NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Anyone looking for a common thread among the eight seniors on the Lipscomb softball team only needs to know one word – resilience.
They play different positions, have varied majors, come from different parts of the country and have personalities unique to themselves, but all eight have one thing in common which is a drive to not only endure but to thrive.
Resiliency is basically the ability of a person to bounce back from adversity or to adjust to changes in their lives. Each member of this senior class has dealt with injuries, personal issues, family crises and illness in some form or fashion. Some have dealt with a combination of adversities.
“Much of what they have dealt with has not been public,” Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman said. “All most people see are the results on game days.
“These girls have battled through a lot. It has been neat to think about how they all got here. It is such a unique blend of players.”
Saturday during the finale of the ASUN series with Stetson at Draper Diamond at Smith Stadium Destinee Brewer, Jordan Fortel, Graysen Gladden, Khayla Green, Sarah Higgins, Mandy Jordan, Jenna Pealor and Chloe Rogers will be honored.
The Pealor principle
While they all will be remembered for their abilities to endure, Pealor’s road to becoming a starter this year has been a tough one to travel.
“Jenna has dealt with health issues,” Ryman said. “She didn’t play at all her freshman year. She played very, very little the next two years. This year she has been a starter and played every game.
“We were all kind of wondering what her career was going to be like and how she was going to finish. She stayed at it and found a way to overcome.”
Higgins’ miracle recovery
Higgins, who tore her ACL during fall games, was back in action the second week of February working as a catcher.
“For Sarah to be playing again in February was unreal,” Ryman said. “Truthfully, it is something I have never seen before.
“Her ability to come back so quick showed her toughness. She wanted to get back to play as much of her senior season as she could.”
This was the third college team for Fortel. She played one season at Tennessee-Chattanooga and then returned home to play her sophomore year at Walters State rather than sit out a year as a redshirt for a Division I program.
Fortel, expected to be a two-position player for Lipscomb, sustained an injury last season that ended her playing time as a pitcher.
“Jordan had a good freshman year at UTC,” Ryman said. “But it wasn’t what she wanted. She decided to look elsewhere.
“She went to junior college for a year and was an All-American. She just dominated as a pitcher and hitter. She really impacted the program at Walters.”
That season gave her the momentum to move forward with her career. Ryman needed a power hitter and a pitcher and Fortel was the kind of player she was looking for.
“She has battled through some things and come out on the other side,” Ryman said. “She had always been a two-way player and had thrived from doing both.
“When one of those tools was taken away, she overcame it and was able to emerge as an even better hitter. She has not let it deter her from becoming one of the best.”
Gladden glad to still be playing
Gladden played for Florida Southwestern for two years and decided maybe she needed to put away her softball equipment and be a student rather than a student-athlete.
“Graysen was not really sure if her days playing softball were over,” Ryman said. “ She finished in the weird place of not being sure she wanted to play anymore.”
Ryman needed an outfielder and several text messages she received mentioned Gladden. She came to a camp at Lipscomb in late July.
“Graysen had a drive, a competitiveness and athleticism about her that we felt like we wanted,” Ryman said. “It is highly unusual for a junior college player to come to a camp, but she was open enough to do it.
“She was a little rusty, but there was plenty there to impress us. She wanted to see if she could play beyond those first two years.”
She also had to deal with Hurricane Michael last fall, which hit her hometown of Panama City, Florida and affected many of her family members and friends.
“She was here in school in the fall and couldn’t do a lot to help,” Ryman said. “That weighs on you.
“You are here trying to go to class. Your heart is going out to the people back home. You can’t reach your family for a while. It was a tough fall for her.”
Mandy adapts and prevails
Jordan, who will leave a legacy as one of the top pitchers in the Lipscomb program, has overcome her share of injuries and has adapted her pitching style as a result.
She committed to Auburn, but a coaching change caused her to re-evaluate what she wanted to do.
“Mandy got caught in the middle of the uncertainty,” Ryman said. “I remembered seeing her pitch in Colorado, but her name wasn’t even on the roster. I didn’t know her name, but I was impressed by her.”
Ryman found out Jordan was looking for another place to go. Ryman was contacted about her from someone who lived in the panhandle area of Florida.
“Mandy came for a visit and loved the school,” Ryman said. “It was a unique start for her. She was a highly-touted pitcher and came in with so many accolades.
“Kelly Young and Tanner Sanders were seniors the year Mandy came here. Mandy didn’t throw as much that year as any of us expected.”
Jordan used the time to mature and adjust to the college game.
“Her sophomore year she embraced all of the challenges we gave her after her freshman year,” Ryman said. “She wasn’t going to let her freshman year define her as a player.
“She stayed determined. She wanted more. That was neat to see.”
She has recovered from an injury that required surgery and kept her from pitching to batters this past fall.
“Mandy has found ways to beat people knowing her game might be different, “Ryman said. “She is putting in a good year for us.”
Brewer bounces back
“Destinee had such a fantastic freshman year earning All-Conference,” Ryman said. “Everything was looking like it was going to go nowhere but up for her.
“Then she has an injury her sophomore year that put her out for several weeks. Then she has a similar injury her junior year and then again earlier this year.”
But like the rest of her teammates Brewer has adapted and endured.
“I think it has been hard for her to stay in a rhythm,” Ryman said. “She is a player who brings so much of the energy, passion and emotion to our game.
“We are missing something when she is not in there. But every single time she comes back fighting and trying to bring the same intensity whether she is playing or not. She understands the importance of her role.”
Green stays focused
“Khayla has dealt with some family things that have never been made public such as health issues,” Ryman said. ‘That has really taken a toll on her at times.
“You don’t put it out there and a lot of people don’t realize it. She had to try to come to practice, stay focused and put on a happy face at times. You knew in the back of her head there was a lot weighing on her.”
Green also underwent offseason surgery, but Ryman again points to resilience.
“Khayla came back better than ever,” Ryman said.
Rogers enjoying the opportunity
Rogers was a star for the Lipscomb volleyball team and thought her chance of playing softball on the collegiate level was nonexistent. When Rogers asked about playing softball for the 2018 season, Ryman gave her a blunt and honest answer.
“We didn’t want to lead her down the road of thinking she was going to get a lot of playing time,” Ryman said. “I asked her if she was not going to pitch a single inning for us, would the experience still be worth it for her. I gave her some time to think about it and she came back and said `yes, she wanted to play’.
“There was just this joy about her. It was an opportunity she didn’t think she would have. Even if she didn’t pitch an inning it was worth it for her to have the opportunity of playing college softball.”
These players are going to be counted on for a successful stretch run of the regular season and the ASUN Tournament.
“It has been neat for us as coaches to see how this group has matured as leaders,” Ryman said. “They are half of the team.
“If they are not on board, we can’t expect everybody else to be there. They are not just a `love to win’ group. They are a `hate to lose’ group. They are a fun group to coach. They are going to definitely be missed.”