Softball excelling outside the diamond

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

The women’s softball team was honored on Feb. 17 for having all 17 of its players maintain a 3.0 grade point average or better and having a 3.616 average GPA last fall.

Coach Kerri Blaylock is used to the academic success for her teams. Under Blaylock, the Salukis have finished in the top-five of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association  academic rankings seven times since 2001. The team finished second in 2007 and 2011. 

Blaylock said the program has developed a culture of academic success. 

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“When they come in, they understand that we expect [success],” she said. “It becomes a competition because no one wants to not hold their weight.”

Last year the team finished No. 12 in the nation according to the NFCA, only the third time a Blaylock team finished outside the top-10.

Blaylock said it is important for her players to excel academically because they wont be playing softball the rest of their lives, and she prepares them for life with lessons both on and off the field. 

“We’re preparing them for things like failure, being a leader and a teammate,” she said. “I’m proud they take academics so seriously.” 

Junior shortstop Kelsey Gonzalez, a marketing major with a 3.9 cumulative GPA, was named a first-team Missouri Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete and had a .328 batting average, third best on the team last season.

Gonzalez said Blaylock and the coaching staff take academics seriously and help the athletes with anything they need.

“Freshman year, first semester, they are on you right away about grades,” she said. “We take a lot of pride in our GPA.”

Senior pitcher Alyssa Wunderlich earned a spot on the honorable mention scholar-athlete team the last two years. She has a 4.0 cumulative GPA as a communication disorders and sciences major, and was a member of the National Honor Society during high school.

Wunderlich said maintaining a balance between school and playing sports is difficult, but athletes find ways to do it.

“Keeping academics at the same level of importance of athletics is very important,” she said. “Our team is trying to get the highest team GPA in the country right now.”

The Saluki softball program has never had the highest team GPA in the country, but has had 22 academic All-Americans and 63 first-team academic All-MVC selections. Since 2003 the program has produced 34 academic All-District honorees.

Wunderlich said she finds it easier to get her homework and studying done during the season because the team is often on busses and planes for extended hours.

While softball is important now, Wunderlich said she focuses on school to be prepared for life after the game. She will be pursuing a graduate degree for speech language pathology.

“In college, you realize you’re working towards a career,” she said. “It’s going to be your future, and it’s what you’re passionate about so you have to take it seriously.”

Senior outfielder Kalyn Harker has been named a first team MVC Scholar-Athlete the last two years. Along with academic success, Harker had a .313 and .288 batting average the last two years, good for fourth and sixth on the team, respectively.

Harker, a biology major with a 4.0 cumulative GPA, said she helps teammates in any way she can and has acted as a biology tutor for her teammates.

“A lot of girls are taking classes that I previously had,” she said. “We have been missing a lot of class time so I help them on the road so they’re not lost when they get back.”

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or 536-3311 ext. 269. 

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