Rebecca Vilchez really hates to lose. It’s not surprising, then, that the 2016 H. Frank Carey graduate has carved out an impressive space for herself on SUNY Oswego’s softball team.
Last week, Vilchez became the first player in the history of the State University of New York Athletic Conference to be named both player and pitcher of the year. Her role as one of the team’s leaders has been so pivotal that the 2016-17 season, when she was a freshman, also coincided with the Lakers’ return to postseason play for the first time since 2012 and the squad’s second-place finish in the conference playoffs. Vilchez earned a berth on the All-SUNYAC first team.
This year’s team chalked up its first winning season (19-15) since 1981. Despite their success, however, the Lakers dropped their first-round playoff game to Oneonta and fell to No. 1 seed Geneseo State in the quarterfinals in an 11-inning heartbreaker.
“We lost a tough game to Geneseo,” Vilchez said. “They started out ahead, then we were tied, then we were ahead, then they were. We just came up short.”
Vilchez’s stats are almost as impressive as her enthusiasm is infectious. On the mound this season, she posted a conference-high record of 14 wins. Overall, she held her ERA to 2.61, a number that she nearly halved in conference play, allowing just 1.35 earned runs.
But Vilchez doesn’t only dominate on the mound; she is equally fearsome as a hitter, finishing the season with a .378 batting average. Her stunning .429 average in conference play earned her seventh place in SUNYAC, while she topped the leader board in runs scored — 23 — and placed fourth in RBIs, with 16. Vilchez’s 13 doubles bested her nearest conference competitor by four.
“Typically, pitchers of her caliber don’t hit,” second-year Lakers head coach Abby Martin said. “She’s always in the gym or the [batting] cage, taking extra batting practice whenever she can. She’s a very fierce competitor.”
At Carey, Vilchez was a double threat, playing both softball and soccer. “Soccer was really my first love,” she said. She joined the Franklin Square Raiders Soccer Club as a 5-year-old, and started playing for one of the Raiders’ travel teams when she turned 9.
As a high school freshman, she made the Carey varsity soccer team, and played soccer for the next four years.
“I didn’t start really playing softball until I was in seventh grade,” she said. But once she did, she was hooked. “I love being around my teammates, love hanging out — just the whole atmosphere.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Vilchez was not recruited to play for Oswego. Martin didn’t take over as head coach until August 2016, and couldn’t do much recruiting that year. Vilchez had considered other schools, including Oneonta, which her two brothers attended. “I wanted something different,” she said.
According to Martin, Vilchez’s competitive fire isn’t confined to the softball diamond. “Rebecca works just as hard in the classroom as on the field,” she said. She is majoring in adolescent education with a focus on mathematics, and has a minor in coaching.
“I can see myself teaching during the day and coaching softball after school,” she said. “And soccer,” she added, laughing.
Vilchez is quick to stress the importance of mental toughness. She shared Assistant Coach Morgan Nandin’s characterization of softball as “a game of failure.” “It surprised me when she said that,” Vilchez said, “but when you think about it, it’s true. In 10 at-bats, you might get three or four hits. A .300 hitter is a good hitter.”
“Failure is just a part of the game,” Nandin said. “Rebecca has the mental toughness to shake off the failures and move on. She’s probably one of the most competitive players I’ve ever coached.”
To hear Vilchez speak of her teammates, it’s clear she’s in good company. “We all have the same goals,” she said. “We’re all super-competitive — we all hate losing. We motivate each other, help each other get better.”
During the offseason, Martin gives her players homework and asks them to keep journals. Last year she assigned “The Hard Hat: 21 Ways to Be a Great Teammate,” by Jon Gordon. “We’d journal about being better teammates and about our workouts,” Vilchez recalled. “Mentally, we really remind each other of all the little things that lead to the big things. We always have each other’s backs, on and off the field.”
All but one member of this year’s squad will return in the fall, and Martin said she expects “to win it all next year.”
Vilchez added her assessment. “Team chemistry is so important,” she said. “There’s a direct correlation between team chemistry and success on the field.
I’m sure we’ll start killing it from