game she got a grand slam, it was her first one, it was cool to see her run around the bases. I actually teared up,” Ciezky conceded.


Throughout Eugene Lenti’s prolific tenure at the help of DePaul’s softball program, he recognizes that his success as a head coach is firmly correlated to the incredible athletes he’s been able to recruit and work with. But he also credits the influence of having many astute coaching minds on his staff over the years.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of good assistant coaches, so she’s another one on a long list of great assistant coaches we’ve had here at DePaul. But when you do have assistant coaches like Lynsey, you know that you can rely on them to get things done the way that you want them to.”

Using Twitter & video to promote the DePaul women’s softball team

After several Blue Demons games were postponed due to inclement weather, it was great to finally spend some time at Cacciatore Stadium with the DePaul women’s softball team during their recent series against St. John University.

It’s always a great time watching these athletes hone their craft, and from the below tweets, you’ll see that I was able to capture some need little snippets of what this exciting group is all about!

Despite no runs, few hits, and cool weather, Guaranteed Rate Field is still fun place for White Sox fans

As Chris Volstad took the hill for the White Sox against the Seattle Mariners on Monday afternoon, temperatures were still slightly chilly. And in a game that featured no runs and just five hits from the home team, you would naturally assume that an already modest crowd was bored.

But Sox fans who did show up for the 4:10 CT start time enjoyed themselves despite the uneventful game on the field, and the eventual losing outcome. While I explored the ballpark for the first time, I discovered the greatest parts of Guaranteed Rate Field. Below are many of the discoveries I made at the ballpark that allowed White Sox fans to still have a fun time.