From Cyclone to Bear to Storm – Fisher finally finds home

by Brock Borgeson, sports editor

When junior softball player Riley Fisher was only eight, the Des Moines native had a Simpson College softball alum as her pitching coach. She also spent time working with assistant coach Penney Arey for hitting, getting to know head coach Henry Christowski in the process as she attended Simpson’s softball camps.

“It felt like a family sort of thing [at Simpson],” Fisher said.

Whether it was the lessons, raw talent or a combination of both, Fisher obviously was doing something right as she was selected First Team All-State, All-District and All-Conference as a junior and senior at East Des Moines High School, as well as Gatorade Player of the Year her senior year.

The accolades go on for Fisher, who also was a three-time academic letter winner and National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCPA) All-American Scholar recipient.

While she first looked at the University of Missouri, Fisher found herself as a scholarship athlete at Iowa State University in the fall of 2012, playing in the Big 12 Conference alongside idol Keilani Ricketts, a standout pitcher at the University of Oklahoma.

Fisher got her chance as a freshman, starting 13 games in the circle, throwing a no-hitter against the University of North Dakota and earning a win against Bethune-Cookman University, striking out 24 and compiling 52.2 innings of work, six of which came against the University of Alabama.

She had seen and done it all as an amateur softball player, and it appeared she was well in line for a successful career as a Cyclone.

But Fisher soon realized Division I athletics and even lifestyle wasn’t exactly how it was cut out to be.

“Division I is a whole different ball game,” Fisher said, no pun intended. “It’s more like, this is your job. You can check in, do your work and leave. That’s it. You don’t have super personal coaches, and that’s the difference between Division I and other levels.”

A devoted student, being lead to ISU initially because of its proximity and education program, Fisher also wasn’t getting the opportunity to devote her time to school and herself that she wanted.

“I like focusing on my academics and as a DI athlete, that is not something they put an emphasis on, and I felt I needed more time for that,” Fisher said.

So, Fisher made the decision to transfer, first going to Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) where she dominated again.

Fisher led the Bears to the National Junior College World Series, going 20-7 with a 1.18 ERA in a team-high 171.2 innings.

Fisher could have very easily gone to another Division I school, but she had her mind set on other things, looking at the whole picture.

That’s when things came full circle; coming back to Simpson not just for pitching lessons but to be a student athlete.

“It was like a family here. That combined with the academics is what drew me into Simpson,” Fisher said.

At Simpson, Fisher is taking full advantage of the academics. The junior is double majoring in English and multimedia journalism, minoring in secondary education with endorsements in special education and coaching.

Being able to balance this workload with softball is where the Division I experience did come in handy.

“I would say going to a Division I school first gave me that time management,” Fisher said. “It’s a lot easier to handle everything now because of that.”

Like her time at ISU and DMACC, Fisher wasted no time making her presence felt at Simpson.

Fisher is a big reason the No. 10 nationally ranked Storm have gotten off to a 21-3 start heading into Tuesday’s games with Central College.

The junior is 8-2 with a 2.43 ERA and a team-high three saves. Fisher has done this through appearing in 15 games, fanning 53 strikeouts in 72 innings, all of which are team highs.

In a schedule in which the Storm play 20 doubleheaders, having two pitchers is vital in pushing a team past the .500 marker into an upper-echelon team.

Joined by the 10-1 Abbie VanVleet, Fisher has provided this crucial quality for the Storm.

“It’s big having Riley with all of the doubleheaders we play,” Christowski said. “The year before, Abbie had to carry a burden a lot bigger than what she should have been asked to.”

Together, the duo has combined for 18 wins, the most wins by any two pitchers in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC).

“Everyone that wants to be a big winner has to have two pitchers,” Christowski said. “She gives us more of an edge than what our opponents have. Most of them only have a pitcher and a thrower.”

Fisher’s addition, along with junior Kaytlyn Ernst who is 2-0, will be crucial in postseason play where pitching is at a premium.

At DMACC, Fisher hit nine homes, showing ability with the bat. At Simpson, she’s earned 31 at-bats, hitting .226 with one home run.

While she can hit, the self-described power pitcher who always throws with her lucky headband, hair band and arm sleeve, making sure to step over ever chalk line on the field to the chagrin of her teammates, likes the control that pitching gives her.

Although she likes the power being at pitcher, Fisher is not unwilling to fill the shoes of a calming leader, one who is able to enjoy the sport.

“I try to be a positive and happy kind of voice,” Fisher said. “I’m more of someone who takes step back and, under the radar, brings everyone together.”

“She’s very shy and serious on the field but in the dugout she’s very funny and outgoing,” teammate Brianna Chaplin said. “She’s a great person with a great personality.”

Fisher will step over the foul lines and take the ball again on Saturday as the Storm head to Storm Lake for a doubleheader with Buena Vista University.