The ploy might just be the key to defensive success for the Tigers, who were 12th in the country in runs allowed per game.
Auburn infielders perform a small jump when their pitcher releases the ball. Auburn coaches say the hop originated with tennis players, who take a similar hop when getting ready to return a serve. It was learned by assistant coach Corey Myers years ago, when he was at a camp as a player in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system. The move helped him as a player, so he passed on that knowledge to the Tigers.
“We introduced it to the girls as a way to give them a little more confidence of making the right fist choice and first step,” Myers says.
Teaching the players how to do the hop was easily done with a simple preseason drill. The coaches would count to three and tell the girls to hop. When they were at the tops of their jumps, a coach would point a finger in the direction he wanted the players to move when they landed. The coaches then had the players do same thing without the hop. Many of the girls ended up stepping more slowly or in the wrong direction, which taught them the value of the hop.
Science backs up the idea that the hop helps players get ready to field the ball.
According to Dr. Wendi Weimar, Auburn University Director of the Sport Biomechanic Laboratory in the School of Kinesiology, it is a successful method for a few reasons. First, it helps engage the player in the game. Fielders must pay attention and time their jump so they are ready to go when the ball is hit. The hop also helps their muscles prepare to be explosive when the fielders land. A similar hop is also seen in predatory animals who rely on a quick reaction time to hunt their prey.
The hop helped the Tigers to their second consecutive SEC softball tournament title last month. And it was on display yesterday as Auburn beat UCLA 10–3 in its opening game at the World Series, a win that moved the Tigers one step — or hop — closer to a national title.