Sussex County has been known to produce some of the most talented athletes in the Mid-Atlantic region, and such holds true for 2007 Sussex Tech graduate Hope Cornell. Cornell made a name for herself as she helped her softball team capture the state championship her senior year, and, now, the shortstop/outfielder continues turning heads at Shippensburg University, where she was recently named the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) player of the week.
Her performance at the plate earned her the recognition the first week in April, after she assisted the Shippensburg Lady Raiders to an 8-0 run in a week, including doubleheader sweeps of East Stroudsburg, Millersville, Shepherd and Philadelphia. In four double-header nights, all within six days, freshman Cornell registered at least one hit in every game, and tallied two homeruns. One of them, a three-run scorer, was the determining blast that solidified a 4-2 win over Millersville.
Scoring winning runs is nothing foreign to Cornell, however.
“Two of my earliest most memorable moments at Sussex Tech,” she recalled, “were my freshman year in the game against Laurel, when I hit in the winning run in our 13-inning ball game and doing the same thing against Delmar when we went back a month later to finish our extra-inning game.”
Since being named player of the week, Cornell has added another homerun at Shippensburg to her resume, totaling three more RBI’s in the team’s last six games.
Earning player of the week was quite an honor for the freshman.
“I was taken aback when I heard that I was recognized as the PSAC Eastern Division player of the week,” she admitted. “It was nice knowing that, even though I am a freshman and a new athlete on the team, I am making a difference and my teammates have confidence in me. If anything, being awarded this honor makes me want to work harder to make sure that I deserve it. I feel more pressure to work harder.”
Stepping up to a Division II school came as a little bit of a wake-up call as Cornell stepped off the high school diamond she’d grown accustomed to at Tech. The frequency of games and the intensity at which the opponents come can seem light years away from secondary-school ball.
“The biggest transition that I have encountered, so far, between high school and college softball is playing doubleheaders,” she stated. “In high school we played one game and it felt like an eternity, but I am adjusted to the doubleheaders now.
“Another difference is the frequency that we play teams. In the Henlopen Conference you play the same teams once a season, whereas in college, you play your conference teams four games per season. Now every conference team has a ‘book’ on you and knows how to pitch you or set up their defense.”
When under the gun, Cornell isn’t unlike most players, with a few customary ticks and behaviors, but before long, she’s residing in that comfort zone, and focuses on the task at hand.
“When coming up to the plate I have a certain ritualistic process that I go through with warm-up swings and stepping into the box. This is not necessarily superstitious by any means. It is more of a rhythm and comfort kind of thing,” she explained. “When I am at the plate I try to block out everything and focus on the pitcher’s motion. Then, right before the release, focus on the hip. When you are standing in the box it is too late to work on fundamentals, it is time to see it and swing.”
Growing up in Sussex County, Cornell had plenty of opportunity to perfect her batting and fielding skills.
“I started with the typical Little League experience at Lower Sussex,” she said, “tee ball in kindergarten and first grade, minor league softball in second and third grade, and major league in fourth and fifth grade. In the fourth grade, I played on my first travel team, the 12-and-under Delaware Devils. I played there two seasons and then went to the 14-and-under First State Firestyx.
“I kept moving up age divisions to play against more competition, so next was a year of 16-and-under,” she recalled. “The summer after my freshman year of high school, I started playing 18-and-under and never looked back. I was the youngest on the team, but I started every game in right field and was a major contributor on my team. I played 18-and-under travel softball every year during high school.”
With a healthy balance of ball and books, Cornell pushed on. Plenty of teammates and coaches saw her improvements along the way, although, when players meet up with as many people as she did, they almost start to lose track.
“I truly cannot attribute my successes to any one particular coach or team,” she said, “but I want to thank all of my softball coaches through the years, whether for travel ball, school, or little league. I took a small piece of advice and a memory from each person, whether coach or player, whom I have encountered in my softball career, and I am forever grateful.
“But most of all, I want to thank my family and my parents especially for all their support, encouragement, and chauffeuring; they are my rock.”
The same week she earned her recognition, fellow Raider pitcher Lori Knopf was named PSAC East Pitcher of the Week. Cornell stated that she is fortunate to be surrounded by welcoming teammates with notable skill and uncanny acceptance.
“Our team is very supportive of anyone who wins awards or does well,” she said, “but we look past the award and look at how we can work to make the rest of the team at that level every game. It motivates our entire team to want to work harder.”
Last Friday, Shippensburg finished of their season series against East Stroudsburg with 1-0 and 5-1 wins that locked up third place in the PSAC Eastern Division. With just another week and a half before regional championships, Cornell is getting her mind right and her team ready to take a stand and make an impact this year.
“The most important thing for our team to keep in mind is that we are a team,” she said. “We need to work for each other, our teammates. When one of my teammates works hard to get on base, I want to work even harder to get them across the plate.”
And with a promising start in her first season as a Raider, there’s a good chance that there’s plenty more hits in years to come.