By Tom Mauldin 4/29/2020
To say Lauren Richards is competitive might be a bit of an understatement. Just last week, she defeated her older sister, Ellie, in Sequence to take the lead in their board game duel, 95-74. It’s part of Lauren’s “stay at home, stay alive” daily routine. “I just love beating my sister,” said Lauren with a laugh. That explains Lauren’s to-live-by motto: carpe diem … seize the day. “Find something to improve your goal and do it every day,” said Lauren, who competed in three Fastpitch Northwest College Exposure tournaments. “Make the most of every day … don’t waste a day.”
Lauren comes by the competition naturally. Her dad, Steve, was a standout baseball player at Linfield, brother Lane played shortstop for four seasons at Notre Dame and Ellie is a senior middle infielder for the Fighting Irish. All were Oregon high school All-State honorees. Lauren was as well - three times. “You should see us when the family plays a board game,” said Lauren, a sophomore at Claremont McKenna where she majors in biology. “Everyone wants to win … I mean, really wants to win. Yes, we are competitive. I grew up that way.” It’s been that way since before Lauren started school. Parents Steve and Kim would “drag” her to Ellie’s and Lane’s games. “I loved every minute of it,” Lauren recalls, noting that whiffle ball games were a regular routine at the Richards’ household. “I started playing when I was six or seven … it just ran in the family, but I was lucky to have my dad coach me and to play with my sister.” The youth games turned into competition which turned into championships. For some, softball turns into their passion in middle school, but for Lauren it was her freshman year at Pendleton High School when the Buckaroos won the State 5A title. “I knew my freshman year … winning state on the Oregon State field was amazing,” said Lauren. “I found a love in softball and wanted to go back (to OSU and the state finals). We were going to come back. It was such a great experience with my friends, coaches, and Ellie. All of it.” Lauren and her teammates were denied that goal during her sophomore and junior seasons, but were the toast of the 5A her senior season when they walked through the postseason, scoring 54 runs in five games. Lauren pitched a shutout in the 7-0 championship win over Putnam. That victory ranks at the top of Lauren’s memorable games. “It was so very special,” she recalled. “I could re-live it pitch for pitch, word for word. It was our graduation day … our last game. I was playing with my friends. Everything we had been doing for four years just came together.” The awards were many for Lauren as a senior — conference MPV, state pitcher of the year, and MaxPreps All-American to name a few. She was 26-2 with a 1.35 ERA and 229 strikeouts in 170 innings. Offensively, she drove in 37 runs and batted .461. That said, her most “forgettable moment” happened in the 5A semi-finals her junior season when the Bucks fell to Marist, 5-4. “Too much pressure,” said Lauren. “We prepared too much, I was over thinking. I’d love to face every one of those batters again.”
But still, Lauren wouldn’t change anything. “There are so many good things about softball,” said Lauren, who carries an honors GPA at Claremont. “The best part are teammates and relationships and the coaches … they will be there for rest of my life and will support me for ever. The memories are many and wonderful.” Even the worst part of softball — “hard drills in the moment and you are dying and not wanting to do them. But at the end of the day, you’re glad we’re doing them because of the benefits.” The competition and the love of the game are what has elevated Lauren’s play at the next level. “I love competition … the feeling you get when you win a game – the championship moment,” said Lauren, who lettered in softball, basketball, volleyball and swimming in high school. “I want to feel that when I am playing. Put in the most work you can put in and you might need to see it the next day, but it is what gets you to those moments."
Lauren’s dad always reminded her the benefits of hard work. “Dad would always tell me when you are practicing there are a million other girls practicing the same time you are,” recalled Lauren. “But you won’t get any where if you aren’t putting in extra time. If all you do is practice when you are at practice you will be as good as your teammates. It’s the Same with academics … how do you get ahead of your classmates? You work harder.” That work ethic has paid off time and again for Lauren. As a freshman at Claremont McKenna, Lauren was named the Southern California Interscholastic Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year, was First-Team All-SCIAC and was an NFCA/Easton Scholar-Athlete. She finished the season with 19 wins, which is the third best in the Athena record book. Her ERA was 2.86 and she drove in 25 runs as Claremont won the SCIAC regular season title and went 1-2 in the postseason. While she won her first 10 games as a freshman, the abbreviated 2020 season saw her with a 4-5 record and a 3.71 ERA. She was, however, leading the nation in triples with five. Coach Gina Ochs considered Lauren a coaches dream. “Her work ethic is one of the best on the team. She comes to the field ready work hard, has a great attitude, and is always striving to be better,” said Ochs. “She comes early, stays late, and even takes extra fitness classes to be the high profile athlete she is. She truly is the definition of a coaches dream.” Ochs added that Lauren is a great leader and takes her teammates under her wing and shows them the way.
