When Sarah Starks was starring for the Christopher High softball team, she was known as a prolific hitter, but not when it came to hitting home runs.
Now at UC Davis, Starks has developed into a potent hitter who can leave the yard on a moment’s notice. This past season she set the school’s single-season record in the Division I era (2008 to present) with 10 home runs.
“I think the thing that blew my mind was I didn’t expect to hit 10 home runs,” the 2019 Christopher High graduate said. “If you told me before the season as a second-year freshman I would do that, I would not have believed it.”
Starks averaged five to six home runs per year in her junior and senior seasons at Christopher, but was known more as a potent gap to gap hitter. Once she got to college, though, she had the services of UC Davis’ strength-and-conditioning coach to get her bigger, stronger and faster. Her powerful 5-foot-7 frame and rhythmic swing lends itself to being able to hit the long ball.
“I’ve been working a lot with the coaches and on my own after practice,” she said.
Starks actually hit the record-breaking round-tripper in the Aggies’ season-finale, a 5-2 win over Hawaii. She had been stuck on nine for a couple of weeks and was pressing somewhat.
“Every at-bat after the ninth home run I thought, ‘Well, this could be the one,’” Starks said. “Then we come into the last game and I’m thinking I’ll just have to break the record next season. But the second I stopped thinking about it, I hit the 10th home run. It was so surreal because I wanted it so badly and had so much belief from my coaches and teammates. It came down to believing in myself and I felt every bit of work in the weight room and on the field helped that moment come to fruition.”
Starks finished the season with team-best marks in RBIs (34), total bases (70), walks (18) and slugging percentage (.526) while ranking second in average (.293) en route to earning all conference and region honors. Although she’ll be entering her third year at UC Davis, she’ll have three more years of athletic eligibility remaining because the NCAA granted college athletes playing a 2020 spring sport an extra year due to Covid.
Starks didn’t produce gaudy numbers during the 2020 season—she started 10 of 16 games—but it set her up to have the breakout 2021 campaign.
“I didn’t have as much playing time, but I got a little bit of an idea where I needed to be this year when softball came back,” she said. “I had obviously seen a lot of college softball games, but it’s so much different playing in them and alongside so many other amazing athletes. It taught me I need to do certain things better and work on them.”
Starks worked hard over the off-season and was prepared to compete for the starting first baseman’s position with a returning senior.
“She ended up opting out of the season, which gave me the opportunity to play as much as I could this year,” Starks said.
Starks isn’t resting on her laurels from the 2021 season; rather, she’s approached the off-season with a mindset to improve upon her skills.
“It’s all business,” she said. “I have a paying job, but mainly I’m here in Davis to work and stay on my grind.”
The grind focuses a lot on reviewing her at-bats and seeing where pitchers got her to swing and miss.
“I know I was thrown quite a bit of riseballs and I do tend to chase those quite a bit, so I’m focusing on watching the spin of the pitch,” she said. “I’m watching certain games and learning to anticipate what pitches I’ll see in my at-bat.”
Besides softball, Starks happens to be a travel connoisseur and loves immersing herself in different cultures. Starks has had the fortune to travel to seven countries. She was part of a student-exchange program in Japan where she got to live with a local family for a brief period.
“I absolutely love Japan and it was amazing to experience the Japanese culture and experience travel on a level that was much deeper than tourism,” she said.
Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected].