Local connection thriving at St. Cloud State
By Greg Bates
BROWN COUNTY – Raven Vanden Langenberg and Sydney LaPoint formed a friendship on the diamond as 13-year-olds playing club softball for Green Bay Powerhouse Fastpitch and now with St. Cloud State University.
They made a formidable duo: Vanden Langenberg the star hitter and shortstop and LaPoint the ace pitcher.
Away from club softball, Vanden Langenberg starred at Seymour and LaPoint at Bay Port, both graduating high school in 2018.
So, when LaPoint committed to NCAA Division II St. Cloud State to play softball, Vanden Langenberg was quick to follow.
“When she told me that, I said, ‘That’s where I want to go,’” Vanden Langenberg said. “If Sydney is going there, that’s where I want to go. We need to keep this dynamic together.”
LaPoint said the friendship has always been special.
“We’ve always been super close, so it’s nice to have her with me,” LaPoint said. “It’s made the experience lots better.”
After a season apart, the pair is back on the field together.
Vanden Langenberg missed the entire 2020 season due to a torn ACL in her left knee.
LaPoint was also slowed down in her sophomore year, suffering a torn labrum in her throwing shoulder.
The injury happened in season in January in ‘20, but LaPoint played through the discomfort.
Then the pandemic hit and St. Cloud State’s season was over after 22 games.
“It sucked our season ended, but for me, it was nice because I was able to take that time and try and rehab my shoulder,” LaPoint said.
Having the season shut down caused a little less pain for Vanden Langenberg because she was going to be out anyway.
“I was sad for the team, obviously, but inside, of course, you’re happy because that means you get another year and you’re not missing it and you get to hang out with all your friends and teammates,” said Vanden Langenberg, whose operation was performed by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Patrick McKenzie, who is the Green Bay Packers’ team doctor.
Now as juniors, Vanden Langenberg and LaPoint are healthy and playing their best softball.
After returning from the injury, it took Vanden Langenberg a few games to get back to being a hitting machine.
She was 2-for-7 at the plate in her first three games but has been on a tear since.
Through 40 games (all starts), Vanden Langenberg is second on the team in average (.441) and total bases (80) to go along with 34 RBI and 29 runs scored.
During one seven-game stretch, she was a blazing 13-for-19.
“We didn’t have a fall season either because of COVID, so our first game back was Feb. 12, and I was pooping bricks,” Vanden Langenberg said laughing. “I was so nervous. I think I was more nervous coming back than I was playing my first game my freshman year. It was crazy. Slowly but surely, I found my groove and went with it.”
In mid-April, Vanden Langenberg had the 16th highest batting average in all of Division II softball.
“I’m seeing the ball well and being on time,” said Vanden Langenberg, who is a career .399 hitter. “That was a big thing both coach Paula (U’Ren) and our hitting coach Skip Heagle, said, ‘Raven, you have power. Your legs are great, but you need to be on time.’ I would lunge a bit or I would be too early because I would be so trigger-happy to finally hit the gosh darn ball. After my first conference game, I settled in and said l needed to go out and play and have fun.”
LaPoint, who got cleared to return to softball activities in January, had a solid beginning to the season.
In her first start, she tossed a five-inning no-hitter in a 17-0 victory over Truman State Feb. 13.
“That was a great way to start the season,” LaPoint said. “I was nervous that game, like ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t pitched in a game forever.’ I have no idea how it’s going to go, and it went like that.”
Throwing so well – she narrowly missed a perfect game as one batter reached on an error – was a huge confidence booster, LaPoint said.
That week, she was named the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Pitcher of the Week.
“It’s nice to know my hard work paid off in a sense,” LaPoint said.
LaPoint has started 16 games this season and has a 4-4 record with a 3.24 ERA.
In 58 innings of work, she has 63 strikeouts to only eight walks.
When LaPoint played at Bay Port, she was the ace and threw nearly every game for the Pirates.
Now in college, St. Cloud State has a staff, and LaPoint is only relied on to pitch every few days.
Early in her freshman season with the Huskies, it was an adjustment for LaPoint to have to sit during games.
“It’s weird,” said LaPoint. “My endurance is high, but in high school, I had all this energy and I was constantly throwing and pitching and felt fine. Coming here is a different level, so it’s a big adjustment, but you get used to it. It’s nice to have a staff, so it’s not always relying on me like in high school. It’s nice to have others to lean on, too.”
Vanden Langenberg didn’t redshirt when she was injured, so she’s only used up two years of eligibility.
Also, the NCAA has granted any athlete an extra year of eligibility due to missed seasons during the pandemic.
Vanden Langenberg, a nursing major, is on track to graduate after fall 2022, and she isn’t quite sure what that means for the remainder of her collegiate softball career.
As for LaPoint, she could play two more years after this season because of the NCAA COVID rule.
A marketing major, LaPoint is already mapping out her career after college.
“I’m not going to take my COVID year,” LaPoint said. “I have different career plans, and with my shoulder, it’s not worth it.”
She’s planning to graduate early this coming fall.
Since LaPoint’s shoulder injury could resurface at any time, she’s giving it all in the circle this season.
“I’m going to go out and pitch every pitch like it’s the last,” LaPoint said.
Editor’s notes: The Huskies won their NSIC tournament opener by beating Winona State May 13, 2-1. Vanden Langenberg hit a two-run homer to account for St. Cloud’s only runs of the game.