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Softball: Lambert alum Marissa Guimbarda seizes opportunity at Clemson
Photo courtesy Furman Athletics

Marissa Guimbarda has had to use her imagination quite a lot in 2019. When she entered the NCAA’s transfer portal, she didn’t know who would be contacting her and where her next destination would be. And when she visited that eventual destination, she had to imagine the indoor facility, the scoreboard, the fans in the stands.

But so far, Guimbarda’s faith has been well-placed. The Lambert alum, the All-County Player of the Year in 2016 and perhaps the county’s best-ever power hitter, initially went to Furman out of high school. She played two years for the Paladins, and as a sophomore became one of the best hitters in the Southern Conference, hitting .345 with 17 home runs.

That season revitalized a dream of Guimbarda’s to play at a major-conference school. And the one she’s landed at gives her another opportunity that most won’t have: Clemson is starting its program in 2020, and Guimbarda will be one of the Tigers’ first upperclassmen. The Tigers formally announced her addition last Tuesday.

Furman was part of Guimbarda’s plans for the majority of her high school career: She committed to the Paladins the fall of her sophomore year, when she might have been more successful as a pitcher, going 13-4 with a 1.63 ERA while hitting .346 with three home runs. And while Guimbarda wouldn’t have opposed getting more attention from SEC or ACC schools, Furman offered what she wanted in a smaller academic environment and the opportunity to get on the field as a freshman.

“I think when I was younger, I was like, ‘I just want to play,’” Guimbarda said. “And I know from friends I have that are older and me (that) they went off to big schools and they don’t play until their junior, senior year.”

Guimbarda did play as a freshman, but it wasn’t in a full-time role. Furman was loaded with seniors at that time, and the Paladins went 41-15 that year. Guimbarda played in 33 of the team’s 56 games, starting 28, and hit .216 with seven home runs but also a .289 on-base percentage.

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Lambert senior Marissa Guimbarda is greeted at homeplate by teammates after hitting the first of her three home runs Wednesday against Hillgrove in the second round of the Class 7A state playoffs. - photo by Micah Green

The power potential was clearly there, so the adjustments Guimbarda made for her sophomore season were less about mechanics than about her mindset at the plate.

“I worked a lot on the inside pitch and just seeing the ball, and then choosing my pitch,” Guimbarda said. “My coach and I talked a lot about hitting your pitch. He always said, ‘In your at-bat, you’re going to at least get one good pitch. So when you get the good pitch, don’t miss it.’”

And she wasn’t necessarily unhappy about Furman. Guimbarda had formed close relationships with teammates and even professors, and she remembers sitting in her dorm room and mulling the decision over with her best friend, who was also a teammate on the Paladins.

“I was like, “Man, this is what I want to do, but I don’t want to leave, (and) obviously I don’t want to leave you and our friendship,’” Guimbarda said. “And she was like, ‘Marissa, you have to go. If this is what you want to do, you have to go fulfill your dream.’”

“… At the end of the day, I have to do the thing that’s best for me. I have to make the best decision for myself, and I knew that if I didn’t at least give myself a chance, I would regret that in two years.”

Guimbarda wound up hearing from more than 50 schools during the transfer process, from across the spectrum of Division I and Division II. She heard from Power 5 schools like Virginia, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Syracuse, but none fit her as well as Clemson. It fulfilled aspects that drew her to Furman, like proximity to home, while also offering big-school amenities that she didn’t find at her first college destination.

Photo courtesy Marissa Guimbarda
For Clemson’s coaches, Guimbarda was a fairly obvious recruit to pursue. Tigers head coach John Rittman has two former Furman coaches on his staff – associate head coach Kyle Jamieson was the Paladins’ head coach through 2017, while assistant Courtney Breault served in that same role at Furman under Jamieson – and they had recruited Guimbarda and gotten to know her the fall of her freshman season.

Her versatility on the field was also an asset. Guimbarda’s has been more of a hitter and less of a pitcher in college than she was at Lambert, but she did throw 15 2/3 innings as a freshman and 33 2/3 as a sophomore. Rittman said that the Tigers are also exploring using Guimbarda in that role, especially given Clemson’s roster situation.

“When you’re starting a program and the roster’s kind of thin, that’s always a possibility,” Rittman said. “We’ll cross that bridge when the time comes, but certainly that was one of the reasons we thought she would be valuable to us, is her versatility both offensively and defensively.”

While Guimbarda recognizes the uncertainty involved with a first-year team, she’s also excited to be one of the team’s older leaders, along with the five other transfers, and to be a part of an athletic program whose national profile has grown massively in recent years.

“I think there’s always going to be lumps when you’re starting a program, but I’ve been in contact with the coaches over there, and they’re excited about what we have,” Guimbarda said. “Coach Rittman even mentioned (that) we could shock the world with what we have.”