Updated on April 5, 2018 at 3:20 p.m.
After being limited to the outfield in her youth softball career, Cielo Meza decided to try out pitching after being advised by her coaches. Meza found that through a lot of hard work and a bit of natural talent, being a pitcher was a perfect fit.
In her five years of standing in the pitcher’s circle, Meza has had quite the hot streak in her softball career thus far. This talent has earned her numerous awards during her high school years. During her senior year at St. Bonaventure, Meza was able to record 348 strikeouts and keep her ERA as low as 0.57 while recording 21 wins.
As a child, Meza was sports-minded and fostered an interest in basketball, soccer and even volleyball — but it was softball that was her true passion.
Meza said that her father served as a key role model, someone who greatly influenced her to pursue her talent for softball.
“It was a good journey,” Meza said. “He is my biggest supporter, my biggest fan and my biggest critic as well. He made me who I am today.”
Meza also said her love of competition propelled her into playing softball at Long Beach. This week, she was named ESPNw player of the week.
“I grew up playing with my cousins and [my hometown]. Fillmore is a small town, so I was a big competitor [and] I always played with those girls growing up,” Meza said. “I thought that through softball, I could be the best, it’s that competitive side of me.”
Head coach Kim Sowder has noted this passion from Meza is one of her strongest traits when she’s in the circle, saying that any pitcher is to lead the team in a game, and that she gives the team a lot of confidence.
Sowder was impressed with Meza’s ability to put a lot of movement on the ball after seeing her pitch during a recruitment visit.
“Her coach had mentioned to take a look at a couple of their pitchers, the minute I saw Cielo there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to do everything we could together,” Sowder said. “She’s got a talent and that competitive spirit and mental toughness that you want in a pitcher.”
The 2018 season marks Meza’s first full-time return to the circle following a season-ending injury in 2016 that affected her going through the 2017 season. Sowder was relieved to see Meza return to the circle, and applauded the young pitcher’s physical and mental journey to get back onto the field.
Since her return from her rotator cuff injury, Meza has had an impressive season in the circle. She’s racked up 157 strikeouts across 118 innings pitched, and has maintained a 1.36 ERA while holding a 16-2 record. She even broke the school’s record with 17 strikeouts against Hawaii on March 30, the previous record set by Brooke Turner in 2008 with 15 strikeouts.
Senior catcher Lauren MacLeod has watched Meza grow from her start at LBSU and found that after her injury, Meza returned to the field with power.
“Her presence in the circle is a lot more dominant than before, and her strength has improved an insane amount,” MacLeod said. “Her energy [has] calmed down a bit, but she’s definitely controlled herself and she seems so much more composed, which is good.”
Pitching coach Danielle Spaulding, who began coaching for Long Beach toward the end of Meza’s injury, said that though Meza was eager to get back out there, the team struggled to hold her back from pushing too hard.
“When we got her for season last year, it was like one inning here and there, and then you raise it, and then she was ready for conference,” Spaulding said. “We still kind of had to hold her back a bit, because she was getting sore and pitching in a game is different from pitching in practice.”
Spaulding also mentioned that one of the biggest things involved with coaching Meza is the pure passion the sophomore has for the game.
“She exudes that [passion], and I get that from here, whether it be striking out somebody or whether she’s mad at herself for giving up a hit,” Spaulding said. “You can’t beat that and you can’t teach that.”
Meza felt that her return from her injury was amazing, saying both her and her dad cried when she finally returned to the circle and that, though it carried a heavy emotional toll, it was a great experience.
“[I look forward to] bringing a lot of fight,” Meza said. “I really believe in this team and I think we’re going to do really well in conference and make it far in the postseason.”