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Senior star ‘heartbroken’ over lost season, leaves legacy on program

Oswego State softball player Rebecca Vilchez fell in love with the sport of softball at a young age. Growing up with two older, athletic brothers, she was always surrounded by sports. 

“When we were young we were always in the backyard playing Wiffle ball or even having a catch,” Vilchez said. “Both my brothers were baseball players so the games were always intense. They never took it easy on me which made me want to win even more.”

Vilchez had a great support system at home. Her parents are a key component of her close family life.

“My dad was never my own head coach but was my own personal coach in every sport,” Vilchez said. “He always helped train me, and he knew me better than anyone else so he always knew how to help me when I was struggling with a sport. My mom was always there to listen to me when I was frustrated or not doing well.”

Vilchez was a four-sport athlete in her youth. She excelled at softball, soccer, track and field, and swimming. By the time she reached H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square, Vilchez was a captain on both the soccer and softball teams. 

Although the Seahawks’ soccer team did not have great success in her years, the softball team was highly competitive, being the top team in the conference each and every season. In addition to her team’s success, Vilchez was a three-time All-County selection, named to Second Team All-Long Island in 2015, First Team All-New York State in 2015, and Second Team All-NYS and the Nassau County Pitcher of the Year in 2016. All the accolades were great, but high school is all about making memories.

“It was a great feeling playing games with your school cheering you on and playing with your best friends since you were little,” Vilchez said. “From school ball, I grew as a young athlete and as a person. My high school program helped shape me into the athlete I am today and taught me how to really love softball.”

That love and passion for the sport led to an eventual college athlete opportunity for Vilchez. When it came down to it, she decided to take her talents to Upstate New York to join an Oswego State softball program that had struggled before her arrival. But it really was the “student” portion of student-athlete that mattered most to Vilchez.

“Interestingly, I came to Oswego not because of softball, but because I loved the campus and I knew they had a great education program,” Vilchez said.

When she arrived at Oswego State, Vilchez was committed to helping the team succeed in any way possible. On the mound, she pitched to a 12-10 record her freshman year, posting a 2.33 ERA. She helped at the dish as well, launching four home runs and 20 RBIs. The Lakers won 17 games, their most since 2014. 

“As a teammate, she is someone that every single player on the team looks up to, freshman to seniors,” Oswego State teammate Leah Czerwinski said. “Her work ethic and attitude on and off the field are just so contagious that everyone looks at her as our leader no matter what. Rebecca took time out of her day to give me personal hitting lessons twice a week, and without her help, I would not be the player I am.” 

In year two, Vilchez and the Lakers finished 19-15, their first winning season since 1998. Vilchez stayed steady on the mound, winning the SUNYAC Pitcher of the Year Award, the first Laker to ever do so. She jumped her batting average from .263 to .378, earning a spot on the All-SUNYAC First Team. Junior year, Oswego State got off to a slow start but picked up as SUNYAC play went on. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Vilchez was unable to compete in the SUNYAC Championship due to illness. Even without her physically on the field, the Lakers went on a run as the fifth seed, finishing third in the SUNYAC, their best showing ever.

“Missing [Vilchez] on the mound most definitely hurt the time and our chances of winning SUNYACs,” Czerwinski said. “She was our best player, yes, but her energy and attitude were also contagious, and without her on the field, you could tell it just was not the same. Although she was sick, she still drove up the games and stayed the entire weekend, now that is a captain and a leader.”

That third-place finish was promising, and with Vilchez coming back for her senior season, a SUNYAC Championship seemed very possible. But with the outbreak of COVID-19, all spring sports at Oswego State were canceled, ending the Lakers chapter of Vilchez’s softball career.

“I was so heartbroken finding out that the season was canceled,” Vilchez said. “I was excited to see how well our team would perform. This is something every athlete trains for their entire life. We had the best team chemistry I’ve ever been a part of here in Oswego, and I believe that was going to be the key to our success: knowing that everyone on our team had each other’s back and was going to do whatever it takes to win a SUNYAC Championship.”

Although the chase for a SUNYAC championship will not happen this year, Vilchez leaves a legacy at Oswego State that will be in the records forever. Vilchez finished as a true two-way player, pitching to a 34-30 career record and 2.49 ERA. She hit .317 at the plate and drove in 59 runs. 

“I think if I had to choose I would choose hitting,” Vilchez said. “However, I think I love to hit more because, from pitching, I know how pitchers think. It is important for hitters to understand what a pitcher’s sequence is. This is something that many hitters struggle with but I feel it is easier for me to catch on to what their sequence may be.”

Although her softball playing career may be over, Vilchez plans to keep her same love for the game. She aims to get a job as a high school mathematics teacher, working and getting her Master’s degree at the same time. In addition, the goal is to be a high school softball coach, applying the skills she taught her younger teammates at Oswego State. Her love for the game is sure to translate to the coaching side of things as well.

“I love the competitiveness of the sport,” Vilchez said. “I love being able to push myself harder than I ever thought I could. Softball is extremely hard mentally because you are constantly failing more than you are succeeding. When you finally become successful after practicing something so hard, it is satisfying knowing all your hard work, sweat, tears, and determination has paid off.”

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