Robyn Porter was born and raised in Tucson, but she was never a fan of Arizona softball growing up.
Thinking about the Wildcats only led to self-doubt.
“I never imagined myself playing for a team like this and I never liked U of A because I was like ‘I’ll never be on their team, I’ll never make it. Don’t get your hopes up’,” Porter said.
Yet, here she is, about to complete her fourth and final season at the UA. Porter had difficulty putting that realization into words.
“Unreal,” she described it. “If that makes sense.”
It does when you consider how Porter got here.
The Wildcats stumbled on Porter by chance, really. In May of 2014, Porter and Ironwood Ridge battled Canyon Del Oro in the Division II state championship game at Arizona State’s Farrington Stadium.
UA head coach Mike Candrea and recruiting director Stacy Iveson were in the stands watching Porter’s teammate and UA commit Merrilee Miller.
But it was Porter who stole the show.
The 5-foot-11 catcher drove in a run and threw out two runners, leading the Nighthawks to a narrow 2-1 title-clinching victory.
Candrea was impressed, and eventually he contacted Ironwood Ridge’s athletic director to let his interest in Porter be known.
“She was a big kid with a strong arm and swung the bat a little bit,” Candrea said. “I thought that was a good combination.”
Porter, an all-state player, was a senior at the time, and literally graduated high school the day after winning the state championship.
A week later she committed to Arizona. Three weeks after that she was prepping with the Wildcats for her first collegiate season.
“It was not very conventional for softball,” Porter joked, “but that’s how I got here.”
Being able to don the red and blue has been a “childhood dream come true,” Porter said.
“We gave her the opportunity and she took the opportunity and I’m so glad she did,” Candrea said.
That’s because when Porter wraps up her Arizona career later this spring, she will leave behind quite the legacy. It has almost nothing to do with her on-field performance, though.
Porter has only had 24 career at-bats and has only played in 23 games.
But what she does behind the scenes is invaluable. Her impact might not show up on the stat-sheet, but those around the program — and the athletic department in general — experience it on a daily basis.
In April, Porter won UA’s Unsung Hero Award at the CATSYS, a student-athlete award show.
“I think I’m always the type of person that tries to make (my teammates) better,” she said. “So even though you don’t see me on the field, Dejah (Mulipola) doesn’t have it easy at practice. I’m always right behind her. I’m always pushing her. Not only her, but everyone to be the best person and best player they can be. I just want to be there for them.”
With that, Porter brings relentless energy, positivity, and intensity to the team. Perspective, too.
“I scream a lot and I woop a lot,” she said. “I just try to get people excited and understand that the littlest things are huge accomplishments for them. Don’t just focus on the big picture. Realize how minuscule this game is in comparison of your life. If you mess up now it’s not a big deal. But work to not have it happen again.”
Mulipola, a sophomore who is one of the best catchers in the Pac-12, credited Porter for showing her the ropes. Not just in college softball, but what it takes to be a student-athlete at a major university.
“She guides me throughout games while she’s in the dugout, kinda tells me what I’m doing on the field, what I need to improve on, and she’s that side of the (game) for me,” Mulipola said.
“Then she’s a really great friend off the field. She’s actually one of my closer friends, so having her in the same position on the field and off the field, Robyn’s just a great person. She’s one of the most energetic people besides Ashleigh (Hughes). She’s always doing her ‘woo’ screams at practice just to get us all hyped.”
UA right-hander Gina Snyder who, like Porter, rarely plays, appreciates Porter’s perseverance.
“She’s really good with the mental part and staying positive,” Snyder said. “Like keep pushing, it might not be your turn yet, but just keep pushing who’s in front of you to be the best they can be.”
That was Porter’s message to all of UA’s student-athletes when she accepted her award at the CATSYS.
“I think the most important thing I learned here is how to be selfless,” she told the crowd. “And even if you’re not playing, be the best teammate that you can be and make the person that’s ahead of you better so that your team can succeed.”
Candrea said he’ll probably immortalize that quote on the wall of Arizona’s clubhouse one day.
“I think Robyn has been one of those kids that you just admire everyday because she comes in and works her tail off and is always prepared if her name’s called,” he said.
“That’s what you want in role players, and I just hold her on a pedestal because I think she really is the model. She’s played the game very selfless, has worked hard every day, and I couldn’t ask for more. ... She is our unsung hero and has been a great young lady to watch throughout these last four years.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire