As the national anthem plays over Eaton Street Field before Lehigh softball’s matchup at Colgate on April 16, senior outfielder Josie Charles mentally prepares for game time.
“Stay loose, stay confident,” she thinks to herself.
Minutes later, she steps into the batter’s box shuffling her feet in the clay as she eyes the pitcher.
Charles is a slapper, a hitter who takes a step forward in the batter’s box and makes a short swing to put the ball in play, causing chaos in the infield as she attempts to beat the throw to first.
As Charles sends a ground ball sharply into centerfield, Colgate infielders can only watch as the ball dribbles past them and Charles stamps her foot authoritatively on first base.
Lehigh would defeat Colgate 4-2 and later sweep Army in three wins from April 21-23, preserving their 12-0 undefeated season in the Patriot League.
Charles has helped lead Lehigh softball with a .433 batting average and 61 hits, first and second on the team, respectively.
“Even when she slaps, she (has) the ability to drive the ball all the way to the fence,” head coach Fran Troyan said. “Because she has the ability to combine speed and power, she is able to be a problem for opposing defenses.”
Charles is having a breakout season, recording more hits and stolen bases this season than her last two combined.
She said her success is the product of confidence, with which she enters every game.
“Sometimes it can be an adjustment for people to move from high school to college, and it’s not that they’re not capable of it but (it’s) the mindset of ‘Am I struggling because I’m not good enough to play at this level?’” Charles said. “At this point, there is no amount of that for me.”
Charles’s mindset has a unique dichotomy. Her confidence and hard work combine with a calm approach and unadulterated love for merely stepping into the outfield and enjoying the anticipation of a ball coming her way or moving into the batter’s box, digging her feet into the orange clay and lifting her bat above her shoulder.
This mindset has made her unconventional college career into a historic one.
Charles tore her ACL in her senior year of high school, which kept her sidelined for her entire first year at Lehigh.
When she arrived on campus, she spent an hour with Lehigh softball’s trainer almost every day to regain muscle and acclimate her knee to moving again after weeks of no activity.
The recovery process took a year. A week after Charles was finally cleared to play, the season was canceled due the COVID-19 pandemic. Charles would have to wait another year to play a collegiate game.
Aside from the physical aspect of Charles’ recovery, she also noted an adjustment period for relearning her instincts.
“There is a certain amount of it that is pretty much instantaneous reaction and some of that was either gone or wrong,” Charles said. “I was making (reactions) based on prior experiences that were a little bit skewed because it had been so long.”
Her roommate, senior outfielder Emily Cimino, said Charles’ confidence helped her surpass her ACL injury and perform at a high level.
“She finally feels back to herself,” Cimino said. “This year she came out knowing exactly what she wanted to do, fully confident in her abilities.”
Cimino describes Charles as “carefree”— a player who does not let the pressure of preserving an undefeated Patriot League record or the stress of maintaining a stellar season impact her performance.
Charles said she focuses on her love for softball when playing not chasing championships or statistics, which are products of her mentality.
“Sometimes you get so in the mode of work, work, work that it starts to feel like a job,” Charles said. “ You have to step back and remind yourself ‘I’m doing this because I enjoy it and have fun.’”
Charles said she puts her injury in the rearview mirror and looks forward to another Patriot League playoff appearance with a team she is proud of.
A smile overcame her face while she discussed her bond with her teammates.
“You’re playing because you have fun with softball, and you’re going to give your all because that’s what you do for your team,” Charles said.