Spirituality a guide for junior USF pitcher

Religious belief drives Belle Sardja’s strong mental game

Belle Sardja University of South Florida Softball
2023 NJCAA Pitcher of the Year Belle Sardja says, “God is such a big part of softball.” (Photo: Dylan Nazareth) 

TAMPA, Fla. – Softball pitchers face high pressure.

For University of South Florida junior Belle Sardja, keeping cool is all about having a little faith.

After transferring to USF last fall following back-to-back NJCAA championships with Florida Southwestern, the 21-year-old says she owes her success to her belief in God.

“Knowing that He’s there with me helps me so much and takes that pressure off,” she said, speaking in the bullpen Wednesday. “I am not only playing for myself; it’s bigger than myself.”

In her first season with USF, the Tampa native holds a 7-3 record, 1.39 ERA, and three saves, most in the conference.

For Sardja, her faith is a guiding force in a sport that she describes as all about mindset.

“This game is 90 per cent mental and 10 per cent physical, yet we focus more on the physical than we do on the mentality,” she said. “I feel like a lot of us have anxieties, fears and doubts because we rely so much on our physical bodies and what we can do rather than our mentality, our spiritual health.”

Mentally, Sardja has a couple of in-game strategies – drawing a cross in the dirt before every inning and writing bible verses and notes in her glove. Last year with FSW her favourite was “God said behold, I will be with you,” a reminder she used in stressful moments.

“Every time I got nervous or I felt the pressure of bases loaded I just read it in my glove and I stopped, paused, and just took a breath,” she said. “Remembering that, I am able to play the best that I can.”

Sardja’s belief in playing for something bigger than herself extends to a team-oriented mentality.

“My goal is to be a pitcher who can provide outs for the team,” she said. “I’m not a strikeout pitcher. I don’t throw the hardest. But I feel like I am able to produce outs and pitch the ball in specific places that my defence can get it.”

Despite being new to the team this year, longtime head coach Ken Eriksen said the junior immediately made an impression on their group.

“That’s a young lady that understands the standards here at USF and understands the tradition of what’s going on,” said Eriksen, a former coach of the U.S. national women’s softball team.

“She comes in with that aspect of being a team player, and her work ethic has been tremendous. You put those combinations together when you’re new on a team, you can do nothing but earn respect by the rest of your teammates.”

It wasn’t long until he saw those attributes reflected on the diamond.

“Now, she’s stepping up and showing that she can do it on the ballfield,” Eriksen said. “I think it bodes very well for her success not just this year, but for next year also.”

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Posted: Mar 6 2024 10:09 pm
Filed under: Softball Sports