If you have even a passing interest in Fordham Softball, you probably know about left-handed pitcher Rachel Gillen. A redshirt senior hailing from Wilmington, Delaware, she authored one of the greatest seasons in Fordham history last year, earning Most Outstanding Player at the Atlantic 10 Championship in addition to a number of other honors. While currently injured, Gillen has still played well when taking the field in 2016, posting a 12-9 record with a 4.13 ERA.
Affectionately called “Grandma” by her teammates, she sat down with the The Fordham Ram this week to talk about her Fordham career.
The Fordham Ram: How long have you been playing softball? What sparked your initial love of the game?
Rachel Gillen: I’ve been playing since I was five. My parents signed me up for the typical tee-ball team with my friends from school. I was definitely the kid playing with daisies in the outfield, though. I just loved it from the beginning. I started pitching when I was seven, so it was pretty quick. I was on a U-10 team, so I was the worst, I was the youngest, I never played. One day — my dad always tells me this story — I turned to him and said, “Dad, I want to be a pitcher. I don’t want to sit on the bench anymore.” That’s how it all sparked, I think.
TFR: Before coming to Fordham, you spent your freshman year at Virginia. How important was that experience to finding so much success at Rose Hill?
RG: Playing in the ACC my freshman year was huge. It’s a very comparable conference to the A-10, very much competitive and growing. I played hurt my freshman year, so I definitely wasn’t very good, but the experience was great, playing against high-quality competition all the time.
TFR: Tell me a little about your transfer process. How was your transition to Fordham?
RG: I actually knew [head coach] Bridget Orchard. She was the first person to recruit me in high school, when I was a freshman, so I always kind of knew Fordham. It was in the back of my head, because I wanted to go south for school. Bridget knew that. We kept a good relationship, though. She’s obviously great, we saw her on the recruiting trail and everything. Once I knew I was leaving Virginia, I had a couple of my coaches from high school put feelers out for me. Bridget contacted me right when I got released and I was up here two days later.
TFR: Thanks to injury, you haven’t pitched in nearly a month. How’s the recovery going?
RG: It’s good, it’s going along. I’m slowly getting back into things and figuring it out. Hopefully, I’m back out there soon.
TFR: You’ve dealt with a number of injuries in your career. What’s your mindset when you’re watching the team from the dugout while focusing on getting better?
RG: I’ve definitely done it before. It’s hard, obviously, being on the bench and not being able to contribute, but the team is playing so well right now. I think Lauren [Quense] and Lindsay [Mayer] have been giving every ounce that they can on the circle. They’ve been pitching so well, and offensively, we’re just exploding. I know my role right now, which is to be there for the pitching staff, to be there for the hitters and just relay as much information as I can from the dugout and keep the spirits up.
TFR: The team has a 15-2 A-10 record right now. Were you expecting to have that much success at the start of the season?
RG: In A-10s, absolutely. Obviously, we really struggled at the beginning of the year. We play an out-of-conference schedule that’s absolutely one of the toughest in the country, so we really took a hit early. I think all of us did, the players, the coaching staff, everyone in the program took a hit early. We took some beatings early, for sure, but all of us knew it was going to make us better. We always hit our stride once we hit A-10s, anyway.
TFR: Looking forward, how far do you think this year’s team can go?
RG: I definitely think we’re in a good position to win the A-10 again. Once you get to regionals, it’s really a combination of things. There’s a little bit of luck in it — how far you’ll go is really dependent on your draw. I also think it has to do with how good your team is at the time, and we’re on a roll right now. I think that’s really going to help us.
TFR: You’re one of the most experienced players on the team. What’s your leadership style?
RG: I’m not super vocal. I never have been. I’m very much someone who leads by example on the field, someone who’s just trying to get better and show that path for the younger kids. I do keep an eye on them, on and off the field. With this freshman class this year, because it’s so big and so many of them are having such an impact, I’ve had to keep more of an eye on them, but it’s definitely by example. I’m not as vocal as some leaders are.
TFR: You had an outstanding two-way season last year, going 24-9 with 250 strikeouts while also batting .374 with six home runs. When you reflect back on that season, what goes through your mind?
RG: Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is winning the A-10. I was involved with winning it the year before at our field, but I wasn’t playing as much or having as much success. Last year, winning that A-10 and being with the team in the middle of UMass’ field was kind of the epitome of that year.
TFR: Would you call that conference championship your favorite memory as a Fordham Ram?
RG: It definitely is. Obviously, winning it [at Rose Hill] the year before was awesome, to be in front of our friends and our family, but last year at UMass, to win that third in a row over a team, Dayton, who had won the regular season and were very cocky about it. Knowing that we had our own business to handle and knowing we were going to win the whole time, I think that really sticks out as the biggest moment.
TFR: What are you going to miss most about being on the team?
RG: I think it’s just the lifestyle of a student-athlete. Being on a team, everyone says it, but it’s like a built-in family. You always have 17 girls on the team, with all our trainers, coaches, that’s just kind of a built-in family for you, and you always have someone to turn to. That’s what I’ll miss most. Not 6 a.m. lifts.
TFR: Besides softball, what’s your favorite part of Fordham?
RG: The location. Definitely being so close to the city. That was a big part of me transferring here, was getting towards the city. I knew it was somewhere I wanted to stay after school, so it’s definitely jumping on the Metro and being in Manhattan.
TFR: What does life after softball look like for you?
RG: I start working pretty quickly. I have a June 1 start date with McCann Erickson, so I’ll be working for them on one of their advertising accounts. That’s life for Rachel Gillen soon.