“Lauren is a true competitor and wants to win and be the best,” added Ochs. While the Athenas were champions in 2019 with a 31-13 won-loss record (24-4 in the SCIAC), they were 9-10 (4-2 in SCIAC) when the season ended. “When I thought my freshman year went by fast, it was nothing compared to my sophomore year,” said Lauren. “Even though it feels like we were just beginning softball season, know if I was still playing, I would be coming up on the final weeks, which doesn't seem possible. “I was challenged even more academically as I was in tougher, major-related classes and I spent many more hours studying and doing homework. I stepped out of my comfort zone even further, participated more in class, made new friends, and took advantage of my time off. I spent time with my friends going on hikes, to concerts, and attending more athletic events. My sophomore year has only created more excitement for the next half of my college experience at Claremont.” But COVID-19 changed all that … and quickly. And that is what has lead her to this moment back home in Pendleton with her family. “It has been difficult spending the majority of my time at home indoors when I know I should be playing softball,” said Lauren, who plays shortstop for the Athenas when she’s not in the circle. “As much as I enjoy spending time with my family, I wouldn't trade a year of softball for anything. I cannot recall a spring without softball and I can definitely say I miss every aspect of the game.” But raised in a “next pitch” philosophy, Lauren is finding silver linings and not just beating Ellie in board games. “It has made me realize how much I should take advantage of every day in college. I miss my campus, friends, team, and every college experience that comes with being a sophomore,” said Lauren, who has set her path on being a doctor. “With that being said, spending extra time with my parents and sister have been a silver lining during this experience. I know that soon when I try to tackle life after college, I will not be able to spend as much time with them, so I am trying to soak up every second of this self-sequestering making memories with them. I mean, how often are you beating your sister 95-74 in games around the house?” Another silver lining has been Lauren’s chance to improve her baking skills. Her specialty are homemade cinnamon rolls she delivers to her grandparents and friends. Lauren believes softball has done an “amazing job” in preparing for this time of pandemic. Sports have taught her that things don’t always go the way you hope. “Whether it relates to playing time, losing a game, or failing in an important play, it is not the end of the world,“ said Lauren, who was a team captain in three sports at Pendleton. “Instead, I believe it is extremely important to learn from the experience and to look forward to the next opportunity. I can relate this to my time self-sequestering, as I often feel things are not going the way I planned. I am trying very hard to make the most of my time at home, but I look forward to the moment I can return back to my normal schedule.” Her schedule is anything but normal these days. In addition to working four hours each day moving 40-foot long irrigation pipes, Lauren is busy with distance learning and preparation. Academically, she has four online classes and a lab. Coach Ochs is trying to keep the team engaged with daily workout plans, and zoom phone calls. The coach expects the players to continue to improve in softball for when they return to school in the fall. “Every day, I try to get some form of exercise, whether that is lifting or cardio, and I try to work on my mental health by doing activities I find relaxing and de-stressing,” said Lauren, now an expert in making puzzles. What advice would Lauren give a player who wants to play at the next level. “I would tell them to work hard every day to reach their goals academically and athletically. They should find something to do every day to improves both of these. At one point in high school, I realized I would never regret working too hard, but I would always regret not working hard enough to achieve my goals. “Secondly, making sure you have healthy relationships with people that support your goals and will help you reach those goals is very important,” she added. When she returns to the softball field at Claremont, Lauren said she would literally “kiss the dirt.” “It’s my second home … my place to go … always relaxed on the field. It’s where I go to de-stress,” said Lauren. “My teammates help make it feel like a home, especially during the season and I don’t want to be anywhere else.” Like her to-live-by motto, Lauren Richards seizes and cherishes every day. Carpe Diem.