Softball Announces Senior Returners

ORLANDO – UCF Softball will return three key seniors to the team next season as Alea White, Jazmine Esparza and Kyra Klarkowski are set to suit up once again for the Black and Gold in 2021.

The Knights confirmed Thursday that the trio will be taking advantage of the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA after the COVID-19 pandemic forced an abrupt end to all spring sports.

"We just scratched the surface of what UCF Softball is going to be nationwide," said head coach Cindy Ball-Malone. "These girls want more. They got a piece of success and they are all in, so it is exciting to have them back. I love that they are able to have this opportunity to return and they seem very appreciative of it.

"Danny White has backed us and supported our student-athletes from the beginning and he has helped them get this year back. It speaks volumes to how we at UCF are dedicated to making the best of these student-athletes' years, and it is really important to me to know that we are in the right place because they take care of us."

Before the conclusion of the season, Ball-Malone led her Knights to a 21-5-1 overall record (.777 winning percentage) that included an 11-game winning streak from Feb. 14 through March 1. The Knights secured the best start in program history as they were off to a 16-2 record to start the year. They finished the season ranked seven in the NCAA RPI and 21 in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 Coaches Poll.

Alea White

White has proven herself to be one of the greatest to ever toe the rubber in UCF Softball history. Following the 2020 campaign, White currently sits third all-time in program history with 77 career wins, needing just four more to become UCF's all-time winningest pitcher.

White also owns several top-10 program career records, including ERA (2.36), strikeouts per seven innings (4.85), innings pitched (767) and appearances (143) just to name a few. During the season, she tossed three complete game shutouts and was named American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week (Feb. 10), marking the ninth time she earned the award in her career.

In the full 2019 season, White tossed 221.1 of the Knights' 380.0 innings. She accumulated 174 strikeouts and five shutouts as the undisputed workhorse for the Knights. The stellar season garnered White NFCA First Team All-Region honors, American Athletic Conference All-Conference First Team honors and conference Player of the Week honors on four separate occasions.

"It's obvious what [White] does in the circle for our team," said Ball-Malone. "But she is so much more than that. She is one of those kids that works hard, will help anybody on the team and she just bleeds black and gold. To be able to have her back and have her in the circle again next year is going to be very important to us."

Jazmine Esparza

A shortstop by trade, Esparza has transitioned nicely to playing first base over the last several seasons for the Knights, posting a .987 career fielding percentage.

Esparza's bat was also a key component to the Knights' offensive firepower in 2020 as she finished the season slashing .321/.357/.491 with 16 RBI. In the last week of the shortened season, Esparza batted .348 with 7 RBI against some of the best teams in the country, including a solo home run against No. 16 Michigan to help lead the Knights to a 3-2 victory.

"Right when our season ended, Jaz was really starting to heat up offensively and understand her role in the lineup," said Ball-Malone. "For her to be able to come back as that leader on the infield and play her lockdown defense is going to be nice to have back."

Kyra Klarkowski
Klarkowski began the year in the leadoff spot for the Knights and was a hawk in center field, posting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage to go along with two assists. Klarkowski's speed was also an asset to the team in 2020 as she was a perfect six-for-six on stolen base attempts.

At the dish, Klarkowski racked up 15 hits, including two extra base hits and scored 13 runs. Klarkowski's best game of the season came in a 7-3 win over Villanova early in the season, where she went three-for-three with an RBI and a run scored. Her return will solidify a strong Knights outfield.

"Besides being one of the best defensive outfielders I have ever coached and one of the quickest runners on our team, her leadership is truly very rare," said Ball-Malone. " She has the spirit of someone who is well beyond her years and she leads and guides this team in such a positive way. She is the captain that listens, observes and knows exactly what our team needs."

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