After four years at Stanford, fifth-year softball pitcher Alana Vawter decided to utilize a fifth year to further her education and athletic career at the University of South Carolina.
Vawter had an eventful offseason, during which she continued to develop her skills. Shortly after putting her name into the transfer portal in June 2023, she went on a service trip to South Africa. She then traveled to Japan, where she played for Team USA in August.
"I actually committed (to South Carolina) while I was in Japan over the phone, so a little bit of a weird, worldly story, but (I'm) definitely happy to be here and really thankful for the process," Vawter said.
Head softball coach Beverly Smith said that Vawter adds valuable skills to a team looking to build on its success from last year. The Gamecocks made it to the final round of the NCAA Regionals in the College World Series before being eliminated by Florida State in late May.
"Having Alana Vawter come in, you have a seasoned professional. She's an All-American pitcher with great experience, who pitched in the College World Series last year," Smith said. "That just gives you an anchor on the staff."
In the College World Series last season, Vawter pitched two shutouts against Alabama, which hadn't been shut out in the regional round since 2004.
Vawter brings leadership to a team featuring two freshman pitchers this season. She said she hopes that her play style can serve as an example for the younger players.
Over the shortened 2020 season, Vawter was a dominant freshman for Stanford. She led her team in wins (nine), appearances (15), strikeouts (52) and innings pitched (61.1) while finishing second in ERA (1.48). Her impressive first-year performance made her a top-15 finalist for the Schutt Sports' NFCA National Freshman of the Year.
Vawter continued to improve as her career progressed. She won over 20 games per season for the next three years and was the first Stanford pitcher to do so since 2014. She finished her Stanford career within the top-five in wins (77), shutouts (26), strikeouts (527) and innings pitched (679.0).
Across her four years at Stanford, Vawter was on the All-Pac-12 first team three times, the NFCA All-West Region first team two times and made the NFCA All-West Region second team in 2022.
She has won various weekly titles, as well. She was a two-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week, a four-time Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week, a D1 Softball National Pitcher of the Week and an NFCA National Pitcher of the Week.
Vawter performs just as well in the classroom as she does on the field. She was a three-time Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll athlete as well as an NFCA Scholar-Athlete in 2021. Despite these accolades, Vawter was not accepted into Stanford's graduate program. Looking for other options, she was drawn to both the graduate program and softball team at the University of South Carolina, she said.
"(Coach Smith) had mentioned my grad program. Everything that there is (at South Carolina) to be able to be offered and set me forward was really just the right fit for me," Vawter said.
Senior outfielder Aniyah Black said she sees Vawter's addition to the pitching staff as an opportunity to improve production for the season, as Vawter's pitching allows her and her teammates to excel at the plate.
"It's just very competitive and it prepares us well for what we're coming to see," Black said. "It's honestly fun. It just allows us to be free and get some experience before we actually get into the real life."
Vawter looks forward to working with the other pitchers on the team and strengthening her hitting skills, she said.
She is playing as a two-way player this season, and she said that she has already learned a lot about hitting from working with South Carolina's assistant coach Jake Epstein.
"Coach Ep. has been amazing. I came from Stanford, where we didn't have a hitting coach, whatsoever," Vawter said. "My first week at South Carolina, I learned more than I did in four years."
Vawter and the South Carolina softball team will open the season at home against Jacksonville State during the Carolina Classic five-game series starting on Feb. 9 at 4 p.m. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network+.