As I was going through the post-game high-fives with Tennessee this weekend in Palm Springs, I noticed a familiar face perched on the grass hill down the right field line. She was all decked out in her USSSA Pride gear, but I'd know her silhouette anywhere. It wasn't too long ago that I stepped on campus as a freshman 3,000 miles away from home, and Lauren Lappin was our volunteer assistant coach.
Lappin taught me a lot that year. In fact, she pretty much served as my sounding board and clinical therapist when I needed a listening ear. But what impacted me the most was watching her lead by example in the way she coached -- let alone played -- the game with passion and humility. When she wasn't at our practice, she was taking her own reps in the cages or on the field. When she didn't have a bat or a glove in her own hands, she was breaking down our game footage or taking us out to breakfast to talk through mental game preparation. I'll never forget the way her voice pierced straight through the roar of the crowd when I was up to bat with words of affirmation that I thrived on in those moments. Practicing with Lap was like playing the game in your backyard all over again. During her time here, she spent time figuring out exactly how to coach each of us individually, giving her heart and soul to our program in the same fashion that she continues to live her life. To this day, we still talk or meet up for breakfast to check in and catch up. I know she's always watching, and I know she'll always be there as a humble example of what it means to play fearlessly and live passionately.
"Coming into college, shortstop was a big transition for me," says senior shortstop Emily Allard, who was an outfielder before arriving at Northwestern. "I feel like that transition would have consumed me if it wasn't for Lappin. The first six months that I was here, she would literally take ground balls in front in me, and I would try and copy everything that she did. She was always positive. She was always trying to pull every ounce of potential that I had in me and would never let me give anything less."
A year later, we brought Amanda Rivera back into the program to fill the volunteer assistant position. She had the job from 2006-07 when the Cats made back-to-back appearances in the semifinals of the Women's College World Series. Rivie taught me what it means to play the game smart, to believe you're better than anyone in the other dugout. I never knew there were so many small nuances to the game until I had the opportunity to be coached by Riv. She made us look at the little things and understand their importance; I'm convinced our post-season success was no coincidence and had a lot to do with the way Rivie taught us how to simply pay attention.
She's now the head softball coach at IUPUI, and every day I wish I could've gotten another year with her to continue learning from her competitive drive. During a slump last year, she stood toe-to-toe with me before an at-bat, looked right in my eyes and asked me if I was going to let the other pitcher get me out again. After that, I knocked a base hit up the middle. What made her a Hall Of Fame hitter at UIC is what makes her an incredible coach; the belief that moments are only as big as you make them, and if you want to change the game, you can and will.
"Riv taught me a ton of valuable lessons that I still use as a part of my softball foundation today," says junior third baseman Marisa Bast. "She consistently stressed the importance of hard work, especially in my offensive game. She never let me settle for anything. There was always something I could get better at and she helped me realize that."
This year, Jenna Grim walked on campus and I knew from the second I saw her catch a bullpen that I wanted to play the game with her level of tenacity. Jenna and I first met when she was a senior catcher at Loyola and she threw me out stealing second as a freshman. Thankfully, that's only been brought up once. Since then, I've watched Jenna take our battery staff to the next level; in their mechanics and in the way they think about the game. To Jenna, softball is black and white. You're either getting it done or you're not. I think the gray areas that we create are so often what get in our way. That's what makes her such a ball player -- and such an integral part of our 2013 team and her National Pro Fastpitch Chicago Bandits -- how she approaches the game from a place of no fear with a foundation of hard work and self-expectancy. Never mind the fact that she's also earned the nickname "Jenna Glim" for outfitting us all with "glimmers" in our hair; Jenna fuels the fire that burns within us all by example through her own work ethic and style. She pushes each of us to fan that fire into a flame.
"Jenna's commitment to making me better every day has really shown in my practice and play," says junior catcher Paige Tonz. "Her passion for the game has made an impact on how hard I want to work towards my position as a catcher and leader. "
None of these women were players at Northwestern. In fact, two came from other Chicagoland schools and the other from Stanford. Yet all have joined our program and thrived within our family, understanding our system and creating lasting impacts as if they've been a part of the program for years. Each has brought a unique background and perspective to the table. As a senior beginning to look back on my career at Northwestern, it's women like these that have defined and shaped what a blessing it is to wear purple.