Thanks, Jess

April 30, 2012

By Jon Cooper

Sting Daily

– The past weekend was a special one for Georgia Tech Softball’s seniors — Shannon Bear, Danielle Dike, Caroline Hilton, Kate Kuzma, Jessica Sinclair and Kelsi Weseman.

It was the sextet’s regular season finale, their chance to take one final bow in front of the Mewborn Field faithful and remind them what they did best in their years at Georgia Tech.

Sinclair, a power-hitting outfielder, did not get the opportunity to blast one more opposing pitch over the outfield fence, make one last running catch, or unleash one final missile from right field back to the infield. That didn’t mean she didn’t get to do things for which she’ll be remembered.

To the contrary, on Saturday and Sunday, she did exactly what she’ll be remembered for doing — she found a way to contribute in her own special way.

She was in the dugout for all three games, offering advice, and charting hits, as she’s been doing all season, since a blown-out anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee deprived her of her final season. It was the second time that an ACL injury deprived her of postseason play, doing so at the end of her sophomore and junior years. But right there, in the dugout was No. 14.

This season, it was as an assistant coach.

“Obviously, it’s not how I envisioned ending my career but I feel like I’ve contributed to the team as well as I could in the situation I was put in,” said Sinclair, who finished her playing career with 23 homers, 63 RBIs and a .473 slugging percentage (a career-high 12 homers and .737 slugging, with 25 RBIs as a junior). “I love [softball] too much to just hang up the cleats an walk away.”

She’s stayed around by becoming a student-coach.

“I’ve been kind helping the coaches whenever I can, walking around with the outfielders, helping our freshman right fielder do what she can learn the tricks of the trade, and just sharing the knowledge of the game I’ve been around,” she said. “I’m learning more from the coaching staff because I’d kind of like to stay in coaching for a career. So I’ve been learning from them.

“It makes me feel like I’m still a part of the team,” she added. “It definitely makes me feel like I’m not wasting my time out here when people listen to me or take my advice for what it’s worth.”

Her advice has been worth quite a bit — more than she might even realize and bodes well for her future in coaching.

“She’d be a great coach,” said Georgia Tech Softball Head Coach Perkins. “She just works really well with the players. She has that temperament to figure out a way to get through to them and that’s kind of what you have to do. Everybody has a different personality. She has the personality to be very patient and figure out a way to coach them.”

“I think she’d be great,” added Kuzma, her close friend and roommate. “The way she processes things and talks is just so professional and so mature. For me, it’s like an epiphany when she says things but to her, that’s just how she is. I personally think she should go and get a psychology degree or a psychology Master’s. She’d be an awesome sports psychologist because she is an athlete, she’s played the game at multiple levels. I think she needs to do something in a profession where she helps people and she is in love with sports. Her family is in love with sports. Whatever she does with sports it’s going to be to help other people.”

Sinclair has shown her ability as a mentor, helping current center fielder Hayley Downs in 2010 and current right fielder Katie Johnsky this year.

“She’s meant everything,” said Perkins. “She’s been here pretty much the whole time I’ve been here. Really for her to not be able to play her senior season is tough. She came off a great year the year before. She hit the best that I’ve ever seen her hit. We just were ready for another year and ready for her to come back. She fought hard through rehab to try to get back and it just wasn’t going to work out, unfortunately. But for her to be such a great team leader and unselfish for her to take Katie Johnsky under her wing and teach her everything she can in a short period of time has been huge for us.”

“She has helped me a lot in right field. She’s given me a lot of help, on, anything really,” said Johnsky. “I’m friends with her but I so respect her because she’s somebody I can turn to whether I have any questions, softball-related or personal life even.”

Downs was Sinclair’s prodigy last season, when the duo shared right field prior to Sinclair’s season-ending knee injury.

“Jess is probably the closest senior I have,” said Downs. “We were roommates last year and we bonded really quickly. She’s gone through a lot of stuff that I go through so she helps me. She’s ready to give me advice whenever I need it. She’s probably been the most meaningful senior to me.”

Her maturity and attitude while rehabbing through both knee injuries has been inspirational to her teammates and have served as an important lesson in handling adversity.

“Jess has always said that she hates complainers,” Downs said. “That’s something that she makes as a part of her character, being positive. It gets hard for her, obviously, but in front of people, she’s always been real strong and just willing to make it easier for the team by making herself be strong for everyone else.”

Perhaps most impressive are two words she’s never said — “Why me?”

“She could have. When you have back-to-back ACL’s, it’s like, ‘Why is this happening to me? Really?'” said Perkins. “After fighting so hard to get back from one you have to fight back to get back from two. She never showed that it was that tough on her. But that’s how she’s always been. She does her thing for the good of the team. That’s just the type of person she is.”

“She does a really good job of [keeping her spirits up by] herself,” added Kuzma. “There are times when she does get frustrated. She’s more emotional so she does get sad but she does a really good job of being strong.” She is very mature for her age. She’s has grown up almost being the third parent to her siblings. She has three younger siblings. So she’s very well-developed in being mature and being strong for others whenever she needs to be.”

Sinclair, who received an ACC Top-6 for Service award at Monday night’s Golden Buzz Awards, graduates in August with a degree in Public Policy and will be continuing in that role as she recently secured an internship with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Georgia, has no regrets on what might have been.

“There are times it gets harder than others but being with my friends and knowing that I’m still taken as part of the team, it’s good to have them still appreciate me being here,” she said.

“That’s how life goes sometimes,” she added. “I’m making the best out of it. I’m happy that I’ve been able to get some positives out of the bad situation I was put in.”

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