Rising Star: Sierra Daniel Brings Speed, Power & Finesse
Rising Star: Sierra Daniel Brings Speed, Power & Finesse
In Sierra Daniel's first full year of playing at the 18U level, she learned some valuable lessons that have made her a better player.
Speed can be a powerful weapon in a batting lineup. It also can bail out a baserunner when a mistake is made.
When Sierra Daniel was attending a showcase with Arizona Storm Appel in her seventh-grade year, she was playing in a game that was witnessed by a number of high-profile college coaches.
Daniel, now a middle infielder with Arizona Storm 18U Mathis and a 2023 LSU commit, was having a great game.
On one particular play, she was at second base, when a ball was hit in the gap. Daniel took her eyes off the ball and sprinted for home, but the outfielder made a spectacular catch, and Daniel had to come all the way back to second, then came around to third.
"She rebounded from that pretty good," recalled Daniel's father Peter, who went to Northern Arizona on a track and field scholarship and was a multi-sport athlete in high school. "She made some great defensive plays afterwards."
Daniel, who competed in the 4-by-1 relay at Seton Catholic High School last year, continues to utilize that speed for Mathis' 18U squad. She remembers running hills with Peter during her middle school years and attributes that to her ability to be a base-running threat.
"It was my least favorite thing to do," Daniel said. "But I think that is honestly what helped my speed a lot, running up those hills for an hour every Monday. My dad works a lot on the technique. He's not out there to kill me, but I know a lot about speed technique."
Like many players, Daniel played t-ball on boys' teams. Both of her older sisters, Shelby and Sasha, played softball for a short while, and Sierra wanted to join them. She closely watched players like Sierra and Sydney Romero, Shay Nighten and Grace Lyons to learn the finer points of the game.
"They talked a lot about the mental game," Daniel explained. "That has played a huge part of helping me throughout softball. Seeing them fail but keep going, having a really good attitude, (it) has been a major impact for me."
One day, when she was 8 years old, Daniel was playing in a Little League game, and a ball hit back to her took a bad bounce and hit her in the face. Instead of crying or flinching, she picked up the ball and threw the runner out at first.
"At that point in time, I realized she was going to be good at this game," Peter said.
Speed is just one dimension of Daniel's game.
Early on, she was mainly a bunt and slap hitter, but she has worked with private hitting instructor, William Johnson, on developing power. Johnson encouraged her to use her legs more during a swing, teaching her to develop a rhythm, rather than just swinging hard.
"She's probably had less home runs this last year than she's used to," Storm 18U coach Corey Mathis explained. "But she's batting more for average and coming up with timely hits in situations that help the team."
Daniel played for a Hotshots team coached by her father, before joining Storm Appel. Her first-year 14U team came in second at PGF Premier Nationals, an experience she'll never forget.
"My teammates and I talk about it all the time," Daniel said. "It was a dream come true. We'll never forget each game, grinding out the win. It was just the best week of softball."
While this year's PGF didn't yield the results she had hoped, Daniel was selected to play in the All-American Futures versus Seniors Game. She views every opportunity to be on the big stage as a learning experience.
"Every year is really good competition," she said. "Our season got cut shorter than it should have. Quite honestly, I think overall we did well. We played really good teams, and we finally came together and played as a team."
Seton Catholic bowed out in the first round of the playoffs in 2022, but Daniel had a great junior year, batting .610 with a .680 on-base percentage, 28 RBIs and 53 runs scored. She was named 4A Offensive Player of the Year and made the all-conference team. She enjoys the different atmosphere high school ball provides in relation to travel ball.
"I always love school ball," Daniel said. "It's really loose. I love my coaches. I love my team. It's a really good environment."
Storm Mathis merged with an older team this past season. It was Daniel's first full year of playing at the 18U level, and she learned some valuable lessons that have made her a better player.
"It was definitely a transition for me," Daniel explained. "I had to accept failure a lot more this year than in the past. I think I've really grown as a player because of the failure and learning from the older girls."
Daniel typically bats second in Mathis' lineup, allowing her to use her offensive skills according to any situation she faces.
"Defenses are guessing whether she's going to bunt, hit away or even slap on some occasions," Mathis said. "Depending on what happens before her, whether there's a runner on or not, she'll get you with her speed. Then, she just creates havoc on the basepaths when she gets on."
When Daniel became available to recruiters, she initially considered staying close to home.
Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA were on her list, but she was drawn to LSU after several phone calls with their coaching staff.
"When I went down there, it was a small-town kind of feel," she explained. "Growing up in a small Catholic school system, it was something I'd been used to, and it drew me to that school. I loved the campus, I really got along with the coaches, players and even other recruits. I felt like it was the perfect fit for me."
As she enters her senior year at Seton Catholic, Daniel wants to take time to appreciate the game more than she has.
Even though LSU is a year away, Peter knows the time soon will come when there are no more practices or tournaments for travel ball. Like most parents, that creates a mixture of emotions.
"I think about that sometimes," he admitted. "Even as a parent, it's a grind. So, there's some relief for me, knowing she's going to be in a different environment, she's still going to be doing what she loves. Whatever opportunity I have to go down there (to LSU) and support her, we're going to make the best of it and go down there."
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