Softball Senior Feature: Emily Cliver & Ana Iliopoulos

Nolan Swenson, Co-Sports Editor

The spring season has brought forward two new UWO softball seniors to lead the team and set their legacy, Emily Cliver and Ana Iliopoulos.

Cliver said that her appreciation for the sport started young, as she grew up watching her brother play baseball and how it helped to develop him.

“I had an older brother who played baseball,” she said. “I fell in love with the game watching him, he’s always been a big role model. It was cool watching him grow up and play the game…. I just really love the idea of being on a team and doing something outside of school.”

She said that she received support from her parents, who helped her develop not just as a player. However, she felt like she was never encumbered with pressure like previous teammates.

“A Lot of [support] came from my dad, he pushed me not just to be a good player on the field,” she said. “But a good person outside of softball. Growing up he and my mom were really supportive, wanting me to develop skills in softball and volleyball. I was surrounded by girls whose parents put pressure on them, but my love of the game came from the support I had.”

Eventually her brother began his own collegiate baseball career, which she said pushed her towards making her own.

“I realized when my brother played college baseball at La Crosse,” she said. “When I got older and developed my love, I didn’t know if I wanted to. But, I saw how much he liked it.”

 She said that when she decided on UWO, it was for more than just her opportunity to play at the college level.

“Oshkosh was always a school in the back of my head where I could be successful academically and athletically,” she said. “I looked at all the WIAC schools, but Oshkosh has always felt different in the culture. I knew I wanted to be a part of something more than being an athlete.”

Cliver said that when she joined the team, she found that the culture incentivized hard work and participation and that it felt rewarding to work towards it.

“Right when we came in, the culture was set in Oshkosh,” she said. “It was a family culture and everyone wanted to play. There wasn’t always that drive in high school. I remember when I came in it was empowering to be a part of this family and to be included.”

She said that she still talks and looks up to the seniors that instilled her with her work ethic, and tries to emulate them.

“I learned from the seniors there’s a lot of work to put in,” she said. “If you want a starting spot you have to work your butt off. I still keep in contact with [my seniors] to this day. Being a senior now I try to keep the team on the same page and overcome obstacles in our way. Still to this day I look up to them and I look back on how much I’ve learned from them.”

Cliver said that when the team deals with rough spots their emphasis is to deal with it together, as teammates and friends.

“We’ve gone through hardship with personal things,” she said. “What’s unique about the team this year is how close we are and were able to come together and get the job done, but still be able to be friends with one another.”

A difficulty on the team came from focusing on excellence in softball, but Cliver said that once they recognized that issue they were able to come together and appreciate the sport more.

“We put pressure on ourselves to perform and we felt that we had to separate softball and outside life,” she said. “Softball is a piece of our life, so being able to understand that there’s more to life has led us to be successful, we’ve developed a lot as a team. The overarching theme is to go and have fun, there’s so much that goes on and being able to accept that has helped us to connect and be successful this year.”

She said that she and her fellow seniors have shaped their culture to one that encourages leadership without putting undue pressure on athletes and she hopes the next class can continue that.

“Right now I’m in the stage where I don’t want to think about it,” she said. “Developing the team culture has been something our senior class has put a lot of effort into. We’ve learned how to lead effectively and not put a lot of pressure on people, it’s all about having fun. We’ve gotten our juniors incorporated into that culture.”

Iliopoulos said that she never thought twice about playing softball due to the encouragement she received from family.

“I Started playing competitively at 8 and I got into it due to my cousin,” she said. “She was a really big inspiration to me. I wanted to follow in her footsteps and got guidance from my aunt and uncle. They convinced me that competitive softball was something I wanted to do. I never second guessed if I wanted to continue.” 

She said that the choice to continue playing throughout college did not consider much thought.

“I first started considering college in 7th and 8th grade,” she said. “It was talked about and I didn’t think much about it. I wanted to continue playing as long as I could.”

Originally, Iliopoulos was recruited and walked on to the University of South Dakota, but she found that it wasn’t the school for her.

She said that her decision to transfer to UWO was late, but she already had a connection to the school.

“I decided to transfer super late going into my sophomore year,” she said. “I heard about UW Oshkosh from a highschool teammate who played here freshman year.”

Due to how late she joined the program, a spot on the team wasn’t guaranteed but she still tried to do what she could to join the team.

“I had a meeting with coach Beyer a few weeks before school started,” she said. “He couldn’t give me any promises, but he said I could come out to practices and see if it fit.”

As a result of coming to those practices, Iliopoulos said that she’s gotten everything she wanted out of her collegiate athlete experience. 

“These past four years here have been crazy,” she said. “Literally everything I hoped for as a freshman in high school, I couldn’t be more thankful or happy to be here.”

She said that a major emphasis of the team is the family culture and that it helped to envelop her in the team despite her transferring.

“Our team really pushes family culture and that’s very important,” she said. “Coming in I felt that. We had great upperclassmen leadership when I first came. They took me in right away. As a transfer it was intimidating but I never felt left out. They made sure I got what I needed not just as a player but as a scholar. We really bond beyond things on the softball field.”

She said that her leadership style as an upperclassmen has been to monitor players and help them how they need to be helped, as opposed to telling them what to do.

“We try to just kinda be laid back in leadership styles,” she said. We don’t want to be pushy and unapproachable. We really have found success in learning the people we have on the team and being leaders around their preferences. That has been successful for us learning about our teammates individually.”

Iliopoulos said that she is confident in the future of UWO softball in regards to culture and performance.

“Culturally we have good juniors and sophomores that I’m 100 percent confident that they will continue to build on the family culture,” she said. We have athletes who can do a lot of things. Performance wise there’s a lot of potential to continue the success.”