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Swinging for the Stars

Princeton University softball vs. Harvard, Ivy League Championships, NJ, May 1, 2017.

PRINCETON: Reynolds Completes Senior Softball Season With Post-Graduation Job
By Matt Baide
Being a student-athlete is not an easy task. Being a student-athlete at an Ivy League school — like Princeton — while excelling on the softball field and lining up a job with Johns Hopkins University, though, is a bit more difficult.
The past few months, then, have been exciting for Marissa Reynolds. The 2013 W.F. West High School graduate earned plenty of accolades on the field for the Ivy League-champion Tigers, and was every bit as successful in the prestigious university’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering program.
“My first few seasons in softball didn’t go as I had hoped. I didn’t do as well as I initially wanted to, but this past season, I’m really happy with where I ended my career,” Reynolds said. “Leaving off on that, I feel good about it, and on the academic side of things, it’s been unreal. I didn’t expect to have so much support and stuff from the professors, so to get to where I’m at, I guess, it’s been really nice.”
Her senior year on the field was one to remember. Reynolds was named team captain before the season started.
“Last year, our captains were really good and I really looked up to them so filling their shoes was kind of hard,” Reynolds said. “This team made it really easy to be captain, especially the underclassmen that came in and were dominant from the start. You knew some of them were going to be starters and they actually helped us with our Ivy League championship. My hat’s off to the team because it was a good season.”
Reynolds said Princeton’s expectations, after winning the Ivy League title last year, actually made this season easier for the team. The Tigers finished the season 22-18 overall with a 14-5 record in Ivy League play, helping them earn the Ivy South Division title and home field advantage in the championship series against Harvard.
Princeton swept Harvard for its second straight Ivy League title, giving the Tigers their first back-to-back league championships since 2005-2006.
“It was a lot of fun. Beating Harvard in the Ivy League championships is always awesome,” she said. “We also swept Penn which was big for us. I enjoyed that quite a bit.”
Princeton earned its second-straight berth into the NCAA regionals, and was placed in the Tallahassee regional with host Florida State, Georgia and Jacksonville State — a bigger venue than the Tigers’ 2016 trip to James Madison University.
“We went to JMU last year and we showed up and there were so many fans, I just hadn’t played in a stadium that big with that many people watching. It was a big shocker,” Reynolds said. “This year, we went to FSU which is an even bigger stadium, more fans. I think that our team handled it pretty well, we played with some nerves, but we played better than I expected.”
The Tigers faced No. 4 FSU in their opening game, but lost 3-0. Princeton’s season ended the next day with a 10-2 loss to Jacksonville State. The experience, though, was something Reynolds won’t soon forget.
“When we step on the field against an Ivy League team, we are expected to win those games and we expect that of ourselves and so it’s a lot different to have a mindset going into a game where you’re playing the No. 4 team in the nation and you definitely aren’t expected to win that game,” Reynolds said. “I think our team did a really good job of it, we played without pressure and we made some things happen. We got the bases loaded in the first inning, which I think scared Florida State, which was cool.”
Reynolds finished the season with a .436 batting average, the third-best mark in school history. She had 88 walks in four seasons, tying the program record, and she started 41 of 43 games and led the team with eight home runs and 17 doubles.
Now that her softball career is over, Reynolds misses the game.
“I think I’m going to join a slow pitch league. When I live in D.C., one of my old teammates lives there too and she’s already recruited me to her slow pitch team,” Reynolds said.
On the academic side of her Princeton life, Reynolds received the Morgan E. McKinzie award given for the top senior thesis in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department.
Reynold’s thesis was on Dynamic Model and Closed-Loop Attitude Control for a Starshade Orbiting the L2 Point, based off a NASA mission that is trying to find exoplanets similar to earth using a telescope. NASA can use a starshade that blocks light from stars near exoplanets to enable the telescope to see everything and directly image the exoplanet.
“I worked on keeping the starshade basically flat relative to the telescope, so that if it starts to drift off that ideal attitude, the shadow it creates for the telescope gets smaller and smaller so the mission isn’t really possible,” Reynolds said. “Creating that control system to keep it in line is, it first involved a dynamic model, all the torques and stuff that come from gravity come from solar pressure radiation act on that starshade. I had to model them and I modeled them in MAT lab, and then after that, use the equations of motion based on all those torques and stuff and created a quaternion based control system.
“Quaternions are just a way of indicating orientation, you can use angles or quaternions, there are four quaternions so you avoid gimbal lock when you have the four components of your orientation as opposed to three. Creating that control system, it’s an LQR control system, when your quadratic regulator, it was able to get to the right orientation, reject any disturbances, any unexpected disturbances. It was able to hold it for the entire orbit, if i wanted to do any large rotations, it was able to do that as well because I was able to use quaternions instead of angles and that was kind of a big thing my thesis advisor really liked.”
Reynolds is set to begin working in the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab later this month, working with the special concepts and engineering development team.
While she wasn’t able to learn everything she’ll be working on until she gets her top secret security clearance, the projects she was told about have Reynolds excited for work.
“The projects they were able to tell me about involved swarm robots, which are robots that work together. They can go swim underwater and they can fly,” Reynolds said. “They told me about a hypersonic boost glider. Those are the main two projects they were able to bring up to me, I’ll be doing specifically dynamic modeling and simulation for their group.”
Reynolds has been playing softball for the last eight years, and she has some fond memories from her high school days at W.F. West, including some about recently-retired coach Mike Keen.
“I love Keen, I really miss playing for him. He was awesome. It was really cool when I’d come up to bat and he’d just be over there and he’d just be smiling, nodding. That’s a lot when as a hitter, your coach has a lot of confidence in you, it really boosts your own confidence,” Reynolds said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why I was successful in high school. It’s kind of sad to see that he’s retiring and he won’t be able to be there for future Bearcats, but I think that he has left quite a legacy and everyone’s gonna miss the Silver Puma.”
When asked which rivalry she preferred to compete in, it was a tough choice between W.F. West-Centralia and Harvard-Princeton.
“I’m always a Bearcat. The Harvard-Princeton one, we’ve gone to the Ivy League championship twice against each other, and I was actually recruited by Harvard for a bit. I have, like, that much more against them I guess,” Reynolds said. “Centralia never did anything to give me that. I had a lot of friends on the Centralia team, less so on the Harvard team. I did enjoy those rivalries in high school, though.”
The athletic environment at Princeton was different from other Division I schools, where the athletes and students existed alongside each other as compared to some big name athletic college programs.
“Princeton is a little bit different from a lot of Division I schools. We don’t have special treatment for athletes. I’ve lived with non-athletes my entire four years at Princeton, and I think it’s been great for me,” Reynolds said. “I think that’s one way where it challenges the athletes because you have to be a normal student and you have to keep your athletics up, you have to practice and all that, but still be expected of the same things like everyone else. I think that it’s really tough for people to adjust to that but I’m really glad I had to go through that because I think it’s prepared me as best as possible for the real world.”
She hopes that other athletes will use their athletic abilities to get to the best academic school possible to set themselves up for the future, because in her four years at Princeton, she achieved academic and athletic success while having a lot of fun.
“I just wanted to play to enjoy the game and have as much fun as possible because it’s my last season and that’s why I play softball, is for fun,” Reynolds said. “In the Ivy league, you don’t get athletic scholarships. You’re basically just there because you love the sport and you love the game, and that’s what I guess I focused on the most.”

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