As a captain of the women’s softball team who will begin their quest to defend their 2022 Ivy League regular-season crown on Feb. 24, senior outfielder Serena Starks has shown tremendous leadership on the field. However, Starks’ legacy is defined not only by her athletic success, but also by her commitment to disability awareness, community service, and creating spaces for Asian student-athletes.
Having previously received accolades from the Princeton Varsity Club (PVC) and the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, Starks is among onthe most decorated student-athletes on campus. She is now nominated for a third award: the Coach Wooden Citizenship Collegiate Cup, an award with candidates from over 4,500 universities that is “presented to student-athletes who present exemplary leadership in character and citizenship.” She is one of 13 finalists.
“There’s so many people here at Princeton that do so many amazing things; I was very surprised that I got nominated and that I actually ended up winning,” Starks told the Daily Princetonian. “I just really love how Princeton has such an emphasis on service: there’s a whole building and center and staff dedicated to community service, and I have really enjoyed finding that community.”
Starks started playing softball when she was five years old in her hometown, Huntington Beach, California. Starks specializes in slapping, a technique where the batter runs through the box while making contact in order to quickly get to the first base. As a left-handed batter, her run is even shorter.
Her love for the sport has only grown at Princeton. Starks attributes this in part to the all-female coaching staff of the softball program.
“I think it’s very underrated to have an all-female coaching staff,” she told the ‘Prince’. “Growing up, I’ve always played with male head coaches, but it's just shown me that [the women are] not only good coaches, but they’re also good role models, showing me how to be a confident, strong woman.”
Starks’ commitment to community service began back in California at her middle school, which, according to Starks, educated the majority of the students with intellectual or physical disabilities in the Huntington Beach Union High school district. The club she was a part of, Best Buddies, ate lunch with these students every Friday.
“It was a really good break and a good way to gain perspective outside of just on the field and in the classroom,” Starks told the ‘Prince.’ “I’ve always just fallen in love with that part of service, getting to meet new people and explore new parts of society that I would not have realized existed if I didn’t do service.”
Starks has continued her involvement with the disabled community at Princeton through the Pace Center for Civic Engagement as a member of the Princeton Disabilities Awareness club.
“Every year, [Princeton Disabilities Awareness] hosts a carnival for individuals in the area with physical and intellectual disabilities,” said Starks. “It was really cool to be able to do that my senior year and be co-president with another junior.”
Her impressive work earned her worthy recognition. The PVC awarded Starks the Student-Athlete Achiever Award in 2022 after her sophomore year. This award is “given by the Princeton Varsity Club to two student-athletes who demonstrate a commitment to service and academic achievement.”
Starks’ ambition off the field also led her to co-found Asian Student Athletes at Princeton, a group that works with the athletic department to foster community among Asian athletes and increase diversity in sports.
“We work with the Princeton Athletics department to increase diversity and also create community around Asian student-athletes, just because there’s not too many in the world of sports,” said Starks. “Oftentimes, there’s only one Asian person on a sports team, so it can be very isolating to be the only one. We come together and talk about our identities and our experiences on campus. It’s a space where you can truly be yourself.”
This fall, she also won the James A. Fisher Memorial Award. According to the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, this award is “presented to a Princeton student who best exemplifies the qualities of an entrepreneurial spirit, zest for life, love of people, and loyalty to Princeton.”
Starks still has two more years of eligibility and is planning on using them after her graduation this spring. During her final season as a Tiger, she hopes to, once again, win the Ivy League tournament and outperform last year’s team at regionals.
Evelyn Walsh is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.