May 13, 2002 - Newsday: Malawi RPCV Betsy Hipple coaches championship women's college softball team

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Malawi RPCV Betsy Hipple coaches championship women's college softball team

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Hunter Coach Fits Right In / Hipple steers team back to NCAAs in only 2nd season *

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Hunter Coach Fits Right In / Hipple steers team back to NCAAs in only 2nd season

May 10, 2002 - Newsday Author(s): Tara Driscoll. Staff Writer

Betsy Hipple has worn many hats in her 41 years, but the one she's loving right now says Hunter College softball on it.

The Florida native's route to the Hawks' dugout has been anything but typical. But every job, she said, made her a better coach. Whether it was guiding outdoor tours in rural North Carolina, advising corporate executives on leadership or working as an HIV instructor for the Peace Corps in Malawi, a small country in southern Africa, the experiences enriched her coaching strategy.

"I like to think of softball as a metaphor for life," she said.

That attitude has helped launch Hunter to the national stage. Hipple's two years at Hunter have been the program's best - an NCAA playoff debut last season and a return trip this year to the NCAA Division III championships, which begin at 10 a.m. today against Manhattanville (23-7) in Ithaca.

"I'm being realistic," said Hipple, whose team won one tournament game in 2001. "Our team goal is to win two games and our stretch goal is to win three. I dare them to surprise me."

Hunter (25-11) will play in one of eight double elimination regionals this weekend, with winners advancing to the Women's College World Series next weekend at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire.

The Hawks won their ninth CUNY tournament this season and enter the NCAAs having won 13 consecutive and 19 of 21 games. Momentum seems to be in the squad's favor, though experience is not. Hunter has three first-year and three second-year starters on its roster.

"They go through ups and downs," Hipple said. "They play like the Yankees one day and the Bad News Bears the next."

Eleven of Hunter's 14 players will head upstate; three non- starters have final-exam conflicts. One player making the trip is senior shortstop Jezel Rodriguez, who bats a team-high .485 (15 doubles, 22 walks, 43 RBIs and 44 runs) and holds nearly every team stat record.

Rodriguez, who attended Clinton High School, is the only student in CUNY history to advance to the NCAA Tournament in three sports in one year (volleyball, basketball, softball) and one of just a few nationally. Athletics were a mainstay in her home, where she played with her two sisters and younger brother.

"I love sports so much," said Rodriguez, who will stay on as a student assistant next year. "If it's challenging and there's competition, then I'm going to be there."

Another player with a similar fire is freshman pitcher Cynthia Cabrera, who is 14-8 with a 1.67 ERA. The CUNY tournament MVP is an offensive force, with a .458 average, 38 RBIs and 26 runs. The 23- year-old Walton graduate only recently enrolled full-time at Hunter, where she still has three more years of eligibility.

"I completely committed myself to pitching," said Cabrera, who has consistently worked on her throwing with assistant Elizabeth Sanchez.

Hipple believes this is just the beginning for Cabrera, whom she calls "the next Jezel Rodriguez."

"I don't think she's half the athlete she will be," said Hipple, whose own softball career ended prematurely due to torn knee ligaments.

Healthy or not, Hipple does whatever necessary to get her team ready, which for the NCAAs, may include an unusual warmup.

"She had everyone just shake and loosen up. She did it first and it was so funny," said starting leftfielder Vana Loukissas (Cardozo). "Then, we all did it and didn't care. It worked."

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