Before last season, Cal Poly softball coach Jenny Condon really wasn’t sure what she was getting with left-handed pitcher Chloe Wurst.
Neither was Wurst, who spent the better part of the nine months leading up to her arrival on campus prohibited from physical activity and a portion of that time wondering whether she could ever play sports again.
Based on Wurst’s record as a senior at La Verne Bonita High and a trusting relationship with Wurst’s club team coach, Condon offered a scholarship to a Division II transfer whose first collegiate season — possibly her sports career — was wiped away by a surprise pulmonary embolism.
Both parties were wary of the union, and Wurst had nearly convinced herself she couldn’t match up during her comeback redshirt freshman season at Cal Poly last spring until a conversation with her dad, Cliff, an assistant athletic director at Citrus College in Southern California, changed her outlook.
“When my dad sat me down, he pretty much told me that I could be dead rather than playing softball,” Wurst said. “And that’s when it hit me: I only have one shot of this within three or four years, and so there’s no turning back. And that’s when it turned around, when he made me realize I could be here or I could be dead.”
Condon’s gamble and Wurst’s determination to return to the circle are beginning to pay dividends for the Mustangs, who host Pacific this weekend fresh off a three-game road sweep of Cal State Fullerton last week.
Wurst is 8-8 overall with a 2.29 ERA and 79 strikeouts in a team-leading 113 2⁄3 innings.
The sophomore has beaten two ranked opponents this season, nearly upended a third and was named Big West Conference Pitcher of the Week for helping the Mustangs (15-20-1, 4-2 Big West) sweep their first conference road series in almost three years.
Wurst picked up 1-0 and 4-0 victories to bookend the first three-game road sweep of the Titans in Cal Poly program history while pitching just 23 miles away from where she played high school softball.
Wurst was a high school and club softball standout and signed with West Texas A&M prior to the start of her senior season at Bonita.
Following the commitment, she raised her profile even more with a dominant performance that left Division I coaches kicking themselves for not contacting her sooner.
Wurst put up a 19-4 record with a 0.82 ERA. Averaging more than 10 strikeouts per appearance, she ended up fanning 100 more batters than she did as a junior.
But Wurst never threw a pitch for West Texas A&M, an NCAA Division II school in the tiny town of Canyon, Texas.
While visiting home during winter break prior to the start of the season, Wurst said she woke up one morning unable to breath.
Rushed to the hospital, tests revealed that Wurst had two blood clots in her lungs. Because treatments for the condition leave the body susceptible to massive bleeding, any kind of physical activity where Wurst could suffer cuts or bruises was ruled out, perhaps even for good.
“They told me I wouldn’t be able to play softball again,” Wurst said. “They said my chances to even be active or have any type of exercise was really slim. So, it crushed me.”
But Wurst hoped for the best, and her recovery was smooth enough to get medical clearance to play again.
She was looking for a place closer to home, and Cal Poly rolled the dice on bringing Wurst to San Luis Obispo without a tryout.
Condon said there was enough depth on the staff to be able to take a chance. Her hope was to give Wurst the chance to transition slowly and hopefully see her develop into the force she was in high school.
But last season, ace starter Rebecca Patton was shelved after just 11 games with a season-ending injury, and Wurst was thrust into the Mustangs’ lineup right away.
She ended up pitching a team-high 132 1-3 innings, going 5-15 with a 4.71 ERA, perhaps before she was mentally ready to move past her illness.
With her confidence back this season, Wurst has proven she can compete with and beat some of the best.
Her starts include a 1-0 win over Georgia, which was ranked No. 13 at the time, a 2-0 victory over No. 17 Washington and a 2-1 loss to No. 10 Oregon.
“I was definitely worried,” Wurst said. “There were times I felt like I wasn’t ready to compete, and I felt a little bit of that last year. I felt like my talent wasn’t good enough to compete last year, but I worked hard in the summer and realized I can compete with these other D-I athletes.”