By: Danny Mooers, Assistant Sports Information Director
If The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy taught us anything, the number one rule in life is don’t panic. Douglas Adams throws Arthur, the main character, into a world of confusion when he loses his home and is taken into space with nothing to his name. He spends the better part of five novels trying to navigate his new life.
Arthur’s predicament is similar to one that many young people struggle with when they leave for college. As an 18-year-old, their entire world is turned upside down and it’s their job to make the most of it.
Tianna Soodsma (Top), a native of Luverne, Minnesota, was in the midst of this early in 2015. She was deciding between Dordt and Northwestern, and softball was one of the main aspects affecting her choice.
“I remember when time was closing in on the decision, I received a bit of a panicked phone call from Tianna wondering what to do,” said Jeff Zomer, head Dordt softball coach. “I made an emergency trip up to Luverne and we sat in a burger joint for a fair amount of time talking about what to do. That conversation showed me a lot about how mature of a person Tianna is.”
Soodsma had been on Dordt’s radar for several years. Zomer started the recruiting process during her sophomore year at Southwest Minnesota Christian. He understood early on the impact she could make. She left high school with three conference titles, a third place finish at state and two all-conference awards.
The adjustment period during Soodsma’s freshmen year was strenuous. The mental challenges proved more difficult than the physical. Whether it was calling home weekly or questioning if she would make the team, it took a while to feel comfortable.
Coach Zomer didn’t waste any time testing his freshman pitcher. Soodsma started the first game of the 2016 season. It was a matchup against Central Christian in McPherson, Kansas. Soodsma earned the victory in the 10-3 win. She gave up three runs on five hits and threw five strikeouts.
Soodsma finished freshman year with a 13-9 record and a 2.45 ERA. From the start, she was Dordt’s most successful pitcher.
Both Zomer and Soodsma attribute some of the success to her throwing style. It’s by no means a traditional form, and often confuses hitters. She only throws three pitches: a fastball, change-up and a drop ball.
It’s a form that would frustrate many pitching coaches. Coach Zomer describes it as “unique”, but he never saw it as an issue.
“My dad was my pitching coach growing up,” Soodsma said. “We’d sit in the backyard and I spend hours throwing to him. I figured that as long as it worked and I was having success, it didn’t need to be fixed.”
When sophomore year started, Soodsma felt her confidence grow. The 2016 seniors saw her potential and poured into her, setting the stage for a leadership role. The conference schedule was less daunting because of the opportunity to see all of the teams the previous year. Making the decisions about what pitches to throw and being more of a vocal leader came naturally to her.
Sophomore year was Soodsma’s most successful season. She had an era of 2.51 and finished with a 14-9 record. Rachel Evavold pitched 53.1 innings in 2017; only 103 less than Soodsma. With Soodsma receiving the brunt of the work, the team finished with a 21-20 record.
On top of softball, sophomore year was the start of her role as a Resident Assistant; giving her more of a chance to pour into the lives of girls on campus.
“Early on from our interactions, I learned that Tianna is a calm person full of integrity,” said Kim Brinkerhoff, the Learning Community Area Coordinator at Dordt. “She’s a very steady person and it has a positive effect on everyone she interacts with. Her relationship with the Lord is the most important thing in her life and it shows.”
Soodsma had her faith tested during her junior year. Towards the end of her sophomore campaign, she started dealing with severe neck pain. There were pinched nerves in her neck and the cause was her unique pitching style. The summer between sophomore and junior year was important for her recovery. Specialists recommended some different stretches and they helped some of the pain to be relieved.
“The unfortunate thing was at that point she was also willing to change up her delivery a little bit,” Zomer said. “By changing up her delivery, we were able to put her body in a less compromising position.”
While she was able to pitch relatively pain free, her velocity wasn’t where it was before the injury. Pitching at the start of her junior year was a battle and the team lost some tough games behind her.
One night at the hotel early during the annual trip to Tucson, Arizona, she found Coach Zomer and demanded answers. She wanted to know what to do and how to get back to her previous successes.
“I told her that she was struggling for a couple reasons,” Zomer said. “The first is that mentally she was afraid to go back to her original style. The second was that she was being very intentional about changing her pitching style. But we both decided at that point she needed to go back to her original form.”
Soodsma had been faithful in her stretches and was far enough removed from the pain that the worry of re-injuring wasn’t there. It proved to be the change that was needed. The decision to revert to the previous form immediately led to more team success. It took time, but she needed to be ready and confident that her body was going to hold.
Soodsma finished her junior year with a 6-6 record and a 2.58 ERA. She only pitched 95 innings, her lowest of her three years. It gave Natalie Vos and Rachel Evavold an opportunity to gain more experience. The team finished with a 13-18 record, but the underclassmen saw their leader persevere through a difficult injury.
With her senior campaign complete, Soodsma is 8-9 with a 2.87 ERA. More importantly, however, she is pain free.
The Top/Soodsma name is riddled all over the Dordt record book. She has the third highest amount of games won in a season with 14. She holds the best ever strikeout to walk ratio with 6.3. She is in solo third for most wins of all time with 45.
As her time in the softball program has progressed, her role as a leader has extended beyond the diamond. Soodsma is seen as the spiritual leader on the team. Calming everyone down, assisting the underclassmen and fighting for the team are daily occurrences.
With Soodsma’s signing, expectations for the future increased. The program has experienced greater success throughout her four years.
“I give a lot of credit to our program development to Coach Zomer,” Soodsma says. “I haven’t seen many coaches that can coach well and love winning, but also keep a proper perspective. Coach Zomer does that really well.”
Zomer isn’t ashamed to turn that right around and give credit to Soodsma.
“This team will lay down their life for Tianna,” Zomer said. “They do that because they know the reverse is true. They want to win behind her more than anything.”
Graduation is on the horizon and Soodsma is planning on staying around Sioux County with her husband Thomas until they feel the Lord calls them elsewhere. Missions are a strong possibility for their future.
“She intimidates me,” Zomer said. “Her relationship with the Lord is spectacular. Very early on, I realized that she was different. She can connect with every type of person. She puts her spiritual life far above everything that she does.”