A superstar at The Woodlands High School, Stavinoha had been in talks with Dartmouth for some time, and expected to find herself in Hanover, New Hampshire. But after things with the Big Green fell through—a turn of events she called “devastating” at the time—some encouragement from her travel coach got an initially reluctant Stavinoha to take an official visit.
A connection with fellow Houston native Staci Ramsey, an assistant coach at UMass for the 2014 season and a close friend of Stavinoha’s travel ball coach, helped bring her to Amherst late in the recruiting period.
“I got here and was like this is really cool, everyone’s super nice,” she says. “I love the area, love the campus, I loved Kristi and I just felt at home here, changed my mind quick when I went on my visit.”
She came in ready to make in impact, and appeared to be on track for superstardom at the collegiate level. Stavinoha earned A-10 Rookie of the Week honors after her first weekend in a maroon uniform, batting .400 with a triple and three RBIs in UMass’ opening weekend in 2016, picking up right where she left off in Texas.
But it didn’t last—Stavinoha came crashing back down to Earth, and finished the season batting .215 with a .237 on-base and slugging .262, a positively pedestrian stat line for a hitter of Stavinoha’s caliber and confidence.
“I guess it’s just a mentality thing,” Stavinoha says. “A lot of times people tell you that you’re just going to come in and take it by storm, but sometimes it doesn’t go that way, it ‘s a bit of a different game in college.”
The version of Stavinoha that suited up for 2017 was nothing like the previous year’s edition. Her stat line shot up, as she made the leap from a serviceable eight hitter—if only for her stellar defense—to tearing the cover off the ball.
“I think she just gained a lot of confidence,” Colleran says. “She went home after her freshman year and really put in a lot of work, she came in right from the fall and she was ready to go.”
“I really think that she knew what she wanted—to win an A-10 championship,” said Stefanoni. “I think that’s been in the forefront of her mind, in the summer and in the fall.”
For Stavinoha, the jump wasn’t a surprise. Her freshman year was a letdown—she sees that rookie campaign as an underachievement rather than the second act as a revelation. A bit of the change was mechanics, moving away from slap hitting to stay planted in the box, but she thinks it all came down to an attitude shift.
“I was kind of like, screw this,” Stavinoha says. “I’m good, and I’m just going to do what I need to do to contribute to the team.
“I was sick of sucking,” she adds with a laugh.
Her breakout came at the perfect time—with senior Jena Cozza, the team’s best hitter and perhaps the conference’s best defensive shortstop, missing the first 29 games with a knee injury, Stavinoha shifted to the most crucial spots in the lineup—playing shortstop and hitting third—and never missed a beat.
“Last year, in preseason, I wasn’t feeling pressure,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking ‘oh my gosh, I need to fill Jena’s shoes, I need to fill Jena’s shoes.’ I was just thinking that I need to hit, I need to do what needs to be done to help the team, to produce some runs and some offense.”
“I really didn’t even notice with her,” says Stefanoni. “She didn’t make a huge deal about it, she was never nervous, and if she was she never showed it, ever. Her play at practice, her body language, she knew what we had to do.”