Following several seasons in which they struggled to pile up wins, the Knox Softball team believes that this is the year in which the effort they have put into building a strong community and roster will finally show in the win column.
Entering the third year of her tenure as the team’s head coach, Kathy Rutledge is beginning to see growth in the way her players are performing.
Already, evidence of this growth is clear just by being around the team. From the music played during the challenging and upbeat practices to their progress in cultivating a close-knit group of athletes, the team’s identity is starting to form.
To junior Kristen Koviekis, the growth is incredibly clear.
“It’s the best chemistry I’ve seen in my time here. We try to get together at least once a month,” Koviekis said. Some of these events include team trips to a local pumpkin patch and sharing a house during the team’s trip to Florida for a spring break tournament.
“In the past our teams have been really cliquey. We had these little groups and they just didn’t translate well to the field,” Koviekis said.
All of this effort came to fruition in the team’s extra-innings walk-off victory against MacMurray College in which Koviekis played the hero.
“They put in a new pitcher that inning, loaded the bases, and I came up and ended up making my happy way down to first,” Koviekis said.
It has not been easy for the team, as they have had to battle several injuries to key players, including junior infielder Emily Stevenson. Suffering from a torn labrum in her throwing shoulder, Stevenson credited the team’s strong start to an intense winter workout schedule.
“Our winter workouts focus a lot on conditioning and getting us ready to play two games in a day, since that’s what our schedule mostly consists of,” Stevenson said.
It has been difficult for Stevenson to deal with the injury so far, saying there are “moments where it is really awful, but afterwards you can think ‘Huh, I did that.’ And I feel like that makes a player better overall, going through that adversity.”
Another key member of the team playing through the pain is senior Kaly Davidson, who is returning from a torn ACL.
“When I’m on the field I don’t even know it’s there. I think that’s a lot of other people’s perspective, no matter what you’re zoned in, which is hard considering softball isn’t a sport that’s in your face all the time,” Davidson said.
Davidson has been making the most of her return, batting .293 with only three strikeouts in 41 at bats, providing stability in the middle of the Prairie Fire lineup.
Coach Rutledge does not short sell her players on the effort they give her when game time arrives, saying, “Kristen has been dealt a crappy hand with being hurt, and being a pitcher in college I know how it is, and she has just really stepped up for us in pitching almost every game. We’ve also got Emily who has had her torn labrum for three years, and is still my everyday third baseman, and that’s a tough throw across the field.”
Rutledge is proud of the work her players have put in, saying that “the girls are fine with playing through the injuries as long as they know they won’t get hurt further.”
Rutledge has seen a great deal of growth from her players, pointing to errors as a particular area of growth.
“If you look at our errors from this time last year to this year, we only have about a third of what we had, and even though it might not show on the box score it does show on the field,” Rutledge said.
This growth, just a piece of the team’s improvement from a year ago, shows that this team’s hard work will pay off as they continue to progress together as a unit.
They hope this growth will translate into many more wins the rest of this season, building a strong foundation for the future of the Softball team.