NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Pardon Whitney Kiihnl if she appears to be a little bit distracted during Saturday’s graduation ceremony.
She is thrilled to be receiving her degree in biology and she has worked hard to get it posting a 3.63 grade point average. She is graduating on time and will go to Harding University in the fall to start training as a physician’s assistant.
Dressed in her cap and gown she will physically be in Allen Arena but her mind is going to be a couple of hundred yards away at Draper Diamond. Not long after she receives her diploma the senior will join her softball teammates for a doubleheader with ETSU. Kiihnl is scheduled to pitch the first game starting at 6 p.m.
“I guess I will be thinking about softball more than graduation,” Kiihnl said. “You walk across the stage and it lasts about a second, but it took four years to get here. But, obviously, I will be more focused on the game.”
Kiihnl, the greatest pitcher in the history of the Lipscomb Lady Bisons softball program, admits it will be an emotional weekend. A large contingent of her family, from both California and Mississippi, will be in attendance for the festivities which start with Senior Day on Friday against USC Upstate.
“It is going to be an emotional day Saturday,” Kiihnl said. “It will be my last day to pitch at Draper Diamond.
‘I’m not really thinking about that very much right now. I guess I will think more about it in the future.”
Kiihnl is third in the Atlantic Sun Conference in career strikeouts with more than 1,100 and has won 20 games in each of her last three seasons after posting 18 victories as a freshman. She was named A-Sun Freshman of the Year in 2009 and both A-Sun Player and Pitcher of the Year in 2010. This year she received the James R. Byers Award for outstanding Christian leadership and academics and athletics excellence. It is the highest honor an active Lipscomb athlete can receive.
“She is the best pitcher that has ever come through here,” Lipscomb softball coach Kristin Ryman said. “Her numbers are going to speak for themselves. They are numbers that I think are going to stand up for a long time.
“I think it is hard to find a pitcher of her caliber not just someone of her caliber, but somebody of her caliber who is not so wrapped up in the big school mentality. She chose someone where she felt she would fit and she could have gone to a bigger name school.”
Helping her team be a winner, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2010, is more important to Kiihnl than individual awards. In an athletic world where so many athletes are playing for personal glory and gain, Kiihnl is refreshingly humble.
“I am just glad that the coaches recruited me and I am glad that they didn’t waste a scholarship on me,” Kiihnl said. “I was glad I was able to contribute to the program.”
Ryman thinks that Kiihnl’s attitude made it easy for people to gravitate to her.
“She always thinks about what she could have done better that would have helped the team,” Ryman said. “I think that is a great perspective to have.
“That is so unique. You don’t usually see kids who immediately look at themselves first and say I could have done more or I could have been better. It is usually the other way around. She is never one to point fingers or blame anyone else.”
Lipscomb proved to be an excellent fit for Kiihnl on the Christian, academic and athletic levels. Biology is one of the most demanding majors at Lipscomb and Kiihnl often had to balance her life on all levels and tried to squeeze n time for a social life and to have a more complete college experience. There were seldom times where she could just plop herself in a chair and watch television for an hour or two.
“I was thinking that Thursday was my last day to be a student-athlete,” Kiihnl said. “You’re taught not to think about classes when you are at practice, but Wednesday I caught myself going over test material for my Virology final.
“It is hard to focus and it is hard to be in a good mood at practice when you have so much stuff that you need to do. It is nice to have that load off so I can just concentrate on softball right now.”
The college experience is designed to mold young minds and she thinks she has changed for the better.
“I am learning to have confidence in what I believe in and confidence in myself as to who I am as a person,” Kiihnl said. “No one is perfect, but I want to be remembered for having a good reputation. I want to be remembered more for my character. I would rather be remembered as a person rather than a player.”
Ryman is convinced that Kiihnl’s legacy as a person will have more of an impact than what she did on the softball diamond.
“There are so many people that respect her for more than just the pitcher that she is,” Ryman said. “She is an outstanding student in one of the toughest majors here.
“You want to be around her because she is such a good person. She always makes the right decision and puts herself in a good situation. She has put her spirituality ahead of so much and that is rare. I think that our girls who have played on the team with her, people in the athletic department and those who know her on campus will remember that aspect and the person that she is as much as they will remember her as a pitcher. That’s impressive.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.