Alana Vawter has been putting in the miles lately. The NFCA All-American softball pitcher recently transferred to South Carolina from Stanford, and before she suits up for the garnet and back, she had the opportunity to wear the red, white, and blue as a member of USA Softball, which played in the Japan All-Star Series last month in Iwakuni, Japan.
“It was a dream come true in so many ways,” said Vawter, a native of Kansas City, Missouri, who was part of the 16-player squad and one of nine making her USA Softball debut in the three-game series, for which the Japanese team won two of three. “It’s a dream as a young kid to represent your country and wear USA on your chest. Obviously, that dream was satisfied but there were so many other dreams I didn’t know I had, like playing with the greatest group of girls.
“Just seeing Japan as a country and experiencing the culture was unreal. The people in Japan are so into their softball! They know the sport, and they cared so much about us as people. The hospitality was so great. We stayed in the same hotel as the Japanese National team for each game. The night before the last game, we had the chance to speak with one of their star players who could speak a little bit of English, so we could pick her brain about different things. She had the utmost respect for us, and we thought she was amazing! In the end, it’s about growing the game, so hopefully we did our job.”
Vawter hopes this experience will help her strengthen her own game.
“I’ve heard people say that once you play on an international stage, everything else can seem a little smaller,” Vawter said. “That’s sort of comforting for me. When I can have that mentality that I’ve played in front of 12,000 people in Japan in a stadium that holds 50,000 people, nothing will seem too crazy after that.”
Although it was her first experience with USA Softball, this wasn’t Vawter’s first venture overseas.
“I had an opportunity a couple of months ago with my civics engagement group at Stanford to go to South Africa and teach young kids sports there,” Vawter said. “Some of these kids didn’t know what softball was, but just seeing them laugh at each other when they hit a pop fly with the tennis ball or see it take a bad hop on the grass was so great. Every day, I always think that this sport matters so much, but at the end of the day, it’s one of those games. You want to do it so you can have fun and enjoy it.”
“I’m so excited about SEC Country and everything that South Carolina has to offer.”
Vawter didn’t make things fun for opposing hitters during her four years at Stanford. She helped the Cardinal reach the Women’s College World Series and posted a 21-8 record with four saves and a 1.81 earned run average in 40 appearances last season. She was a three-time All-PAC-12 honoree and ranks in the top five in career wins, shutouts, and strikeouts at Stanford. While she enjoyed her time on the west coast, she was excited for a new opportunity with softball and furthering her education.
“I didn’t get into my graduate program (at Stanford), and I didn’t see myself wanting to spend a whole year just focusing on softball while taking other classes,” said Vawter, who graduated from Stanford with a degree in management science and engineering. “I’m too much of a go-getter, and I have to have something else to work towards. (South Carolina) Coach Bev (Smith) talked to me about a two-year, two-degree option, that I didn’t find at any other university. So, I can get my masters in sport and entertainment management, and then I can work towards my MBA next year.
“I think I got the most out of my experience at Stanford, and I have a lot of great memories, not just with softball, but on the business side of knowing what college athletics is like. Coach Bev and the staff made it clear that I could not only be a great pitcher here, but they were going to help me get whatever I wanted out of my softball career. I want the chance to be a two-way player and swing the bat a little bit while pitching to my fullest ability. I’m really excited that they’re going to make me a full softball player and give me every opportunity to learn and grow that way. We’ll see what happens!”
Vawter is looking for sport administration experience as she sees herself working in athletics when her playing days are over.
“I want to be the boss,” Vawter said with a laugh. “That’s where I see myself. I’d be interested in being an athletics director and working my way up or working with a professional sports team.”
For now, Vawter looks forward to getting started with her new school and helping the Gamecocks make another run in the postseason after reaching the NCAA Tournament last season, while also enjoying a series of new experiences on a different coast.
“I’m so excited about SEC Country and everything that South Carolina has to offer,” Vawter said. “Coach Bev took me on a driving tour, and I saw so many restaurants. I’m sort of a big ‘foodie,’ so I’ll be asking a lot of people about their favorite places.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the culture of the fanbase, going to football games, and I’m just excited about a new experience all together!”