May 17, 2023

PU Softball Falls to Harvard in Ivy Tourney Finale, But Senior Starks Feels Gratitude for Experience

CONTACT HITTER: Princeton University softball player Serena Starks makes contact in action last week at the Ivy League postseason tournament. Senior standout Starks performed well from the leadoff spot as the Tigers made the final round of the double-elimination tourney. Princeton topped Harvard 6-0 on Saturday to stay alive in the competition but then fell 3-2 to the Crimson in a winner-take-all finale for the league’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament. Outfielder Starks made the All-Tournament team as the Tigers finished the spring with a 29-20 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Serena Starks prides herself on being a catalyst for the Princeton University softball team in her role as its leadoff hitter.

“I understand that I am batting first and I have to set the tone,” said senior outfielder Starks, a 5’8 native of Huntington Beach, Calif. “Last year, I don’t grasp it as much but this year, I really know what it means to be the leadoff hitter and set the tone.”

This spring, Starks performed that role with aplomb, getting named as the Ivy League Player of the Year. Over the course of the regular season, she led the league in batting average (.411), runs scored (36), and hits (65), hitting 40 points better than the next-best eligible player and with 22 more hits than any other Ivy League player.

Last Friday, as Princeton’s season was on the line, Starks was determined to set the tone. With the Tigers hosting the Ivy postseason tournament and having lost 3-1 to Columbia on Thursday to open the double-elimination event, Princeton faced Yale with the loser to be eliminated.

Starks got a single to lead off the game and came around to score to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

“The mindset coming into today was just about trust,” said Starks. “We have been in really difficult positions before and we have come out on top. I think everybody was just really believing in the power of the team and what we have.”

Princeton went on to prevail 2-0 over the Bulldogs to stay alive as Alexis Laudenslager and Molly Chambers combined on the shutout with Laudenslager going five innings with six strikeouts and yielding two hits to get the win and Chambers picking up a save with two solid innings.

“The pitching staff has been phenomenal and it really helps when the offense and the defense work together to get that win,” said Starks. “I thought that was a really good game on both the offense and defensive side.”

Later in the afternoon, Princeton played another good game, topping Columbia 8-4 to earn a spot in the final two of the competition against Harvard for the league’s automatic bid in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Starks believed that Princeton had the grit to make it through Friday.

“We had a really tough preseason, we played a lot of highly ranked teams,” said Starks. “I think that is preparing us for this tournament now. I fully believe that this team can do it.”

On Saturday, Princeton rode a six-run outburst in the fourth inning highlighted by a pinch hit grand slam from Abby Hornberger to top Harvard 6-0 to force a winner-take-all finale. The Crimson rebounded to edge the Tigers 3-2 and book their spot in the NCAA tournament.

While Princeton fell short of making its second straight trip to the NCAA tournament as it ended the spring at 29-20, Starks enjoyed the ride.

“It has been tough, having two seasons taken away; I am trying to make the most of this season and I am really proud of the team for just powering through,” said Starks, who earned All-Tournament honors last weekend along with senior Laudenslager and freshman third baseman Julia Dumais. “We have been through a lot together and I wouldn’t want to be with anybody else on this field. It has just been a blessing. I am grateful every day to be out here, to be on this field one last time in my career. I am just very grateful for everything.”

Showing her gratitude, Starks has made the most out of her time off the field at Princeton as well, serving as a catalyst for a number of organizations on campus. She is the founder of the Asian Student Athletes at Princeton group while also being a student athlete wellness leader and athlete orientation leader. Starks is also on the Student-Athlete Service Council, a tutor at the Pace Center, and a volunteer with Best Buddies New Jersey.

“What I truly enjoy about being at Princeton is that you can do both; you can be an athlete on the field and once you step off the field, there are so many opportunities to serve the community and to be a part of the Princeton community,” said Starks, who received the A. James Fisher Memorial Award for her work at the Pace Center and was recently named as one of seven recipients of the 2023 Spirit of Princeton Award, which recognizes students who have made dedicated efforts in student organizations, athletics, community service, religious life, residential life, and the arts.

“I have really enjoyed just exploring other groups. I have my softball team. I know that I have them always but really expanding my outer circle to people not on the team has really enhanced my Princeton experience. I have always loved service and have engrained myself in the community. It was nice to be honored for something that is not softball.”