When the 2022 season was finished, Sarah Starks had one thought: to improve in all facets of the game—both mentally and physically—as a member of the UC Davis softball team.
“I can’t lie, last year I did struggle a little bit,” said Starks, a 2019 Christopher High graduate who just completed her junior season at UC Davis. “I just wanted to be sure I was going to give myself the best opportunity to help my team succeed. So [in the off-season] I lifted more weights and did a lot of work on my own, just so I would know I’d be able to contribute and make an impact in the way I wanted to. I wanted to learn and grow from last year and not repeat it.”
Mission accomplished. The 5-foot-7 Starks had a breakout junior campaign in the recently completed 2023 season, earning All Big West Conference Second Team honors. The first baseman started all 50 games, and ranked second among all the starters in batting average (.298), hits (45), doubles (13), total bases (60), home runs (3) to go with a team-high 33 RBIs.
“Getting named second team is the highest honor I have received in my time at Davis as far as conference recognition goes,” Starks said. “It feels really great to be recognized in that way by such a dominant conference. I’m just always happy being able to contribute to the team.”
Starks said she had a “big mindset change” last year, which spurred her on to a productive junior season. It came after a conversation she had with teammate Anna Dethlefson, this year’s Big West Conference Player of the Year.
“I asked her how she maintained a positive mindset from at-bat to at-bat [even in times of struggle],” Starks said. “She said all I think about next is what can I do for my team. What is the next way I can help us get a win.”
Starks took that advice and ran with it. In the penultimate game of the season—a 6-3 loss to Iowa in the National Invitational Championships on May 18—Starks set the program’s all-time Division I record with 92 RBIs (she finished the season with 93).
Starks, who has another year of athletic eligibility because of the shortened 2020 Covid season, is a key player for a rising program that finished 29-22 overall and 15-12 and fourth in the Big West this past season.
“It was a great year but we’re not settling for fourth in conference,” she said. “I know we’re more than capable of taking the conference championship so going into next year we need to have that mentality of being the champions we want to be.”
Starks said the Aggies’ team culture has allowed her to thrive, something she doesn’t take for granted.
“I’m so thankful for the ability to be with my teammates and have created such great bonds every single day,” she said. “We lift, practice, eat together, we’re with each other all the time. I couldn’t feel more blessed.”