LACEY – In 16 years of coaching college softball, Rick Noren has had a player or two come through his programs like senior Morgan Klemm.
They’re the brainiacs who overanalyze. The perfectionists who always work on their swings. The ones who can’t live without softball.
That’s Klemm, Saint Martin’s utility player.
Klemm is a big reason why the Saints are having their best season in program history. With 24 wins, they’ve already set a record for most wins in a season with 14 games left play, including Saturday’s home doubleheader against Western Washington.
Since Saint Martin’s softball program began in 1992, no team prior to this season won more than 21 games. The program’s previous best record came in 2008 at 21-33. With a home sweep of Northwest Nazarene on April 4, the Saints earned their 22nd victory. Last season, the Saints won nine games.
“It’s overwhelming, almost, it’s been this way for my senior season,” Klemm said. “I think it’s so great I’ve been fortunate to be around these girls.”
Klemm has been a rock for the Saint Martin’s program since her first collegiate game in 2009. She’s started every game of her college career – 179 and counting – primarily playing third base or shortstop, but she’s also seen time in left field.
She’s having a breakout senior season. Klemm ranks third in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in batting average (.426) and second in hits (51) and RBI (26). She’s struck out only three times in 120 at-bats (once every 40), which ranks her 17th nationally among NCAA Division II players in toughest to strikeout.
Noren, in his second season at Saint Martin’s after 14 at Pacific Lutheran, described Klemm’s season as “unbelievable.”
“Morgan has just been a sponge and taken in all this information,” he said. “Her talent has risen to the occasion. Most of the time, she is able to separate herself a bit and really take the intelligence she has and naturally athletic ability and produce something.”
In her first two seasons at Saint Martin’s, the 5-foot-6 Klemm dazzled. She earned first-team all-GNAC honors, either leading the team or second in multiple offensive categories. In 2010 as a sophomore, Klemm batted .344 and totaled 60 hits in 55 games to go along with a .943 fielding percentage.
But her numbers dipped in 2011. She totaled 15 hits and her batting average fell to .239 in 37 games. A lot was put on her shoulders, both in academic load and needing to be a leader on the team with a transition of a new coach, which eventually took its toll.
“I exhausted myself, I felt like,” the graduate of Cascade High in Everett said. “It was an off season. It was just a matter of finding myself again, focusing on the little things that are going to get me back to the good swing.”
Last year’s squad struggled through a 9-30 season. In 14 seasons at PLU, Noren compiled 402 wins and had a .739 winning percentage. He never had a losing season, let alone one with single-digit wins.
He knew the talent was there, but it was about teaching the players how to win. That’s what he and his wife/assistant coach, Leanne, have instilled.
And the victories have come in bunches.
From March 17-29, the Saints won 10 consecutive games, another school record. A lot of that has been a team-first approach, rather than playing as individuals.
“We’ve been able to come together and learning every single day,” Klemm said. “That comes with confidence and once you have that, it starts the ball rolling.”
During the Saints’ 10-game winning streak, they outscored opponents 72-18, and Klemm had the hot bat. She went 14-for-24 in six games (.583), earning GNAC player of the week honors.
As Saint Martin’s prepares to play Western Washington on Saturday, Klemm and the Saints are looking to climb the GNAC standings. They are in third place at 14-9 (24-14-1 overall) behind league-leading Montana State-Billings and Simon Fraser. The GNAC preseason coaches’ poll predicted the Saints to finish last.
“From the get-go, it was instilled in us how good we were,” Klemm said. “We’ve been able to trust everything our coaches have given us. … This program has meant so much to me.”