Ceara Larson has always forged her own path, but the Lawrence University catcher has never had any issue finding her way around the basepaths.
As the 2021 season begins, the 2019 Midwest Conference player of the year has continued to do what she does best – hit the softball.
A Bettendorf native, Larson is off to a .526 start at the plate during her senior season for the Vikings and sports a .763 slugging percentage through the first 12 games of the year.
“It’s good to finally be getting back into a routine again,’’ Larson said. “Last year was difficult for everybody and to be practicing and playing regularly, it feels great.’’
Larson was recognized as the Midwest Conference player of the week last week, honored for hitting .818 and driving in eight runs over four games the previous week.
During that stretch, she went 9-for-11 with doubles and her first home run of the season to lead Lawrence behind the plate.
“I love playing the game,’’ Larson said. “I love the sport and I have for a long time.’’
Her priorities remain in the classroom, which is how the biophysics major ended up at Lawrence in the first place.
The 2017 Bettendorf graduate opted to play ASA softball in the summer after her freshman season with the Bulldogs, competing for the Quad-City Firebirds team coached by Chris Allison.
“I have a lot of respect for the program at Bettendorf, but I wanted to test myself against a different level of competition,’’ Larson said. “To compete against some of the top travel teams in the nation, I felt like it was the best situation for me.’’
She followed that same path in selecting the program at Lawrence.
Larson had attended several summer science camps on the campus of the NCAA Division III university and found both the experience at the camps and the academic offerings a good fit with her academic interests.
“I was pretty selective when it came to choosing a college and my priorities were academics,’’ Larson said. “I wanted to put myself in a position where I could get what I wanted in the classroom first.’’
She earned first-team all-Midwest Conference honors as a freshman in 2018, when the National Fastpitch Coaches Association also awarded her all-Great Lakes Region recognition after batting .454.
“Having the opportunity to come in and play right away as a freshman helped me gain some confidence and learn the different pace of the college game,’’ Larson said. “I was sort of thrown into the belly of the beast, but I learned so much that has helped me.’’
The result was being named as the Midwest Conference player of the year as a sophomore in 2019, repeating all-conference and all-regional honors after batting .467 for the Vikings.
Currently working on an undergraduate thesis on how to optimize exit velocity on a swing, Larson will complete her undergraduate degree at Lawrence this spring.
She is considering graduate school options at the moment, carrying two years of eligibility forward because of the a shortened 2020 season and a COVID-19 waiver this academic year that provides an additional year of eligibility for all NCAA athletes if they choose to use it.
“Wherever I end up, the focus will still be on academics. That will always be the most important thing, but I want to continue to play softball as long as I can,’’ Larson said. “I still love the competition.’’
That made last year a challenge when the Lawrence season was canceled after just four games because of the pandemic.
Larson did eventually have a chance to play last year, competing with a number of other collegiate players in the Iowa Women’s Softball League in Cedar Rapids and playing for the Midwest Express U22 team.
“Making lemonade out of lemons,’’ Larson said. “It was just good to be able to compete.’’
So far this season, a return to competition has been even better.
Larson’s focus has been centered on placing the hits where they can maximize opportunities for the Vikings.
“Things were a little slow at first, but it’s been a big relief to start to make the kind of contact that I want to make,’’ she said. “I’m working to drive the ball up the middle or hit it through the (hole between third base and shortstop) instead just trying to knock it over or off the fence somewhere.’’
So far for the most part, the ball has been going where Larson wants to put it.
“One of my favorite swings this year resulted in an out. It was a screaming line drive that the opponent made a good play on and all I could really do was tip my hat, respect that and go back to work,’’ Larson said.
“That’s really what this game is about, the work you put into it. I’ll keep pushing at the plate, trying to make the most out of every chance I get.’’