West Ranch softball to Princeton connection

Princeton softball players Haley Hineman, Keeley Walsh, and Adrienne Chang returned to their high school field at West Ranch High School. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Princeton University softball head coach Lisa Van Ackeren must like what she’s seen from the West Ranch softball program.

For the third time in six years, a West Ranch softball player will be heading to play for the Ivy League school’s softball program.

Adrienne Chang, a four-year varsity catcher for the Wildcats softball team, verbally committed to Princeton back in her sophomore year. She made it official by signing her letter of intent in December.

Chang’s commitment continues a recent string of Wildcats becoming Tigers, starting with Haley Hineman, a 2013 West Ranch grad. She mainly played second base at Princeton until she graduated in 2017.

Keeley Walsh soon followed suit, joining the Tigers in 2015. The former first-team all-leaguer and West Ranch Player of the Year started every game for the Tigers last year, and will be finishing up her senior season this year.

Now, Chang is the next in line.

“She loves recruiting from West Ranch. We know how to get stuff done, basically,” Hineman said about Van Ackeren. “I don’t know if it’s a California thing, a West Ranch thing, but at this point, I think she trusts what she’s getting.”

“She definitely makes fun of Californians,” Walsh added with a smile. “We have a different vibe than a lot of our other teammates.”

When it comes to the three of them, their similar vibe is one of the things they have in common.

Hineman, Walsh and Chang all chose Princeton for similar reasons, mainly because of its academic prowess. And because they wanted to continue playing softball, particularly at a Division I level.

“I always knew I wanted to go to an academic school. I thought softball was a great opportunity to help me get there,” said Chang, who also visited Harvard and MIT before making her decision. “I heard about Princeton and the program there, and after visiting, I fell in love with the school. I connected with the coaches and the other players that were there and I knew it was the right fit for me.”

“First of all, it’s a world-class school if you’re interested in both playing softball and academics,” Hineman said. “You got a great campus, great field and great lifestyle there. In general it should be No. 1 for everybody if you have sports and academics in mind.”

“The academics is a huge component for me. Princeton athletics is very unique in the fact that our coaches don’t limit us on what majors we can pursue,” Walsh added. “It’s not limiting in any way. You don’t get that with many DI programs.”

While Chang is excited to get things going at Princeton, she knows there will be some things she has to get used to living on the East Coast.

The three joked about the weather, but it’s not just the freezing temperatures — it’s a completely different lifestyle.

Especially on a campus like Princeton, where the total enrollment is less than 5,500 students.

“There’s no cars; everybody lives on campus in the dormitories for four years,” Hineman said. “You’re walking everywhere. No driving so that was kind of a big adjustment. The campus itself is pretty unique. Sometimes it’s a bit of a bubble but in a good way. Adrienne is going to enjoy it.”

“It opens your eyes to experiences you haven’t had,” Walsh said. “You learn so much by just listening to your peers, not even sitting in the classroom, having that dinner conversation with someone you met in the dining hall. It’s amazing.”

Since graduating, Hineman started working in business operations at a small company in New York City called Homepolish, which specializes in connecting clients with contractors and interior designers.

Walsh is a geosciences major and leaning towards a career in oceanography when she graduates this year. She’s also considering a career in the Navy.

Chang is leaning toward majoring in biology, but said she’s open to exploring other options.

While the three may follow different paths after college, they will always share the West Ranch to Princeton softball connection.

And Hineman and Walsh will continue to mentor Chang on what’s to come.

“Getting advice from Haley and Keeley has helped me a lot,” Chang said. “I definitely think it’s going to be hard leaving home, but at the same time I’m excited to be on my own and take that next step.”

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