NIU softball: Bryanna Phelan accepts role as Huskies’ leader

By Chris Loggins

Consistency has been key for softball senior outfielder Bryanna Phelan, who has remained a solid piece in the Huskies’ lineup over the course of four years.

While her numbers don’t stand out to the average spectator, Phelan has kept herself going through steady improvement each and every year.

In her freshman season, she hit for an average of .242 with 23 hits, 14 runs and four runs batted in. In the 2013 campaign, she increased her numbers, hitting .293, starting in 57 games, knocking 55 hits, scoring 29 runs and driving in seven runs. In her junior year, Phelan went up again, hitting .316 with 50 hits, 31 runs, three doubles, four triples and seven stolen bases. She’s currently hitting .359 with 46 hits, 27 runs, 5 RBIs, eight walks, and nine stolen bases.

“Obviously, throughout the entire season you want to be a consistent player and somebody that your teammates can look up to and somewhat depend on,” Phelan said. “Being able to do that at this point in the season is good and I hope that I can continue it on through the MAC Tournament.”

Now on a team that is very young, Phelan stressed how head coach Christina Sutcliffe always taught the team to never treat other players differently because of age.

“Coach Sut has always breeded a program since she’s been here about acclimating all freshmen and anybody of any age on this team — freshman through senior — can be a leader,” Phelan said. “It just depends on the qualities that you have. Me being a senior compared to a freshman, I just knew that in order for all of us to get where we want to be we’re all going to need to be on the same page. It’s just important to bring those younger girls up on the team with us.”

Phelan said advancing deep into the MAC Tournament wasn’t always a big goal for the team in previous years. Being here for four years now, she’s been able to closely see the difference in the current team’s attitude and desire to win.

“Just creating a culture within this program where we aspire to achieve the highest level that we possibly can,” Phelan said. “For us, we always aim to win the MAC Tournament every year. When I first got in here, obviously, you want to go to the MAC Tournament, but it wasn’t quite the goal as it is now, and something as attainable as it is now. We can possibly achieve that goal so just setting goals for ourselves as a team … and actually making them attainable and going out and getting them.”

As it now stands, the team is on pace to have its best season in recent memory, already totaling the wins of many seasons prior at 26-20.

“It’s amazing; This team is incredible,” Phelan said. “I absolutely enjoy playing my senior season with this group of girls and this coaching staff and everything that’s fallen together how it has. You just go out there, you play, and you always hope for the best. You do everything you can.

This year it just clicks and we work really well together. You don’t really realize that things happen how great it’s turning out: you just live in that moment. It’s been a great ride, and I’m so blessed and grateful to be a part of this team this year.”

Sutcliffe was very supportive of Phelan and how important she is to the team’s success. She noted how it’d be hard for the more successful players to do what they do if Phelan wasn’t filling her role correctly.

“She’s been a catalyst for us,” Sutcliffe said. “It’s hard for those power kids to have the numbers they have if she’s not getting on base. Her biggest thing is she knows her role. She knows she’s not an RBI kid; she knows that’s not what her job on this team is. She just tries to make a mess and beat it out.”

As for her improvement over the years and recent surge, Sutcliffe credited Phelan’s mental game as the key factor in how she’s been able to get better.

“Bre’s just really figured it out and has learned the umpire’s strike zone,” Sutcliffe said. “She just has learned how to stay within her at-bat and stay patient.”