MISSOULA — Seamless transitions are a specialty for Tristin Achenbach.
One of the most decorated high school softball players to ever suit up in the Treasure State, Achenbach spent three years as a pitcher for the Choteau-Conrad co-op, leading the Cowgirls to back-to-back State B-C titles in 2015 and 2016. In her senior season she jumped up to the Class AA level where she didn't miss a beat with Great Falls CMR. She led the Rustlers to the AA title in 2017 while winning her second of two straight Gatorade Player of the Year awards after she posted a 17-1 season with 122.1 innings pitched, 264 strikeouts and allowed only 27 hits all year with a 0.23 ERA.
She ended her career with 16 state records, including career doubles (55), consecutive pitching wins (56), no-hitters (19) and strikeouts (1,169).
So there's no denying just how dominant Achenbach was in high school. It's more of a question of how far up the list she ranks as one of the all-time greats.
Even though she made everything look easy with that resume, not even Achenbach could avoid the inevitable changes and obstacles that come with the transition from high school to a Division I college. But by the same token, it hasn't taken the Grizzly sophomore long to get over that hurdle and begin thriving.
"I feel like mentally I've changed," she said with a laugh on Monday. "Freshman year, it was kind of rough all around. It's nice to come back and have a fresh mind and be able to stay in tough situations and not let your mind take the best of you.
"It was definitely a big learning curve and mentally is where I struggled the most, especially freshman year. I feel like I definitely still have plenty of room to improve."
Last Tuesday against Carroll College, Achenbach set a Big Sky Conference record with 16 strikeouts of the 21 batters she faced. Then on Monday, she came in for relief against the University of Providence, pitching just two innings in the second contest of a doubleheader but she stuck out five more batters as the Grizzlies won 10-2 in six innings. UM won the first match 12-2 in 4 1/2 innings to improve to 18-29 overall on a sunny day at Grizzly Softball Field.
"I felt like that performance was at a good time. It kind of got my confidence up a little bit and I'm hoping that it keeps going," Achenbach said. "I feel like (the Carroll game) was just a lot of fun. My teammates were in it and we were all just having fun out there."
This season has been more comfortable for Achenbach, where she feels she has a better idea of what to expect day in and out. Her numbers reflect that change, too. After Monday's game, Achenbach has appeared in 18 games this season with 76.1 innings pitched, second on UM's staff, after last year she played in 18 games with just 58 innings pitched. She leads the team in strikeouts with 72, up from 48 a year ago and has posted an ERA of 4.03 with three complete games.
But Achenbach and head coach Melanie Meuchel know there are still areas of improvement for the young ace. She's 4-6 and her ERA is higher than it was a year ago and her 34 walks are second on the team. Her opponent's batting average is also up from last season to .282 from .235, though that is still the lowest mark on the team. Command and control when she's ahead in the count are the focal points for Achenbach going forward.
"She went through phases of getting to know who she is at the collegiate level," Meuchel said. "She's always been great. She's had great stuff. I think it was finding the zones and hitters and understanding that she has a lot of talent and that she needs to just stick with her talent, attack the zone and she's doing that a lot better. I'm really happy where she is right now."
Her teammates let her know it wouldn't be easy at first in school and athletics and Achenbach said they've helped guide her through these first two years and grow. And now that she's had some time to settle in, she's beginning to peak at the right time.
"It was kind of like a stepping stool," Achenbach said of her path. "Coming here was just a little bit of a bigger step. It was all kind of stepping stones and we're still trying to get our feet under us but it's more steady. A lot of that has to do with my teammates.
"We have a lot of good chemistry out there. It's easier to be comfortable and be myself and do that part of it."