By: Casey McDonald
Nothing says softball quite like sunflower seeds, French braids and a little bit of dirt on your cleats. IU South Bend added softball to its athletic roster this year, and along with that two new coaches and a dozen student athletes.
Coach Brittney Lightfoot, formerly of Bethel College, is the head coach for IUSB’s newest addition to the athletic department. She has a passionate personality when it comes to her coaching mentality for the athletes.
Lightfoot has quite the experience under her belt, as she played the game for about 18 years before becoming a coach for six years. Starting her seventh season as a coach, first as a head coach, she is joined by a fellow former Bethel College coach, Assistant Coach Natalie Newell in her second year as a coach.
She likes the phrase “baptized by fire” because as a new team to the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) they are walking in unknown and not knowing what skills they truly posses.
Both coaches strive for success on and off the diamond, that’s why they push academics before statistics. They also drive for a relationship between all of the girls in order to make their chemistry on the field stronger.
Nichole Kirkpatrick is one of the freshmen pitchers. She studies elementary education and has been playing softball since the age of seven. She started in little league, then played travel softball, and then finally played varsity all four years at South Bend Riley High School where she was named second team all-conference in her junior season and team captain during her final season with the Wildcats.
When asked how she feels about the team this year, Nichole said “[she] really likes the players and the coaches. We have a lot of great talent and I am excited to get to play with girls.”
Utility player Madalyn Hovious, a sophomore studying applied behavior analysis, comes from Indiana Wesleyan University where she appeared in 21 games for the Wildcats including two starts in her first year. Hovious has been playing fast pitch softball competitively since she was seven years old. She also played at Jennings County High School in North Vernon, Ind., where she graduated.
In her opinion, she enjoys the new team, explaining that it’s “special” when a coach throws 16 girls in together who have never seen each other or played with each other previously, and get along instantly.
“[Coach Lightfoot] cherishes character over ability and I believe that is what makes this team and what will make this team so successful,” Hovious said. “I’ve been blessed with 15 strangers who have quickly become my family away from home.”
Being a new team, every one of these athletes has ambitions for the season, and thoughts on how it is going to go.
Kirkpatrick explained that she hopes to improve her pitching by perfecting her movement and style, “and to have a good ERA.”
Hovious went a little more into detail, saying that when a player is about to experience their first year of college softball, they have hopes and dreams of what it will be like.
“My first year didn’t turn out like I had hoped, but with Coach Lightfoot, I have gotten the experience I had always dreamed of,” Hovious said. “My hope for this year is to make a name for [us], and a good name at that. Good, meaning, true student-athletes who are the best player and individual they can be, on and off the field. That’s how we can get a respectable name and I feel as if we are on our way of doing so.”
At the beginning of the school year, Lightfoot took the team to a retreat, a place where they have no idea where they’re going, and all they knew is that they had running water and electricity.
Having no cell phones, all the girls had were each other to grow and bond with. The retreat was located at Lightfoot’s in-laws house. The girls were told to give up their phones for the weekend so they could actually talk to each other.
“We played games and swam, and then earned our practice gear,” Hovious said. “That next morning, we had breakfast and then had a mental practice. We didn’t go outside but we stayed inside with a pen and a chapter out of the Mental Game of Baseball,” a book written by author Harvey Doorman.
Hovious said they read and took notes over the chapter specifically focused on setting goals. The key to being a great softball player is being present and mentally mature on and off the field, so Lightfoot introduced this incredible book that they will be reading throughout this first season.
Following a mental exercise, the team then participated in a community service project, where they hosted a defensive camp for little girls ranging from the ages of six to 12.
“We got a lot of laughs from the spunkiness, quick wit and honesty from some girls. Helping little girls who look up to you has got to be the best feeling in the world. Our team was so thankful for that opportunity. We are hosting a free offensive camp later on in the fall,” Hovious said.
Kirkpatrick agreed. “It really brought us closer as not only teammates, but as friends,” she said.
The team’s first doubleheader was scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10, against Glenn Oaks Community College but it was rained out due to flooding of the field from the rain the night prior. Their next games are Friday, Sept.16, at Muskegeon Community College.