Updated: Dec 2, 2019
By Tom Mauldin - 11/1/2019
Seven years ago, Carissa Burgess wowed college coaches at Fastpitch Northwest’s College Exposure tournament despite being just 12 years old and not yet in seventh grade.
Burgess is the youngest player to have received an invite to the mid-summer event. It was one of four in which she played.
This last May, she pitched Dixie State to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament championship and was named tourney MVP.
“That was the highlight of my freshman year — winning the RMAC Conference Tournament and also being named MVP of the RMAC Conference Tournament,” said Carissa, who finished her freshman season with a 23-5 won-loss record and a 2.46 ERA.
The 23 wins were the most in the conference. She added 19 complete games, five shutouts and walked just 26 in 159 innings. As a result, Dixie State won 42 games before being eliminating in the post season.
The road between that first Fastpitch Northwest tournament and her freshman year at Dixie State is one filled with successes, both in high school and summer softball. Not only was she an all-state softball player, she was also a standout in the classroom.
A 2018 graduate of Ellensburg High School, Burgess compiled a 32-5 record in three prep seasons. The daughter of Dave and Tami Burgess, she was twice named first team All-State.
Those Fastpitch Northwest tournaments were early exposure and an early confidence builder for Carissa.
“I feel Fastpitch Northwest is a great opportunity for athletes to get themselves out in front of college coaches if they are wanting to play at the next level,” said Carissa, who is a marketing major with a 3.97 grade point average.
Her early success did, indeed, get her in front of college coaches and as a result she had invitations to attend camps and clinics and to be recruited.
“I knew Dixie State was the right fit for me from the first day I stepped on campus,” said Carissa, who first participated in a camp there prior her freshman year in high school. “Everything there was everything I wanted.”
Early in her sophomore year at DSU, Carissa says it is “still” perfect.
“It was the best decision, the best place for me,” said Carissa. “Terrific school, class sizes are small and the community is super welcoming. St. George is beautiful and such an outdoorsy place there is always something to do. And the softball team is all-around great.”
Carissa said her only downsides have been adjusting to living off campus this year, learning to cook as she has no meal ticket as she did with dorm life as a freshman.
“You have to take responsibility for your life,” she said while studying a 500-page legal brief that will be the subject of an upcoming mid-term. “Professors don’t remind you to do your assignments, no one is reminding you where to be and when.”
Add softball and time management is paramount.
“It’s a huge learning experience – I had to manage my time with classes, homework, softball practices, travel for softball, study hall and social events with the college.”
And the learning curve in softball is huge.
“The biggest learning part for me was to compete every pitch,” said Carissa. “Adjusting to playing teams where every player on the team is able to play at a high level. Also adjusting to having softball and/or weights six days a week.”
Carissa first heard about the “next pitching philosophy in 7th grade. The “most important pitch in softball is the next one … it’s the only one that counts.”
“The next pitch philosophy and thought process has really helped me out, especially at the next level,” said Carissa. “As a pitcher, you can’t dwell on what happened the last pitch because you can’t go back and change it or undo it; all you can do is learn from it and better yourself for the next pitch. Whether it was a home run or a strikeout, you learn from it and move onto the NEXT PITCH and be better than you were that last pitch. You can ALWAYS improve, even in the short amount of time between pitches.”
Another adjustment has been to learning more spin (on her pitches) as compared to success in high school and summer ball with her speed.
Trailblazer coach Randy Simkinss said he “liked Carissa from day one, the first time she came to one of our camps.”
“She is long and athletic (nearly six feet tall) and has velocity,” said Simkins, who has coached at DSU for 12 seasons. “She has many upsides and it is fun to spend time with her and her family.”
While winning the RMAC title and being named MVP as a freshman was her highlight, Carissa said the lowlight was overcoming self doubts following an off game.
“Trying to overcome a bad game in a weekend because I had to turn around and play more games the next day and/or weekend. We played 14 weekends straight and I usually pitched two games every weekend, so if I didn’t have a good game I had a couple hours to think about it and figure out how to improve next game.”
Carissa says the key to balancing the pressures of school and softball is being involved in school activities.
“There is a lot of pressure in both aspects school and softball,” she said. “We want to compete at our highest level, the highest level I can and that takes a lot of preparation. School is very important and so I put added pressure on myself to do well. I have to find a balance to get the social atmosphere I want, so we (my roommates) are very involved in school activities.”
Carissa is excited about 2020, Dixie State’s last year as a NCAA Division 2 school. In 2020, Dixie moves up to D1.
And she should be. She played injured (stress fracture of my sesamoid bone on my right foot) as a freshman and had huge successes.
“The team was very successful (in 2019), but looking to improve this year and go farther than my freshman year,” noted Carissa.
“Our goal is to win a D2 National title in our last year as a D2 before going D1. We should want it more than ever and that is our goal.”
With their inclusion into the WAC, the Trailblazers will be the fifth Utah university to be added to the conference in its 57-year history. Other members include Seattle, Utah Valley, CAS Bakersfield, Kansas City, Cal Baptist, Grand Canyon, and New Mexico State.
Asked to describe Carissa’s attributes, Coach Simkinss said “consistency.
“She always gives everything she’s got. She never wants to the minimal (in workouts),” he said. “She understands she needs to work hard to be as good as she can be.”
He added, “she’s such a princess. Last week was her birthday and she wore a crown around campus all day.”
Carissa’s views on going D1:
“It will be a challenge, but it will be worth it and will up everyone’s level of play,” said Carissa.
It’s all about balance and competing to one’s best abilities just as Carissa did as a 12-year old in her first Fastpitch Northwest tournament.
And the “next pitch.”