With a big series approaching, UCLA softball star Megan Langenfeld knew how to relax and escape from the pressure.
Before last weekend's Super Regional, where a trip to the College World Series was on the line, she drove 100 miles to her childhood home in Bakersfield for a 6 a.m. batting session with her father.
She swung for an hour, her nerves calmed by her father's familiar throws, her mind quieted by his reassuring praise.
That morning put things back into perspective.
"It's the bigger part of our postseason," said Langenfeld, a pitcher and first baseman. "But it's still the same game."
Over the next few days, Langenfeld helped the fifth-seeded Bruins sweep two games from Louisiana Lafayette—both in mercy-rule routs. UCLA (45-11) plays its College World Series opener against fourth-seeded Florida (48-8) Thursday at 12:30 p.m. PDT in Oklahoma City.
In the clincher of the Super Regional, Langenfeld, a senior, had two hits and a walk in three plate appearances and, as a pitcher, allowed one hit in 2 2/3 innings of relief.
"She impacts every part of our game—in the circle, at the plate and in the infield," UCLA Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. "She's ready to tear her own arm off to be able to compete."
That intensity started at a young age. Growing up, she practiced six days a week.
"We never had to push," said her mother, Tracy. "She pushed herself. At some point we had to tell her, 'You've studied long enough and you've worked out long enough. Take a chill pill.' "
That didn't mean that her parents didn't support her commitment. They shared it.
Her parents, both microbiologists, would switch off making a 2 ½-hour one-way commute to Orange County at least once a week so she could play with a premier club team.
During her four years as a Bruin, Langenfeld's family proudly watched her develop into one of the top players in the nation.
She leads UCLA with a .500 batting average, 16 home runs, 49 runs batted in and 40 walks and as a pitcher has a record of 11-1 with a 1.25 earned-run average and 59 strikeouts in 89 2/3 innings.
Langenfeld was named the Pacific-10 conference player of the year and was a top-three finalist as college softball's national player of the year.
Her softball fame has made her a hero in Bakersfield.
When UCLA played a doubleheader at Cal State Bakersfield on March 21, temporary stands were set up to accommodate the crowd of 955 that showed up—nearly five times more than average.
"There were a lot of fans rooting for her," Bakersfield Coach Kathy Welter said, laughing.
When she practices at home, little girls often gather around to watch and dream.
Even when they practiced just after dawn last week, Langenfeld and her father weren't alone.
A father had brought his young daughter to watch her hero.
"With hard work," Langenfeld said. "[She] can get to the same place I am."