Over the last two seasons, transfers have affected the ASU softball program in a variety of ways.
Last year, the team added four transfers into the program who all ended up starting and being pivotal players (Morgan Howe, Maddi Hackbarth, Kindra Hackbarth, Jade Gortarez) on a run to the Women’s College World Series. On the flip side of that, the team also lost multiple players as transfers this offseason (Danielle Gibson, Alyssa Loza, G Juarez and others).
ASU has been on both ends of the spectrum in the transfer portal, and it seems to be a trend in a variety of sports in Division I college athletics, as young athletes seek to find their ideal fit in a university for their own personal happiness.
This offseason, ASU lost all four of their pitchers from last season. Juarez and Loza transferred to different schools, and Breanna Macha and Dale Ryndak were both seniors who graduated. With spots to fill in the circle, the Sun Devils were able to snag a few more transfers who look to make a big impact in maroon and gold this season - Meet redshirt junior pitcher Cielo Meza and junior pitcher Samantha Mejia.
Both right-handed arms entered the program in Tempe this offseason and they will look to be at the forefront of a new look pitching staff that features two transfers and two freshmen on the No. 12 team in the nation.
Meza began her college career at Long Beach State before rerouting to Tempe for her final two years of eligibility, while Mejia came from a familiar setting for her move. She transferred from Fresno State, the school where ASU head coach Trisha Ford used to coach and where three other members of the team all started their careers.
“I am confident that we know how to play behind our pitchers...They like to compete and I know they have worked really hard,” said Ford of her pitching staff. “They are prepared and they know that and they feel that.”
While Meza and Mejia might be in their first year with ASU, they didn’t necessarily walk into a completely new setting. They had many dots to connect between familiar faces who they had already known prior to their arrival.
Coming from Fresno, Mejia holds a transfer story similar to Howe and the Hackbarth twins on ASU’s roster. All four players were teammates in 2017 up in Fresno.
Additionally, Mejia played travel ball growing up with ASU assistant coach Jeff Harger in the Central Valley of California, and she was recruited by Ford when she still held the head coach position with the Bulldogs. Similar to ASU’s three other Fresno State transfers, the story seems like deja vu.
All of these connections mixed together helped smooth out the transition period of changing schools for the Bakersfield, CA native, who arrived on campus at ASU just prior to the spring semester. She officially became a Sun Devil in December.
“I wouldn’t say it was difficult (the transition) because I had already played with a few of the girls here. It already felt like home when I came here,” Mejia said. “I played for Jeff Harger, so knowing him already and being recruited by Coach Ford, I already felt like it was home ever since I got here.”
As for Meza, she transferred out of the Big West Conference at Long Beach State to play in one of the country’s most elite conferences. Meza noted she enjoyed her time playing in Southern California and was appreciative of her former teammates and coaches, but the opportunity to play in the Pac-12 was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
Meza was the Big West Pitcher of the Year last season and was on the Top 50 Watch List for Player of the Year by USA Softball.
This weekend’s games might be Meza’s first time pitching with the pitchfork on her jersey, but it won’t be her first time in the confines of Farrington Stadium. She pitched for LBSU in last year’s NCAA Regionals in Tempe. Long Beach State didn’t get matched up with ASU, but she faced Ole Miss and New Mexico State in the four-team bracket.
“I definitely knew ASU was a bigger stage,” Meza said. “That’s what I set out to do when I put my name on the transfer list. I wanted to challenge myself. I loved my time at Long Beach State, but I knew it was time for something new and ASU, it met all of my checkmarks.”
Meza possesses a curve and a rise ball, and noted she relies a lot on her spin, while Mejia has a screwball that she likes to place on different sides of the plate. She said she has also been steadily working on perfecting her changeup to keep hitters off balance.
Meza and Mejía are joined alongside two freshmen in Abby Anderson and Mikayla Santa Cruz on the pitching staff. Together, the players will be thrust into an interesting scenario where there are no returning ASU arms.
Both Meza and Mejia already have college experience under their belts. The Big West and the Mountain West are no slouch when it comes to high-caliber softball. If you need any proof, just take a look at what ASU’s Fresno State transfers did in their first season in the Pac-12 last year, as the two top hitters on the roster were former Bulldogs (Howe and Kindra Hackbarth).
Now is an opportunity for Meza and Mejia to compete at the highest level in college softball.
“I am just looking forward to the competitiveness and the Pac-12,” Mejia said. “Just seeing what they (ASU) did last year, I am most excited for what is to come.”
Ford has proven that one of her strengths is developing pitchers. Juarez was a consensus All-American last year, and Macha dropped her ERA substantially during her time with the program, knocking nearly three full runs (5.13 to 2.18) off her total since the time Ford took over as coach.
However, those names are out of the picture now, and it’s time for the next group of Sun Devils to step in the circle. The countdown clock is up, and it’s time to unveil the next cast of pitchers for ASU.
“The pitchers we have this year, we have two young freshmen and they have awesome stuff,” Meza said. “I am really thankful for Sam (Mejia) for transferring too. I think we all complement each other...I just think we are a great group of leaders.”