Mareena Ramirez is finally comfortable again after a disheartening two seasons at Idaho State University. Western Washington University’s softball star pitcher dealt with adversity at Central Washington University and Idaho State University before her transfer to Western.
Less than two months into her first season as a Viking, Ramirez has 82 strikeouts, a 1.43 earned run average and an 8-2 record through 73.2 innings pitched.
Coming out of Tahoma High School in Maple Valley in 2019, Ramirez committed to Central, but after three weeks, her coaches left the program.
Ramirez entered the transfer portal and picked ISU, having known some of the coaches beforehand. She quickly realized Pocatello, Idaho was nothing she was familiar with.
“I was used to the diversity, and I wasn’t treated any differently while I was growing up. I got to Idaho and some things happen, and it kind of opened my eyes to ‘Oh, not everyone grew up the way I did,’” Ramirez said. “There was a divide between the kids who were native to the area and the athletes who had come in from populated, diverse cities.”
After one season with the Bengals, her head coach left again. This time, though, she was happy about the change.
“It wasn’t a secret that the coaches were making the whole team miserable, and [the team] bonded about that,” Ramirez said.
She decided to give ISU another year and was optimistic that the new staff would be a positive change.
While there were no issues with the new coaching, Ramirez still never felt comfortable. She mentioned that there was never anything for her to do outside of school and softball. She went to classes, played softball and went home. That was it.
Her performance on the field suffered because of this. Her stats weren’t where she wanted them to be, and she described her play as “average.”
After her second season with ISU in 2022, Ramirez entered the transfer portal again.
“I had other [Division I] offers when I entered the portal, but I wanted to come home. I wanted to be with my family,” Ramirez said. “I wanted a fresh start and to live my life and be in a more diverse city.”
She and her ISU teammate, Isabel Cargill, both decided to transfer to Western.
Cargill, who played two seasons at ISU with Ramirez, had a similar experience to Ramirez in Idaho.
“We fell out of the love for the game. It was traumatizing, and emotionally and mentally abusing,” Cargill said. “It took a lot out of me and made me want to quit.”
Since coming to Bellingham, the pair have already felt better about their environment. Both said they love Western, with Ramirez mentioning being close to the water as something that grounds her.
“For my mental state, it was the best decision to come home,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez’s softball roots started in Washington, and at the age of 11, she began her journey with the sport. Soon after picking up a bat for the first time, Ramirez began working with pitching coach Brent Freeman.
Freeman, originally from New Zealand, pitched for a fastpitch softball team in Kent, Washington. He alternated seasons in New Zealand and Washington until he made the permanent move to the States after meeting his wife. There, he started his private coaching company, Freeman Fastpitch Instruction.
He saw from a young age that Ramirez was going to be special.
“Her work ethic was unbelievable. She definitely had the will and the want,” Freeman said. “She improved immensely and started to blossom as she got a little bit older.”
As she kept playing, Ramirez began to pitch more competitively. After her sophomore year in high school, her talent showed as she skipped 16U and went straight to 18U ball.
Ramirez’s confidence began to build as she realized she could hold her own against girls who were about to play in college.
During Ramirez’s junior year, she joined the Sundodgers, a travel team based out of Tacoma.
Sundodgers coach Shawna Wright first saw Ramirez when she came into a camp and “mowed down” the entire Sundodgers’ batting order. Wright knew she needed her on the team. Wright coached her for two years before Ramirez left for Central.
While playing for the Sundodgers, Ramirez traveled every weekend in the summer to play in California, New York, Florida and other states across the country. Through these showcases, she started to receive college offers.
“She’s a bully on the mound. She’ll go right at batters,” Wright said. “That’s one thing we tried to pull out of her was not being afraid to attack hitters early in the count and be confident in her changeup later in the count.”
Ramirez is certainly confident at Western, with the start to the season she’s had. In her first game as a Viking, she broke her career-high strikeouts with 13 during nine innings.
“She’s not exactly your prototypical size for a pitcher,” Freeman said of Ramirez’s 5-foot-4 inch frame. “But now, with all the work she’s put in, she’s got stronger, and she’s throwing up there around 65 mph, which is remarkable for her size.”
Her goal for the season is to win the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, something the team has accomplished twice in the past six years. Though Ramirez can’t do it on her own, if she does her part, the Vikings will be in a good position to make that happen.
“It’s kind of like a puzzle while I’m pitching,” Ramirez said. “All I’m thinking about is how I’m going to outsmart [the batter] and make her swing at my pitches. If I win the little wins, then I’ll get the overall win at the end of the day.”
Andrew Foster (he/him) is a sports reporter at The Front. He enjoys listening to music, playing basketball and is working towards a degree in journalism.
You can reach him at email@example.com.