'Bulldog' on the Mound: Verdun's aggressive, small-town pitching mentality leads Blue Demons
Published: Saturday, April 28, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
In sports, being told ‘you throw like a girl’ is the biggest insult of all. Indeed, throwing rocks, balls and other objects is not considered a popular activity for young girls and adult women, but DePaul University sophomore southpaw Kirsten Verdun has shown her doubters that girls can throw too.
Verdun brushes her fingers across a sterling silver necklace dangling from her neck. A slight finger wave reveals her charm, 7, her jersey number and a symbol of her birthday, Oct. 7.
“I’ve had it for quite a while, since summer ball when I was younger. When I came here, [former pitcher] Becca Heteniak was graduating and she was number seven. So it was kind of luck that I would be able to walk in here, get that number and it would fit me,” Verdun said.
Verdun has become the Blue Demons’ double threat on the field. She is the team’s pitching ace with an 20-11 record, 1.75 earned-run average (ERA) and an opponents’ batting average of .211. Offensively, Verdun leads DePaul with nine home runs, 37 runs batted in (RBIs) and 50 hits, while batting .368.
“She’s a good combination of a hard worker and a talented player,” said DePaul Head Coach Eugene Lenti. “As a pitcher, she has what we call ‘bulldog’ mentality where she really puts her mind to things and if she wants to get them done, she gets them done.”
Verdun, a native of Coal City, Ill., said her humble beginnings prepared her to play the field with a level head.
“Being from Coal City just keeps me down to earth. It’s a very small town where everyone kind of knows everyone. I was raised close to all my family members, and it just gave me a sense of responsibility and good morals,” Verdun said. “It’s a lot different obviously, but I’d like to think that what I did in Coal City reflects on the person I am.”
Coal City is the home of the Coal City High School 2010 IHSA State Champion Softball team, a feat Verdun helped the team achieve. She set a state record, going 40-0 her senior year at Coal City High School, leading them to the state title.
Verdun attributes her success as a pitcher to her older brother Ryan, who she said first got her interested in sports and fostered that interest by playing with her and exposing her to her own athletic talents.
“I feel like I have to accredit how good I’ve gotten at pitching to [Ryan] and the time that he’s put in too, as well as my parents,” Verdun said. “A lot of it was him, especially [playing] basketball. I played basketball in high school. He played basketball and he was always dragging me out to a game.”
Ryan Verdun, a senior horticulture major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said he is “proud” of his little sister, who followed him in playing basketball at their alma mater.
“Growing up, she always was out playing basketball with me and my friends,” Ryan said. “She wanted to play. When she led the team to nationals, the whole town was really supportive of her.”
When asked about what made Verdun such an athletic force, Ryan said, “She does a really good job of turning it up a notch, instead of giving up. When she’s doing work, she gets more aggressive.”
Verdun admits that her family has been her biggest support system, attending as many games as possible, cheering her on and supporting her athletic aspirations.
“Both my grandparents come to as many games as they can. My dad is always there for me and my mom is a great cheerleader. I think I have a great support system altogether,” Verdun said.
Verdun, who is majoring in public relations and advertising, said she chose DePaul because of the university’s location and great academic track record. While she is a force to reckon with on the field, Verdun is dedicated to academics.
“I think it’s kind of cliché but really, school always has to come first. At DePaul they do a good job of saying the student comes before the athlete for a reason,” Verdun said. “I know personal stories [about others] who’ve been really athletic, but didn’t get the grades to get into the academic institution they wanted to. Your academics can either open doors or close doors for you, and I think that’s something that needs to be valued.”
The Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America recently named Verdun the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Week for the week of March 26-April 1 for her talented efforts “on both sides of the ball.”
“It was really one of the most prestigious awards I’ve ever received. It was very humbling, but also I think about what it does for the recognition of DePaul softball. It’s more than about my name, it’s about our name. It sends a message to people that we’re a team to be reckoned with and an organization to be reckoned with,” Verdun said.
Lenti said he is proud of Verdun for her hard work.
“It makes me feel every good. Any time your players get accolades like that, it reflects upon the whole program,” Lenti said. “We haven’t had that many players over the course of our history to be named National Players of the Week, so it’s a great honor for her and for the program.”
What makes Verdun stand out? She said she would like to think it is the “bulldog” mentality Lenti attributes to her.
“I’d like to think it’s my competitive edge. There are a lot of people who are more athletic or more fundamentally sound than I am, but I think that I try to take things personally and focus on trying to be better than them,” Verdun said.
To help Verdun focus before games, she listens to her special playlist on her iPhone — it is her pre- game ritual.
“Lil’ Wayne. I love Lil’ Wayne — he always gets me pumped up,” Kirsten said.