The story behind UCLA catcher Delanie Wisz’s custom gear

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It must be the machine.

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

It was just the start of a stellar performance in Oklahoma City for Wisz, who strapped on the one-of-a-kind gear inspired by his family and his faith for UCLA’s must-see game against Northwestern on Friday and worked with pitcher Megan Faraimo on 10 strikeouts, a gem of a run to keep UCLA’s season alive.

After the Finals that sent the Bruins (49-9) into another playoff game Sunday against No. 14 Florida or No. 7 Oklahoma State at noon PDT on Ch. Wisz’s white, blue and gold wide receiver was the focus of UCLA’s celebratory team hug.

“This gear is super special to me,” Wisz said after the 6-1 win over Northwestern. “I’m so beyond lucky to have been able to receive something like this.”

Of all the custom projects Schroeder has worked on, Wisz’s has been the most inspiring.

In the center of Wisz’s breastplate is a cross, symbolizing his faith, with the vertical line showing a replica of his older sister Stevie Wisz’s scar from multiple open-heart surgeries. The inside of the chest protector features Wisz’s number 97, his signature, and a copy of a tattoo Wisz has on his shoulder to honor his older brother Hunter, who died at 17 days old.

“I may not see you, but I can smell you,” reads the tattoo. It also features inside Wisz’s mask.

Schroeder, who worked with Easton to create the gear after learning that Easton-sponsored programs were unable to obtain school-branded gear due to pandemic supply chain delays. , asked Wisz’s family and teammates for their thoughts on the special items. Central fielder Maya Brady, Wisz’s roommate, secretly obtained copies of his signature, which appears on his helmet, inside his chest protector and on the back.

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

The gift couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only were the Bruins going to play on the biggest stage in college softball, but the second-team All-American needed some new gear after teammates threw the blue Powerade at them last week. The celebration was warranted after a stellar performance in the super regional against Duke, which included three RBIs in the deciding game two.

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

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

With his new gear, Wisz continued his playoff run in Oklahoma City. The catcher/third baseman is 12-for-23 at the plate with 15 RBIs in seven playoff games, including three RBIs in both World Series games.

Inouye-Perez, whose career at UCLA spans more than three decades as a player, assistant and head coach for 16 years, has played with and coached some of the best in the sport at UCLA. The highlights of the clutch shots replay in his head, and Wisz quickly adds to the edit.

“Lanie is one of those hitters who has the ability to pull through in critical moments,” Inouye-Perez said.

Just arriving at UCLA was a surprise for Wisz, let alone arriving 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 him.

“I believe God had his hand on my journey and I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” Wisz said after leading UCLA to a super-regional sweep. “So it’s just a dream to be able to wear this uniform.”

The stars aligned for Wisz to transfer to UCLA in 2020. That season, pitcher Rachel Garcia and utility player Bubba Nickles made the cut for the U.S. national team. They redshirted the season ahead of the Olympics, opening up two spots on the roster. Catcher Colleen Sullivan, then a rising sophomore who was in line to start, was transferred, forcing Inouye-Perez to look for receivers.

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

But Inouye-Perez has a habit of turning players into receivers, the coach said with a sheepish smile. She could tell that Wisz was a good athlete with strong leadership qualities, which, despite the third baseman’s natural creaky knees, made her an ideal person behind home plate.

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

Wisz was behind the plate for Faraimo’s two perfect solo games this 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.

Once the Bruins are done in the World Series, Wisz might be off the radar.

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