The story behind UCLA catcher Delanie Wisz’s personalized gear

It has to be the gearbox.

After former UCLA catcher Jen Schroeder surprised Delanie Wisz with custom catch gear in Oklahoma City this week, the Bruins redshirt veteran hit the first pitch she saw at the Women’s College World Series for a single.

It was just the beginning of a stellar performance in Oklahoma City for Wisz, who donned the unique gear inspired by her family and her faith for Friday’s UCLA must-win game against Northwestern, and teamed pitcher Megan Faraimo on a 10-strikeout, one-run gem worked to keep the UCLA season alive.

After the final that sent the Bruins (49-9) into another eliminator on Sunday against No. 14 Florida at 12:00 p.m. PDT on ABC, Wisz’s white, blue and gold catching gear was the focus of UCLA’s celebratory team hug.

“This equipment is very special for me,” said Wisz after the 6-1 win against Northwestern. “I’m just so blessed to have been able to receive something like this.”

Of all the custom projects Schroeder has worked on, Wisz’s was the most inspirational.

At the center of Wisz’s chest armor is a cross symbolizing her faith, with the vertical line showing a replica of her older sister Stevie Wisz’s scar from multiple open-heart surgeries. The inside of the chest protector features Wisz’s #97, her signature and a copy of a tattoo Wisz has on her shoulder in honor of her older brother, Hunter, who died when he was 17 days old.

“I may not see you, but I can feel you,” the tattoo reads. It can also be seen on the inside of Wisz’s mask.

Schroeder, who worked with Easton to develop the gear after learning Easton-sponsored programs couldn’t get catch gear in her school colors due to delays in the pandemic supply chain, solicited input from Wisz’s family and teammates the special elements. Midfielder Maya Brady, Wisz’s roommate, secretly obtained copies of her signature, which can be seen on her helmet, the inside of her chest protector and on her back.

“The idea was that people would see that gear and she would put on that gear and she would feel like I saw her,” Schroeder said, “as this confident, brave, amazing athlete.”

The gift could not have come at a better time. Not only did the Bruins want to play on college softball’s biggest stage, but the second-team All-American needed new gear after their teammates threw blue powerades at them last week. The celebration was justified after an outstanding performance in the Super Regional against Duke, which included three RBIs in the crucial second game.

Wisz asked her coaches if they had any extra gear for her trip to Oklahoma City. Head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, who gave Schroeder her blessing to single out Wisz with the gift, nearly spoiled the secret by saying Wisz didn’t need one.

“I’m so jealous,” said Inouye-Perez, a three-time national champion catcher at UCLA.

With her new gear, Wisz continued her torrid postseason in Oklahoma City. The catcher/third baseman is 12-23 on the plate with 15 RBIs in seven postseason games, including three RBIs in the two World Series games.

Inouye-Perez, whose UCLA career has spanned more than three decades as a player, assistant and head coach, has spent 16 years playing and coaching some of the sport’s best at UCLA. The climaxes of the clutch hits play out in her head, and Wisz quickly adds something to the montage.

“Lanie goes down as one of those thugs who can come through at critical moments,” said Inouye-Perez.

Getting to UCLA was a surprise for Wisz, not to mention her arrival as a star. The Loyola Marymount transfer was not heavily recruited from Santa Maria Righetti High. She told Schroeder she never thought she could play at this level. Now she dominates it.

“I believe God has had His hand on my journey and I’m right where I should be,” Wisz said after leading UCLA to a national victory. “So being able to wear this uniform is just a dream.”

The stars were good for Wisz’s move to UCLA in 2020. That season, pitcher Rachel Garcia and utility player Bubba Nickles made the cut for the US national team. They redshirted the season in anticipation of the Olympics, opening up two squad spots. Catcher Colleen Sullivan, then a budding sophomore standing on the starting line, switched, forcing Inouye-Perez to scout for catchers.

Wisz received the All-West Coast Conference as a third baseman in 2019.

But Inouye-Perez has a habit of turning players into catchers, says the coach with an embarrassed grin. She could tell that Wisz was a fine athlete with strong leadership qualities, making her an ideal cast behind the plate despite the natural third baseman’s creaking knees.

Catchers are the most underrated position on the field, said Schroeder, who, like Wisz, also came to UCLA as a corner infielder but switched to catchers as a sophomore. Although they call and catch every pitch in a perfect game, their names don’t go into the record books, Schröder said.

Wisz was behind the plate in both of Faraimo’s perfect solo games that year, including a 15 strikeout, five-inning performance against Cal State Bakersfield on March 11.

“Delanie Wisz is the most underrated catcher in college softball,” Schroeder said.

With the Bruins done in the World Series, Wisz may not be under the radar anymore.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2022-06-04/ucla-womens-college-world-series-softball-delanie-wisz-catchers-gear The story behind UCLA catcher Delanie Wisz’s personalized gear

Emma Bowman

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