Former Puma star a softball globetrotter

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Softball has taken Tess Granath to sunny San Diego and across Europe, yet the former Empire great would most enjoy a season free from injury.

Former Maria Carrillo star Tess Granath had four RBIs in the NCAA Division II championship tournament, helping UC San Diego to the title. / Photo courtesy of UC San Diego

The former Maria Carrillo ace is still savoring an NCAA Division II title-winning campaign with UC San Diego. The Tritons’ No. 2 pitcher until a shoulder injury, Granath became a clutch hitter in the postseason.

Now pushing through another summer training regimen, Granath’s break will be highlighted by playing for Sweden — her father’s native country — in the European championships.

“Winning the title was absolutely incredible, absolutely unbelievable,” she said. “The goal for this summer is to get 100 percent. It’s keeping the skills fine-tuned and making sure I stay in shape.”

A strong athlete and fierce competitor, Granath’s will continues to be tested.
“She has the athleticism. She definitely could play a major role next season if she stays healthy,” said San Diego coach Patti Gerckens.

A three-time all-league choice at Maria Carrillo both as a pitcher and infielder, Granath was a strikeout artist who also hit for average and drove in runs.
Coming off her All-Empire senior season, including North Bay League Player of the Year, Granath made the UC San Diego squad as a true freshman. A dislocated left shoulder, though, limited her to pitching primarily in relief.

A knee strain and shoulder soreness kept her from playing a full season as a sophomore.
Healthy and back to throwing pitches hard and with movement, Granath helped lead UC San Diego to the California Collegiate Athletic Association regular-season title as a junior. Granath was 7-5 with a 2.27 earned-run average, with seven complete games, including three shutouts.
Still, her season appeared to be cut short again. A strained ligament in her right throwing shoulder sidelined Granath.

Rest and rehabilitation gave her hope of helping the team with her bat.
“My coaches just said, ‘here’s your shot,’” Granath recalled.
Given time at batting practice, Granath stroked the ball well. The coaches were working with players to drive balls harder and Granath stood out.

“All of a sudden it clicked and we could see it in practice,” Gerckens said. “Her swing is beautiful.”
The first of several big moments came in the championship game of the West Super Regional at home against Cal State San Bernardino. Down a run going into their final at-bat, the Tritons got runners to second and third with one out. Gerckens sent up Granath as a pinch hitter and she delivered a go-ahead two-run single to right field.

“I just knew (the pitcher) was going to come outside, so I just got closer to the plate and I knew it was coming,” Granath said.
A coach’s educated hunch paid off.
“She has that ability,” Gerckens said. “It came out loud and clear. She hasn’t had the luxury to really show that off.”
She stayed hot at the NCAA Division II championship tournament in Salem, Va. As the Tritons’ designated hitter, Granath hit .333 with four runs batted in as San Diego won all four games to take the title.

“I was happy to be able to contribute in a different way,” she said.
Determined to pitch again, Granath changed her motion to limit the arm swing. Relying more on a straight forward delivery, she gained speed and movement.
“It came in a strange way, but it was an overall improvement,” she said. “It’s been a slow process.”

This summer, Granath expects to both pitch and play in the field for Sweden at the European championships in Italy and in the European Cup to follow.
This summer is the third Granath will play softball for Sweden. Granath’s father, Oloph, an Olympic speed skater for Sweden before moving to the United States, encouraged her to contact the Swedish Baseball and Softball Federation. Following a tryout during a family visit to Sweden, she was invited to play for the national team.

“They have a little bit of softball. It needs a little help,” Granath said. “They just need more people to get interested in it.”
Doing her part to promote the sport, Granath as a freshman helped Sweden do well enough in Belgium to qualify for the top pool of teams at this year’s championship, which is played every other year. Last summer Granath played for Sweden in the European junior finals, held in the Czech Republic.

“I love playing over there. It’s incredible,” she said. “You’re interacting with all these people from around the world who love to play the sport like you do.”
San Diego is not a bad place to play the game, either.
Just 10 minutes from La Jolla’s beaches, UC San Diego has a winning softball program and Granath is aiming to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in international studies.
Hoping to play every game her senior season, Granath will push for playing time at third or first base when not pitching.

Defending the NCAA title will be difficult. No team has repeated in DivisionII in 15 years.
“Everyone wants to do it again,” she said. “I’m definitely really excited.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.