Senior infielder Jordyn VanHook started one game for ASU last season, but she was determined to return for her senior season. This season, Vanhook has started all but one.
Much was changing in the ASU softball landscape during the offseason amid incoming head coach Megan Bartlett, transfers and acquisitions. Yet, VanHook spent the summer working relentlessly toward what has become her breakout season.
VanHook is tied with UCLA's redshirt junior Maya Brady for the lead in Pac-12 in home runs and ranks tied with two other players for No. 4 nationally with 15 home runs.
"I have just been working really hard this offseason," VanHook said. "I didn't get that much playing time in my previous three years. But right now, I'm just trying to make the most of my opportunities."
As a graduate student in 2021, catcher Maddi Hackbarth tied ASU's home run record, sending 20 balls out of the park. The following season, freshman infielder Cydney Sanders, who transferred to Oklahoma, reached ASU's pinnacle of home runs in a single softball season with 21.
That means with three series and the Pac-12 tournament remaining to play, VanHook has an opportunity to make a run at the record and etch her name in ASU's home run record books.
Coach Bartlett said that VanHook's ascension was a "testament" to the work that she put in and raved about her as a teammate.
"She's a really good teammate; she waited her turn," Bartlett said. "She learned a new defensive position when we came back in August because that's the kind of kid Jordyn is. None of us are taking any credit for her success. That's all Jordyn. Now she's just helping the ball program in incredible ways."
VanHook has played in every game for ASU this season and is one of the most productive players on this year's squad. VanHook praised Bartlett, crediting her coach for a boost in confidence, and compared their relationship to a mother-daughter bond.
"She's there more than I could ever thank her for," VanHook said. "She's just more like on the mom's side. She wants you to be successful on and off the field, which I find important as a player. So I love coach B; she's awesome."
Outside of delivering a surplus of home runs, Vanhook's production is off the charts this season. Batting at .324, VanHook has also added six doubles, 33 hits and 30 RBIs to the slate.
One of the season's highlights came in a home win against Portland State in the Littlewood Classic tournament hosted in Tempe; VanHook erupted, hitting a home run, five RBIs, two doubles and scoring three runs.
The ASU softball team's leadoff hitter, graduate outfielder Yannira Acuña said, "I think this year we're more of gap-to-gap hitters. We try to drive the ball and lead the country in doubles," when describing the Sun Devils' offensive approach.
Until Sunday's game against Oregon, in which VanHook did not start, Acuña was one of two Sun Devils to start and play in every game — the other was VanHook. However, VanHook has played in all 37 games and started in 36. Acuña also leads the squad in runs so far with 36; VanHook has the second most with 25.
Last year, 20 games played presented VanHook with only 17 opportunities at bat. This year, VanHook has already stepped up to the plate 102 times, changing the infrastructure of the Sun Devils offense.
The offense was expected to be a strength on this Sun Devil squad after acquiring offensive-centric Bartlett, who helped the Longhorns at the University of Texas take their offense to the next level.
Despite the teetering second half of the season, Bartlett has already proven her worth to the Sun Devil program. Bartlett has piloted the Sun Devils as they have fluctuated in and out of power rankings and helped maneuver the group through critical wins and losses.
Nevertheless, one of the gems of Bartlett's early tenure at the helm is the response and productivity she has induced out of VanHook.
VanHook is the ruler of her own pace. Early in the season, she said she was trying to take things "day-by-day" and not put much thought into it, but the devil is in the details as VanHook's boost in confidence has changed the trajectory of her softball career at ASU.
"She doesn't let anyone at-bat moment get bigger than the next," Bartlett said. "She keeps it really simple, she knows what pitch she's looking for, and I think day in and day out comes with just a really simple, consistent solid approach at the plate. It's just been fun to watch."
VanHook looks to add to her dominance when the Sun Devils, 21-16, battle their in-state counterpart, Grand Canyon University, on Tuesday at 6 p.m. MST at Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium in Tempe.
Edited by Kathryn Field, Jasmine Kabiri and Anusha Natarajan.