Vianca Dagnino is enjoying the wide-open spaces and people of northeast Ohio, and even the weather. The 2018 Justin-Siena graduate couldn’t be happier playing softball for Oberlin College, helping the NCAA Division III program thrive in the middle of a serious youth movement.

The Yeowomen finished 12-22 overall and 4-12 in North Coast Athletic Conference play this spring, but they are a program on the rise. Head coach Sara Schoenhoft has guided Oberlin to a combined 40 wins in four seasons, following a two-year span with just eight victories.

“Our coach has really recruited unbelievable talent. She’s built this program and culture to have a winning mentality, a championship mindset, and we’re just getting started,” Dagnino said.

Dagnino, who started 30 games at catcher, had Oberlin’s fifth-best batting average at .337 this spring. She was second on the team with 15 walks, and was third with 19 RBIs, 30 hits and seven doubles. She struck out only five times in 89 at-bats, and scored six runs.

The daughter of Luigi and Vanna Dagnino was one of six freshmen on the 17-player squad, which was rounded out by six sophomores, two juniors and three seniors. She was one of five players from California.

A member of the Peru National Team since 2014, Dagnino has dual citizenship and has visited her home country several times. However, she still thinks the Buckeye State was more of a culture shock.

“I didn’t realize how humid Ohio was, that’s for sure,” she said last week from her American Canyon home. “The wind chill is ridiculous. We had this polar vortex and it was 7 degrees but it felt like negative-3. After being in Ohio for a year, it feels like California is just one temperature year-round. Here it’s kinda cold and raining in March, and there it’s still snowing and you keep asking ‘When is this going to end?’ Most of our season was played in absolute cold, like 20 or 30 degrees.

“But I love it there. It’s amazing how you can go from city to city and in between there are cornfields and Amish people, and it’s so green. It’s a lot more laid-back, no traffic whatsoever. No one’s in a rush. I’ve already visited Mount Vernon, Toledo, Youngstown. I’m just taking in Ohio all at once since I’m going to be there four years.”

She’s also learned how much of a sports state it is.

“Ohioans are super into their sports,” she said, “and everybody’s a coach. Once I had an Uber driver who said ‘I’m sorry, but can I please put on the Indians game? I need to listen to it.’ I love (Browns quarterback) Baker Mayfield. I root for the Browns as much as the Raiders now, and the Indians as much as the A’s.”

She also loves playing for the Yeowomen, who beat conference power Denison for the first time ever, 5-3, in the first game of the April 23 road doubleheader after dropping the first game 6-1. Dagnino was one of four batters with two hits apiece for Oberlin, which beat the Big Red for the first time 39 tries since 2000.

“My team is just absolutely amazing. We had the best chemistry I’ve ever seen on a team,” Dagnino said. “The coaches are really building this culture of having a family. Everyone has energy and everyone wants to win the conference. It’s all I’ve been working toward for 14 years. Now that I’m there, it’s time to just play and have fun.”

Dagnino said despite being one of six freshmen on the team, none are from Ohio and so it’s been easy to make friends.

“A lot of people are from out of state, so we rely on each other,” she said. “Playing for Peru, I learned how to be passionate about the game – when you play for your country, it’s a feeling like no other. When I got to Oberlin, everyone was amazed how passionate I was. I was the one who cheered and screamed. I lost my voice every practice. I just wanted to be passionate about wearing Oberlin across my chest. Our freshman class, from the first practice, it just looked like we belonged. Everyone knew instantly this was going to be a special season, it definitely has been. Best we’ve had in years.

“Going into conference play, we struggled with being up by like five runs and not holding the lead because we didn’t have the experience of being up on this team. When we won the second game at Denison, we finally found the mindset that we could do it. We didn’t care about the past. We beat an amazing program with a history of winning conference many times. It was a turning point for our team.”

One game in which the Yeowomen blew a big lead that they were actually proud of was a 5-4 loss to Luther during a 10-game stretch of March games in Florida.

“They were ranked third in the nation the year before, I think, and we were 4-1 going into the bottom of the seventh,” she recalled. “They came back to beat us, but we were so proud to be a bunch of nerds from a small college in Ohio and be beating them most of the game. Our school is notorious academic, and we pride ourselves on wanting to be academically challenged.”

Dagnino is majoring in Comparative American Studies and Politics and minoring in Gender Sexuality and Feminist Studies.

“I want to make a difference in our world, whether that’s through government or something else, so I think Oberlin is the perfect place,” she said. “You learn how to express your thoughts, how to deal with people that maybe don’t share the same opinions as you do, and you learn how to fix your community and change the world.”

Dagnino’s summer will be all about softball, though.

On June 20, she said she’ll be going to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to practice with the Peruvian National Team for a month, with a trip to Georgia for the International Softball Cup July 1-7, before heading to her native Peru for the Aug. 4-10 Pan American Games in Lima.

“My summer is all planned out, with no days off,” she said.

One of her Peru teammates lives in the Bay Area, a 27-year-old infielder, and they’ve been working on their hitting and defense to get ready.

She said her parents came out for a couple of fall practice games, but mostly enjoy watching them streamed from the school’s website.

“I love the sport and that’s all I want to be doing right now, and studying,” Dagnino said. “I’ll be playing my heart out for my country this summer against the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and then going back to Oberlin to try to win a conference title.”

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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.