When she left her home in northern California and headed across the country to Charleston, Lizzy Vaughn ’14 had no idea what to expect. All she knew was that she’d be playing softball and – at some point – traveling abroad. That was the deal.
Having observed what a life-changing experience her older sister – herself a collegiate softball player – had enjoyed while studying in Italy, Vaughn made her mom promise that, as long as she landed a softball scholarship, she, too, could study abroad during her college tenure.
The scholarship was the easy part for the three-year All-Sierra Valley Conference shortstop. It was fulfilling the other end of the bargain that would take some maneuvering: Coaches typically aren’t too keen on letting their star athletes take off to a foreign country for a semester.
“That’s why I chose international studies: Study abroad is required of the major,” Vaughn smiles slyly.
She got exactly what she wanted out of the major when she finally carved out two months of study abroad in Morocco her junior year. But her coursework also led to an unanticipated concentration in Asia, as well as a second major in women’s and gender studies, with a concentration in human rights abroad.
“I hadn’t planned on taking on a second major, but it just made sense with the coursework I already had,” says Vaughn, who credits Hollis France (political science), Alison Piepmeier (women’s and gender studies) and Tahani Higgins (Asian studies) with the direction of her studies. “It all happened kind of organically.”
Vaughn may have let her studies evolve organically, but some things just can’t be left to chance. Softball is one of those things. That’s why, before a game, she always puts her left cleat on, then her right (in that order); she always takes a minute to look at the two photos in her locker, one of her family, the other of herself, hitting a homerun; she always opens a text that her mom sent her a while back that says, “Be in the moment.” And she always, always, always listens to Beyoncé.
“I have a bunch of little things I do,” Vaughn laughs, adding that her walk-out song for the past season was Beyoncé’s “Flawless.” And it seems to have worked for her: The shortstop star has indeed played flawless defense for the Cougars time and time again.
“I love defense. Hitting is just kind of, you know, well, hit or miss. But with defense, I can always make that diving play,” says Vaughn, who joined her first tee-ball team at age 6 and her first softball team at age 8. “I’ve played all the positions, but shortstop was always my most favorite. I still love it. I just love that I get to dive and make cool plays. And I like to think that the dirtiest player is always the best.”
But shortstop isn’t all dirt and dives; it also takes a certain level of sophistication.
“You have to have confidence. You have to have command of the field. You have to have composure and a handle on the game. You’re kind of like captains of the field,” says Vaughn, who was appointed team captain last year and then voted back in this past year. “That was really special to me because it means my teammates liked what I did last year. I love my teammates – it’s all about the team for me – so if I can do good for them, I’m happy.”
As team captain, Vaughn was responsible for everything from inspiring her teammates to making sure everyone is communicating to doing some of the lower-level coaching.
“It takes a strong awareness of the team and all the little problems that are coming up. You have to stay checked in,” says Vaughn. “I just love softball, so I like doing it. But a lot of the aspects of being captain come naturally to me.”
Whether those traits are innate or a result of her 14 years on the field, however, is unclear.
“I really think everything I am is because of softball,” says Vaughn, who was the Colonial Athletic Association’s 2014 Co-Defensive Player of the Year and first team All-CAA. “I attribute softball with all my successes. It’s taught me how to interact with a group, it’s taught me how to lead, it’s taught me how to overcome failure. It’s taught me how to handle life, to go forth and work with people.”
Vaughn, who graduated in May, is trying to secure a spot on a professional softball team in either Italy or the Netherlands. As of now, however, she once again has no idea what to expect when she leaves her home in Charleston. All she knows is, with any luck, she’ll be playing softball and traveling abroad.
And that sounds like a pretty good deal.
Photo by Mike Ledford