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Changeup: Marder remained with Buckeyes, trained successors

Daniel Zaas / Lantern photographer

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This season, the Ohio State softball team played without its three-time All-American catcher.

Freshman Melissa Rennie and sophomore Cara Longworth had big shoes because the last person who held that spot was Sam Marder, OSU’s 2010 Female Athlete of the Year.

Catcher is a unique position in that, no matter the player, leadership is a requirement. She has to guide the pitcher and communicate with the infield. It did not make it any easier that both Longworth and Rennie were new to the team.

“She’s intimidating,” said Longworth, who transferred to OSU after playing her freshman season at Jacksonville State. “She’s hard to live up to.”

Rennie was concerned with taking a large leadership role so quickly after following Buckeyes softball since she was 8 years old, during which time she followed Marder’s entire career.

“It’s weird to think I have to lead Alicia Herron, because that’s someone I have always looked up to,” Rennie said.

But Marder is not done wearing Scarlet and Gray.

Although she is no longer behind the plate, this year Marder contributed as a coach, bringing success and experience to the team.

As a coach, she hopes to provide insight into the gameday experience for the young catchers.

“They’re so young, and it’s so hard to come in without any previous experience with this team and lead them out there,” Marder said.

Marder said Rennie has refined her mechanical skills, and it has paid off.

Rennie started in 42 of the team’s 51 games this season, and was batting .230. Her .333 on-base percentage ranked third on the team.

Meanwhile, Longworth has played both catcher and third base, and started in 25 games.

“Cara has one of the fastest pop times I have ever seen, way faster than I was,” Marder said. “She’s a fireball back there. She’s totally in the game, has great leadership skills on the field, is in the game the entire time and she’s almost a natural-born leader out there.”

Marder admitted one of the weirdest parts of her new role is the dynamic of her relationships with former teammates.

“I’m a coach. I’m staff, but I’m not a player anymore, so that was hard to make that transition,” Marder said. “It was a little bit strange almost to not go hang out with them afterwards.”

Coach Linda Kalafatis gave Marder the opportunity to return as a coach, the career Marder wants to pursue.

“It’s really a great transition for me into coaching because I’m able to focus just with them, and hopefully next year when I become a coach somewhere, I’ll have a little bit of experience doing it,” Marder said. “I have loved every second of it.”

Since 2007, Marder has played an integral role in helping the Buckeyes consistently rank in the Top 25.

She was named the team’s Most Valuable Player last season. In 2010, she led the Big Ten with an .817 slugging percentage and .569 on-base percentage while batting .359, and she scored 40 runs with 45 RBIs.

She earned All-Big Ten and All-Region honors in all four years of her career, and is the record holder at OSU, with 61 home runs, 191 RBIs, 232 walks and 56 intentional walks.

“I was glad to work with her coming in,” Longworth said. “That’s why I was excited to be a catcher.”

OSU was swept by Penn State and Wisconsin in its last two series of the season. The Buckeyes’ record fell to 14-37 overall, 3-17 in the Big Ten.

It was the worst record for the Scarlet and Gray in the past eight years.

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