By Brian McLaughlin, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since arriving on campus as a freshman, Penn State pitcher Jess Cummings has not been able to truly be herself because of constant injuries.
Cummings has always been one of the most talented pitchers on the Penn State roster, but she has never had a full season without some sort of injury issue. The injuries have always been cloudy, and have mounted over time, but she has battled through them to get to where she is now.
"I've been really lucky with our coaching staff and how they've helped me. I've said before if I was at other schools I wouldn't still even be playing. They've let me deal with my struggles and work through the injuries," Cummings said. "They have always trusted me to be honest and know my body, so that's given me the opportunity to work through stuff. We as a team are a fantastic family so I have just been blessed with a great environment with people who have supported me through everything."
Nittany Lions head coach Amanda Lehotak has seen for herself all the difficulties Cummings has gone through, and has gained so much respect for the way she has handled it all.
"Jess is really one of the strongest people on our team, her pain threshold is phenomenal. All she has always wanted to do is play ball and she loves the game, and she loves playing for Penn State with her teammates," Lehotak said. "I look at her and I'm in awe of her courage and her resiliency. Nobody really knows her full story with the injuries besides her and a few select people. It's inspiring."
As a freshman, Cummings threw her career-high in innings, crossing the century mark tossing 119 frames throughout the season. She played through the struggles on the mound and some initial bumps and bruises but would never be fully healthy. After throwing just 19 innings her sophomore year and 45 during the junior campaign, Cummings hopes to be able to put it all together in her final year at Penn State.
"She's definitely getting better early on this year. She will tell you it doesn't matter, I will tell you that it does, she hasn't pitched a full season. As a senior she kind of has what you do in the beginning of the season figured out, but she's never really had much beyond that," Lehotak said. "She's learning week in and week out in the early weeks of her senior year and never had a normal freshman, sophomore or junior year. So I'm very proud of her. When she came in against JMU (James Madison University), she was really back to her weekend one self, attacking with confidence, her body language was great so I was very pleased with that."
So far in 2018 Cummings has appeared in all 11 games for Penn State and started seven of them. She has already surpassed her innings total from her sophomore year, and hopes to keep pitching consistent innings. Against James Madison, Cummings threw three scoreless innings and had four strikeouts and feels she is really pitching at a high level.
"I feel great on the mound and loving every minute of it. Our pitching staff are my favorite people and really my favorite group that I've ever been a part of and a really great environment," Cummings said "I just love to pitch as much as possible and I don't think there's anything more to it than that."
Overall the Nittany Lions have struggled so far, going 1-10 through the first few weeks. Lehotak thinks there could be improvements, but likes what she sees.
"For our pitching we need to limit our walks, we still have way too many walks and giving too many free chances. We have figured out our infield now and playing much better ball there. Our energy and effort has been there," Lehotak said. "We are learning a lot, and everyone wants to win, but I like where we are at for this point in the season."
As the season continues, Lehotak will keep close tabs on Cummings health, but trusts her to handle herself and know her limits. Cummings knows she has come a long way and had an unorthodox journey, but might be better off for it.
"In terms of mental toughness I have definitely become a stronger player. My freshman year, I really struggled a lot both as a pitcher but then the mental side of being injured. So figuring out how to play when you don't feel great is something everyone deals with, but how to perform well through that has given me a great appreciation for what I'm doing. The more grateful and appreciative you are through anything the stronger you will come out the other side."