van der Linden Brings It!

TALLAHASSEE – Jessica van der Linden has a lot on her mind these days. The Seminole softball standout pulls double duty, pitching every other contest and anchoring centerfield on her "days off".

Off the field, she is busy planning her July wedding to former FSU linebacker Michael Boulware. A recent graduate of the FSU College of Communication, there's also the job search to worry about.

"There are always days where you are close to a mental breakdown but I haven't had to deal with any more than any other student-athlete in America," van der Linden said.

The mental breakdowns were avoided. Any physical breakdowns were few and far between. At the plate, van der Linden leads her team in batting average (.384) and runs batted in (49). She already owns the school record in career doubles and is on pace to break the RBI mark, as well.

On the mound, van der Linden is near flawless, limiting opponents to meager .125 clip. On the season, she is 25-6 with a miniscule 0.56 ERA and 17 shutouts. Over her career, van der Linden tossed two perfect games and eight no hitters.

Versatile and dominating, van der Linden was named as a finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year honors.

It is something I am striving for," said van der Linden of the award. "It is a goal of mine and something I set out to try and achieve. "I always want to set my standards high and see if I can reach them. As far as softball goes, you can't set your standards much higher than Player of the Year."

No one player in the country has a higher batting average and a lower ERA than van der Linden. She hopes to be the first Seminole softball player ever to repeat as a first-team All-American selection.

Not bad for someone with such a busy schedule.

"I am very pleased with the way she has handled all of the potential distractions," FSU coach JoAnne Graf said. "I am so pleased in the way she has handled herself and that when she steps on the field she is able to put it all aside, think about softball and get her job done. She waits until she gets off the field to worry about everything else."

Come Thursday evening, when the host Seminoles (57-9), open NCAA Tournament play against Long Island (27-26), these issues and other will be forced once again to take a back seat as FSU tries to atone for its early postseason exit a season ago.

After winning its 10th ACC title in the past 13 years last weekend, the Seminoles – the nation's No. 4 seed - were awarded the right to host Regional play. Among the field are state rivals Florida, South Florida and Bethune-Cookman. Ohio State, Oregon and Cal. St. Northridge were also awarded bids.

"There are some great teams coming to Tallahassee," van der Linden said. "We have only played one of those teams this season (2-0 win against UF) so there will be a lot of interesting games between teams unfamiliar with one another."

Unfamiliarity was FSU's undoing a season ago. Riding a 27-game win streak into Regional play in Gainesville, the 'Noles were dumped in back-to-back games by Texas-Arlington and Oregon State. A record-breaking season met a sudden and disappointing end.

This season, when FSU dropped four of six games down the stretch, eyes opened.

"This is a different year," first-baseman Beth Wade said. "We are more grounded. We had a few losses heading into the ACC Tournament and then really played well. We're not going to focus on the past."

Play begins Thursday morning when South Florida meets Ohio State at 10:00 a.m. Florida takes on Cal. St. Northridge at 3 p.m. immediately before van der Linden and FSU meet Long Island.

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