Nebraska softball vs. Northwestern, 4/28

Nebraska' Bri Cassidy eyes a pitch during a 2017 game against Northwestern. She has five doubles on the young 2019 season. 

A catcher at heart, Bri Cassidy takes a lot of pride in her defense.

Blocking softballs in the dirt. Making the tough catches in foul territory. The Nebraska senior can make it look easy at times.

For three seasons, Cassidy's best asset was easily her defense. She served as the flex player in the Husker lineup in many games, playing defense only. 

Two weeks into this season, Cassidy's play at the plate is matching her play behind the plate as she shakes off the label of "defensive catcher."

She's had the hottest bat for the 7-2 Huskers. Her .556 batting average ranks first in the Big Ten Conference and is 12th nationally. Her 15 hits and five doubles are team highs, too.

"Everyone talks about my defense," Cassidy said. "It's been really cool to be able to contribute on both sides of the ball."

Cassidy's offensive emergence began immediately. She had three doubles in a season-opening win against Lamar after entering the game with one career double.

"After the first one (against Lamar) I was like, 'OK, cool, that was fun,'" Cassidy said. "The second one happened and I'm like, 'Oh, my, gosh. OK, that was more fun,' And then the third one happened and I just about lost myself."

Cassidy produced a combined 16 hits in 110 at-bats (.145) over her first three seasons with the Huskers.

This season: 15 hits in 27 at-bats.

While Cassidy worked on improving as a batter, she arrived at Nebraska as a rock-steady defender, and entered 2019 with 119 career starts behind the plate. NU coach Rhonda Revelle has said Cassidy is among the nation's top catchers. 

Behind the scenes, Cassidy wanted to do more for the team and was motivated to help with her bat, too.

"Internally, it was almost a battle, but I think when people talked about it, I just learned to accept it for what it was and then making sure in the background that I was working on being able to contribute on the other side of the ball," she said.

"No one player wants to be talked about on one side of the ball. There was another side of me that knew I could give more and knew that I wanted to give more to my team."

Focusing on the mental approach helped Cassidy flip a switch.

"I think that was a piece that I was really missing in the past," Cassidy said. "I would go in and just swing, and swing, and swing, and swing and not understand why I wasn't getting the results that I wanted."

Work with hitting coach Diane Miller, mental sessions and reading the book "Mind Gym" led Cassidy to develop what the coaches call a "repeatable swing" during the offseason.

"She's obviously done a lot of work, because the mechanics of her swing are repeatable swings," Revelle said. "Because she has the mechanics more repeatable, she's a lot more comfortable, a lot more comfortable in her pitch selection, she's a lot better with being on time on pitches throughout the zone. There's been a mental shift."

After going 4-0 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Huskers are set for their biggest nonconference test. They'll see No. 2 UCLA, No. 13 Arizona State, Top 25 contender Texas A&M, San Diego State and BYU in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, which begins Thursday in Cathedral City, California.

For Cassidy, the tournament is about 30 minutes away from home, depending on California traffic, of course.

"That's been the biggest thing for me, is finally realizing that this is kind of it, and having fun is a priority," the San Bernardino, California, native said of her final season. "Taking advantage of the bus rides and the different moments that I get with my teammates and know those are the things that I'll remember the most, and those are the things I'm going to miss the most."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.


Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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