A dream for any collegiate athlete is to get to that sport’s biggest stage and be part of a team that competes for a national championship.
That is exactly what former Cass High School softball standout and Shorter University softball player Kelsey Holoway experienced in her first season at the college level.
Although Holoway saw limited ‘on the field’ playing time in her first season, the experience of being an every day member of a championship calibre team and immersion into that team's routines are irreplaceable.
For many athletes, the transition from high school and local travel ball to the college level can be daunting. Holoway found her way to handle the pressures.
"The biggest transitions for me were all of the traveling and not knowing a single person on the team when we began. Each freshman is thrown into a pool of even more freshmen and upperclassmen. Trying to find my place on the team and learn the ways of the team was often a struggle. We had a lot of away games this season. That caused us to be on the road almost every weekend. We traveled to Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma. The travel was very time consuming while trying to keep up with classes," said Holoway.
Shorter, in its first year of full eligibility in NCAA Division II, made a post-season run that carried the Hawks all the way to the D2 Women’s College World Series.
Playing in the Gulf South Conference with teams perennially ranked nationally, Shorter finished the regular season with a 20-12 mark in the conference and entered the GSC conference tournament as a No. 4 seed, but then the team found its groove.
“We didn’t play our best during the regular season,” noted Holoway. “Our record showed that. But I have never been on a team that had so much heart for the game and one another. Something turned around for us in the post season and it was a thrill to prove our team belonged.”
Conference foe, Valdosta State, spent most of the 2015 regular season atop the national polls and was the host and top seed going into the Gulf South tournament. The Blazers won two of three conference games at Shorter in February.
There was even doubt, at one point, whether or not the Hawks would even qualify for the conference tournament.
Shorter won six of their final eight conference series and went 14-7 during that stretch to earn the fourth seed.
When Valdosta State stumbled at the conference tournament and lost two straight, Shorter’s momentum was just beginning.
“We started believing in ourselves and trusting each other at that conference tournament,” added Holoway. “We weren’t even ranked in the Top 25 in the nation at that point, but our confidence just grew.”
Shorter won five times in the Gulf South Conference tournament and only lost once. The Hawks beat North Alabama in the finals to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
In the NCAA South Regional, the Hawks were again assigned to play in Valdosta and went 3-0 to advance. Shorter beat Alabama-Huntsville in the opening round and then knocked off Valdosta State twice to win the regional.
With the regional crown, the NCAA made Shorter a Super Regional host and the Lady Hawks responded with a two game, best-of-three sweep of Florida Tech to earn a Women’s College World Series berth.
At the NCAA Division II WCWS in Oklahoma City, Shorter opened with a pair of wins over St. Mary’s (TX) and Indianapolis, before falling twice in the national semifinals to eventual national champ, University of North Georgia.
North Georgia shutout Dixie State (UT), 5-0, for the Nighthawks first NCAA crown.
The Shorter Hawks 2015 season ended with a brilliant 43-17 overall record.
Holloway relished the team experience.
“We were underdogs, but the greatest thrill was our team proving we deserved to be there. Finishing third in the nation is a great accomplishment,” she added.
The former Lady Colonels first baseman appeared in ten games for the Hawks in 2015 with a .250 batting average that included a double and 3 RBI.
After being part of such a successful campaign, she understands what she has to do.
"For me personally, I just need to continue to work hard and make the adjustments I need to make for this up coming season,” noted Holoway.
"This team is full of God-given talent and hard working girls. Anyone who steps on to the field for our team is never just handed the opportunity. Every one of us work tremendously hard and every person on this team is the definition of selfless. You just have to keep working and the success will come.”
Holloway believes her role and the team’s future is bright.
“We're losing four seniors to graduation and a couple of others, but we have some really talented girls coming in. I believe we can do just as well next season as we did this year and hopefully even better. All it takes is us working as one unit instead of individuals,” concluded Holoway.