If you know me, then you know that a huge part of my life, and especially my time at Meredith, was spent on the ball field. I grew up loving the game. The dirt was my home. I was that girl that walked around with scraped knees and terrible tan lines all summer. One time, my dermatologist even told me I was obviously spending too much time sitting by the pool with my legs in the water because the line across my legs was far too apparent…clearly he didn’t know how I spent my summer days or that softball socks went all the way up to your knees! If you asked me when I was a 10 if I wanted to play softball in college, I would have without a doubt told you yes, and firmly believed that I would. Remember, that was back when all I ever wanted was to rock the Carolina blue. Little did I know that my dream of playing one day on the big field would actually become a reality…just sporting a different color uniform. While playing at Carolina was once my goal, let’s be honest for a minute. I was never meant for D1 softball. I was never that girl – the star of the team, the one with the best batting average, the one who people knew. Remember, I’m that girl that no one really knew. I’m also that girl who is a firm believer in that everything in life happens for a reason. I know there’s a reason I found myself lacing up my cleats for Meredith, and I’m about to tell you that reason. This is for all of you girls out there with big dreams of playing college ball, hoping to one day end up at a D1 school, but living in the reality that D1 isn’t for you. Let me open your eyes to what actually playing in college is like. Let me reassure you that your dreams can still come true, and far exceed any expectations you ever had. After all, just like on the ball field, life is a series of left turns – left turns that will lead you right to where you’re meant to be.
The first year. To be completely honest with you, it’s going to be hard to talk about the first year of softball at Meredith with you. A lot happened that year. We were a class of 19 incoming freshman, making the total roster 26. If you don’t know much about softball, just keep in mind you can only play 9 girls on the field at one time. That’s a lot of girls and a lot of talent. Some even say we were the most talented group to ever come into Meredith. There was so much potential for us to take the program places. It’s sad to think that all that potential went out the window because of coaching issues, but the reality of it is, it happened and we can’t change it. It’s just another left turn.
Freshman year was the most challenging year for me as an athlete. In all my years of playing, the thought of quitting had never crossed my mind, until then. I was miserable. I hated my coach. I hated how he treated us. I hated what he had done to my love of the game. I was ready to throw it all away. But then, thanks to the encouragement of our upper class-men teammates, that group of 19 freshmen took a chance and stood up for our love of the game. After the longest few weeks of the season, our actions paid off. Now, I probably shouldn’t write about what all happened, but I will say that I learned a valuable lesson from this left turn. Don’t be afraid to speak up and stand up for what you love. Don’t let something or someone take from you what you’ve spent your whole life working for. This was probably the first experience where Meredith College taught me that my voice mattered. I wasn’t a number, but a name – a name with an opinion, a value, a meaning. While it’s so easy to look back and gripe about how awful that first year was, it’s more important to look at how the actions of 19 freshman ended up shaping the future of Meredith softball for the better.
Sophomore year we welcomed our new coach with open arms. I think it’s safe to say she didn’t know what she was walking in to, or how much she would actually be appreciated it, but I 100% mean it when I say that she is the best thing that has ever happened to Meredith Softball. While only a few of those 19 freshman returned to the field that year, we had what mattered most – a coach who believed in us and appreciated us. A coach who loved the game and who knew how to embrace the talent that she had and use it to create something, something Meredith hadn’t had before – a team that would go on to break records.
Sophomore year was also the year that I became someone people began to know around campus – all because of softball. One afternoon, as I was leaving my last class of the day, I quickly checked my email, only to see a message from the advisor of our Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) asking me to stop by her office and talk with her about a leadership opportunity. My mind was spinning with curiosity, so obviously I walked myself right over to her office. Little did I know, she was about to tell me that I had been picked as one of two athletes that the college would send as a representative for the NCAA Leadership Conference in Orlando, FL. How could I ever say no to an opportunity like this! A few weeks later, one of the girls on the tennis team, Puja (who would eventually become one of my favorite friends at Meredith), the athletic director, and I, took off on a flight to Orlando for what would become the turning point in my Meredith years.
It’s an understatement to say that the NCAA Leadership Conference changed me. There I was, in a room full of athletes from all across the country, from D1 schools to D3 schools, hundreds of athletes, all together, representing their institutions. At first, I was so overwhelmed and intimidated by the experience. I was just a little D3 softball player, but then I realized, everyone here was actually the same. I learned that I was actually very compassionate about leadership and that without much effort at all, I was actually good at coming up with ideas to bring unity to the athletes and building each other’s leadership abilities. I left that conference, a whole new person, ready to take my ideas and my excitement back to Meredith – ready to make a change in our athletic program.
After returning to Meredith, I took on the role of president of SAAC. I was so excited to get things rolling, and with the help of the other girls who just needed a little motivation, a little reminder that their ideas mattered and were exactly what our program needed, we started what would grow to become an annual leadership day for Meredith College athletics. We started community service projects, fundraisers for the athletic department, and our very own athletic traditions. Who would have thought those simple ideas I had stored in my mind would become a successful reality.
That year also brought more success than ever for the MC Softball team. We went on to break almost every record in Meredith Softball history. Our pitcher, and one of my best friends, Arielle Stout, broke the USA South Conference strike out record…I like to think I helped with that since I was her catcher (I think that means I hold the record for the most put outs or assists, or at least I’m going to tell myself I do). We finished at 2nd place in our conference, something else that Meredith had never done before. We hit the double-digit mark in homeruns. We beat Christopher Newport – which was unheard of! And to top it all off, Coach Kim was named USA South Coach of the Year! Needless to say, that was a HUGE year for Meredith Softball, and a year that none of us will ever forget.
Looking back, that’s the year that taught me what it meant to be a D3 athlete and how different my life would have been had I not chosen the life of a Meredith Avenging Angel. It may not sound as exciting or as important to say you play for a D3 school in comparison to a big name D1 school like Carolina or NC State, but in the grand scheme of things, for every girl who is dreaming of playing in college, this is where you go to make a name for yourself, to become that athlete that everyone on campus knows. You see, at a big school, you may see the field two or three times during a season. At a D3 school, odds are, you’re going to play on that field every game. You’re going to get that chance to prove yourself, and you’re going to do it. While I always wanted to play at the big schools, I sure didn’t want to sit the bench. If I had somehow miraculously ended up at UNC, odds are I would have rarely had a chance to play, but because I chose Meredith, because I chose a school where girls are there because they love the game, not because someone is dangling scholarship money over their head, I got the chance to play every day, and share that with people who loved it as much as I did. It wasn’t the big league dream I once had…it was more.
Being an athlete at Meredith is something that can very easily change your life. In a life full of left turns, it can teach you to embrace the challenge, to look at the positive, and to push yourself to succeed. From your coaches to your teammates to your athletic director to your trainer, being a Meredith athlete introduces you to a whole group of people that will forever be your support system. The athletic group is its own family inside the Meredith community. It’s a family that will support you and push you, guide you and lead you, to succeed. It’s a family that you’ll look back on and thank God they helped make you the person you are today.
So here’s my advice to all you girls out there struggling through the series of left turns that life is throwing your way- embrace them! It’s the left turns in life that lead us to the right places. Open your mind and your heart to an experience like the Meredith experience. Don’t let the reality of life stop you from chancing your dreams. For all you know, a school like Meredith may be the place that’s perfect for you, but if you don’t embrace the opportunity, take the time to think what being an athlete at a small school can do for you, you just might miss out on what could be the best experience of your life…take a deep breath and tell yourself “you just have to experience it!”