FORT MYERS, Fla. – When Graysen Gladden finished her two years of junior college at Florida Southwestern State she never expected to put her softball cleats in the dirt here in Fort Myers again.
Or anywhere else.
“I went home to Panama City for the summer after I finished playing,” Gladden said. “I gave all of my stuff away – my pant, my socks, my batting gloves, everything – to my roommate.
“I was going to UCF and. room with a friend from high school. I had an apartment there. And then I got a call about Lipscomb.”
She is back on the Gulf Coast playing for the Lipscomb Lady Bisons. First, she helped Lipscomb sweep a three-game series from Florida Gulf Coast to win the ASUN regular season championship last week.
This week she has been leading off for the Lady Bisons who have won two games in the ASUN Tournament and are set for the championship game Saturday at 10:30 CDT against an opponent to be determined.
Friday afternoon the senior right fielder drove in a pair of runs, one with a sacrifice bunt and another with a sac fly, to help Lipscomb to a 3-0 win over No. 2-seed Liberty at the FGCU Softball Complex.
“We have made an emphasis on doing our jobs,” Gladden said. “I am just doing what I can to help my team win. I am really proud of this team.”
Long and winding road
Gladden’s road to her final two seasons at Lipscomb was anything but a conventional one.
She was working as a server on the beach in her hometown when she received a call about playing softball at Lipscomb. She had put aside her glove and bats with the intention of going back to school as a regular student.
“I was running up and down the beach as a server, so I stayed in shape which helped me,” Gladden said. “Playing in the camp was tough for me because I had been away from the game for a couple of months.”
It was a highly unusual move for a player her age to make the trek to Nashville and participate in a Lipscomb camp for younger softball players.
“I thought it would be fun because I had never been to Nashville,” Gladden said. “I had to buy all new equipment on my way to Nashville.
“I thought it would be a fun experience at the very least. It ended up being one of the best things I have ever done.”
Gladden was convinced after the camp experience she wasn’t completely ready to give up softball. She decided to sign with the Lady Bisons to finish her last two years of eligibility. After going through some adjustments as a junior she came on strong this season earning a spot on the ASUN All-Conference First Team.
“Graysen has been such a spark for us this year,” Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman said. “I think about when she came in last year. She was honestly in a role starting and then sitting for a while until the middle of the year when she took on the regular role as a starter.
“Last year was a big learning year for her. Late in her junior year she worked her way from the bottom to the top of the order. She peaked at the right time in the tournament. I knew if she continued to work hard, she could really take off this year.”
The Klotz factor
Give Chris Klotz, Lipscomb’s director of spiritual formation for athletics, an assist as well for Gladden’s presence on the team.
“It was the people, especially the coaches that convinced me,” Gladden said. “You don’t often find coaches who care about you like they do here. All the people were awesome.
“It is funny that Klotzy remembered my name. He met me when I came for my visit. I saw him again and he remembered my name. That was huge. That doesn’t happen very often. That stood out to me.”
View from the top
Gladden and Peyton Ward have both spent time as the lead-off hitter this season. Gladden has been in the top spot for 13 games, most of them late in the season. Ward has been the leadoff in 40 games.
“Peyton and I laugh about it,” Gladden said. “There is a lot of pressure. It is like, `aw, you have to lead off this game, but I would rather hit second’.
“But I do enjoy leading off because I want to set the tone for my team. If I can do that as the leadoff, then that is where I need to be.”
Ryman has liked what she has seen from Gladden in the lead-off role especially in games with ASUN opponents.
“She has earned her starts,” Ryman said. “She has earned the right to be in the top part of our lineup.
“She is fearless and competitive up there. She is softball smart.”
A comfort zone
As Gladden became more comfortable with what she was doing between the lines, she also adjusted in her overall role as a teammate.
“She is not a rah-rah type, but at the tournament at Florida State she was in front of the dugout cheering,” Ryman said. “She was locked in on every pitch. I remember complimenting her on that.
“From that point forward, she just seemed looser and more comfortable with what her role was on our team. She has trusted us as coaches to guide and help her. I feel very fortunate I have gotten to know the real Graysen this year.”