When Gina Holmstrom steps up to the plate, she looks intimidating even though you can't tell how muscular she really is under her blue and gold uniform. She dons a serious expression and groans loudly when her aluminum bat makes contact with the ball.
Holmstrom is a 5-10 senior, and her 13-inch biceps play a big part when she pounds balls out of parks for the third-ranked UCLA women's softball team.
Her prowess stems from an unusual combination of body building and softball. While many college softball players are big and strong, they lack the muscle, cut and definition of a body builder.
Holmstrom, one of UCLA's top sluggers, is lean and muscular and could lead the Bruins to another NCAA title.
"She has the ability to do a lot of offensive damage," said Cal Poly Pomona Coach Carol Spanks. "When she's at bat, you respect her."
Holmstrom is a power hitter who smashes line drives and deep fly balls. She leads the Bruins, who are 32-6, with six doubles this season and her .337 batting average is second only to teammate Sandra Arledge who's hitting .402.
"Her contact is great," said UCLA Coach Sharron Backus. "Her physical talent to hit the ball is superior to most."
The Bruin first baseman makes things happen but she isn't as ruthless as she appears when she stares down her opponents or yells on defense.
"I have this attitude when I play that makes it seem like I'm this nasty biker chick," she said. "Players on other teams who are my friends now tell me they hated me at first because I looked mean and intimidating. I'm really just a pussycat."
Helped From the Start
And as the head of the top women's college softball program in the nation, Backus and assistant coach Sue Enquist picked up on Holmstrom's aggressive tactics. They knew she could step in as a freshman in 1984 and help the offense right away.
"We saw her play summer ball on a national champion team and she was the most outstanding hitter," Enquist said. "Here she was, not only the biggest offensive threat coming out of high school that year, but she was doing the same in top competition."
From the start Holmstrom contributed to UCLA's success.
She helped the Bruins win two consecutive national championships, first as a freshman with a .268 batting average and then as a sophomore in '85. In her junior year she led UCLA with 2 home runs, 23 runs scored and 7 stolen bases, which earned her all-confer ence honors.
"Aside from her hitting, she has the ability to be aggressive and intense, and that's very important," Backus said. "She has a great desire to win."
The 22-year-old native of the San Fernando Valley started her softball career in fifth grade after watching her younger brother play T-ball.
In high school at L.A. Baptist, she engraved her name in the record books as perhaps the best softball player in the school's history.
As a four-year starter, she was the league's MVP twice and received all-league honors all four years, which led her to be recruited by the Amateur Softball Assn.'s best team, the Sepulveda Raiders.
Coach Recalls Early Years
"I remember when I first saw her," said Raider Coach Phil Bruder. "She was in the ninth grade and played on a junior high team. She was very tall and thin and awkward, but even then she could swing the bat well."
Holmstrom was the best hitter on the ASA champ Raiders, who won national titles in 1982 and '83 thanks to her hitting. At the time, Holmstrom was only a 15 year-old mingled with college stars yet she was the cleanup hitter and drove in most of the runs.
"It turned out that the main reason we won our national championships was Gina. She was a fierce competitor and an unbelievable offensive player," Bruder said.
Holmstrom was highly recruited by colleges. "I got a lot of letters, but UCLA was really the only place I wanted to go," she said.
And just as she had set her mind on playing for the best softball program in the nation, so did she make up her mind to master a much harder task--winning a body-building competition.
In the 10th grade she started lifting weights to keep in shape. Last summer it became serious when Ms. Olympia, Cory Everson, asked Holmstrom to work out with her because Everson didn't have a partner.
Holmstrom said that's like an amateur tennis player working out with Martina Navratilova, the world's top female pro.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I was so excited that I had to call all my friends and tell them that I was Ms. Olympia's workout partner."
That was enough inspiration for Holmstrom to change her way of life and follow a rigid, eight-week training program as she prepared for competition. It included four hours a day in the gym and a strict diet.
"Softball is so different because it's a three-hour sport," she said. "Body building is around the clock, so you have to be dedicated. That's why I wanted to do it. It was a personal thing for me."
The dedicated athlete isolated herself in a world where exercise was a priority and steamed chicken and vegetables were a treat.