Versatile senior captain Isa Carunungan doing bit of everything for upstart Long Reach softball team
Isa Carunungan has great respect for the journey.
A member of the Long Reach varsity softball team since she was a freshman, Carunungan and her Lightning teammates came into this spring having won no more than six games in any season over the past three years. Last year, the team won just three county contests.
But it's those past shortcomings, as frustrating as they were to endure, that the senior captain says now make the team's breakthrough start to this spring so rewarding. Long Reach defeated Glenelg on Wednesday to improve to 6-3 in county play (7-3 overall) and stay in a three-way tie for third place in the county standings.
Carunungan, the team's main starting pitcher and clean-up hitter, has been right in the middle of it all. She owns a batting average just under .500, while also driving in and scoring double-digit runs along the way. A second-team all-county selection a year ago as a junior, she's been even better this season.
As the regular season hits the midway point, Carunungan sat down to discuss, among other things, the keys to the team's fast start, her passion for singing and her decision to continue her softball career in college at Notre Dame of Maryland University.
Less than halfway through the year, you've already exceeded last year's win total. Do things feel different around the team or is it just a matter of everything clicking?
I think it's just a good mix, because every year we've had the same amount of team chemistry and we get along really well. But this year, with the three freshmen coming in ready to contribute and then all the returners getting that much stronger, it's just really helped us win some of these games we've been losing the last few years.
Talk to me about exactly how much those freshmen, who all have travel ball experience, have meant so far?
It's nice because we don't have to teach them the simple things. They are plays, for example that our freshman catcher Hailey (Ramberg) can call on her own already. And there are plays that Kamryn (Walker) and Sayla (Phillips) already know how to do too. The whole team also knows that we also can depend on them and that they are going to do their job. There aren't those shaky feelings that you might have with most freshmen.
Was there a moment this season where you could tell that this year really was going to be different?
I think it was probably the Old Mill game (we won 18-5). I remember going home and being like, 'I can't believe we just did that.' We actually played Old Mill my freshman year and lost, so to come back and see such a huge difference was so big. The crazy thing is, my freshman year we had girls who didn't even know what ITB (International Tie Breaker) was and we went into that game and everyone was so confused. This year, though, we came in and attacked and broke it open in the middle of the game. It was a feeling that I don't really remember having in any of my four years here.
You mention that Old Mill game, where you scored 18 runs. You guys have had several big offensive games like that. What's it like having that run support now as a pitcher?
The offense obviously helps, but it's just as much the defense. I have told my team multiple times that I am not a strikeout pitcher, so I'm going to let them hit the ball. So knowing that they have my back is so great, but yeah also knowing that if the other team scores we have the ability to battle back and score too … it's just a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I don't have to go into the circle worried all the time anymore.
I know you play travel ball with the Maryland Chill squad, which features players from all over Howard County. What's it like when you guys have to play one another during high school?
So Emily Davis (Centennial) and I are the two seniors on the team and then everyone else from Howard County is really young, like sophomores and maybe one junior. So it's more of a fun kind of thing. And it is tough sometimes because like (Mikayla Barnard from Marriotts Ridge) got a double off me the other day and I couldn't even be mad. I know that because she's playing so well, this summer is going to be great. So I'm happy for them, but I also have to remember that my team here at Long Reach is first. It's definitely a conflict sometimes.
What is your history with sports and how did you get your start with softball?
Howard County has those books with all those programs and you can sign up for any kind of activity you can think of when you are really young. So before I started softball, I was in golf, I did soccer like every other kid, I did gymnastics, dance and swimming. Then my dad saw softball in there and asked if I wanted to try that out. I remember thinking it can't be that different than golf, so I started out with HCYP. And it was weird because I immediately felt something like I belonged out on the field. He actually asked me during my first two months playing if I wanted to try pitching, which at the time I didn't even know what that was. I was eight or nine years old and figured why not. I ended up doing two seasons of rec ball and then went straight into travel for 10U. I started playing with a team that isn't around anymore — the Elkridge Lightning — and I played with Jamie Bahrijczuk, Rachel Oliver, Berit Batterton, Steph Yarrish and Jordan Ciraolo. They are all still my best friends.
Did you continue with any of the other sports once you got into softball?
Once I started softball, that was it. I felt like that was the only sport I wanted to play. But also in fourth grade, I participated in my first talent show and it was at that point that I decided that singing was something I also really liked. Around at that time, I was also in the orchestra at school. Music at that point basically became my second sport. It's been that way ever since and I plan on doing both into college.
How do you balance softball and singing right now during the season?
Spring is concert season, so there will be days where I will be at practice, then go straight to rehearsal, come home to do homework and then go to bed. Then there are definitely times where I've had to make decisions between concerts and games, and believe it or not concerts actually trump games. It's the hardest decisions I have to make. I'm in orchestra every day as class, then I'm in the night choir at Long Reach every other Thursday and I do the shows here. I used to take singing lessons too because I actually auditioned for The Voice. Basically I look at singing as my escape from softball when I need a break.
Ultimately you ended up deciding you wanted to continue playing softball in college, so how did you decide on Notre Dame of Maryland University?
I was actually really close to committing to another DIII school in Pennsylvania and, to start out, Notre Dame of Maryland was my mom's choice. We went to an open house and then they invited me to a recruit overnight, which I remember going to as a courtesy because I thought it was a nice thing to do. But then I went in and I loved it. It was all the athletes together and we got to know one another and they treated us like college students, not just high school athletes. Since then I've gone back a couple more times, keeping in contact with my host and my future teammates … I've come to love the school. There, I can be a musician, I can be in class council, I can study psychology and can play softball all as part of one college experience.
I hear you have been selected to give a senior reflection speech at graduation. Are you more excited or nervous?
I'm very nervous. Being in the orchestra, I go to graduation every year, so since freshman year I have kind of imagined myself on that stage. But to now be having that happen and to be giving a speech, it's just super surreal. I keep telling myself it's just 500 people. When I auditioned for The Voice, I actually had to sing in the greenroom in front of a 1,000 people. So I figure if I can sing in front of that many, I can do a speech in front of half that. I'm looking at it like another performance.
Before you get to graduation, though, you still have plenty of softball left. As you guys try to continue the turnaround, what's going to be the biggest key?
The biggest thing is honestly the mental toughness, because the talent is all there. I see it every day in practice. We just have to get our heads together, because there are still moments in games where we are all by ourselves. We have to remember that we play for each other as a team, 100 percent of the time. We also have to have that 'knowing that we can' attitude, where we always play with that confidence and that spark. If we can do that, it's going to propel ourselves toward the end of the season.