Aug. 25, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Caitlin Lever has always known how adjust on the fly.
Maybe it’s because her first love was ice hockey.
That love was understandable considering her dad, Don, played 15 seasons in the NHL as a defenseman, then coached another two decades. Caitlin, 27, the youngest of three, has followed on the same course as her dad, playing professionally and will soon embark on coaching career, only she has walked, not skated and has done so on the diamond, not on the ice. The change began in college and she remembers it wasn’t easy breaking the news to him of her plan to break the mold.
“That was why it was so hard to tell him that I was changing sports last-minute in college,” she said. “I already had verbal commitments and had done all my visits for ice hockey and had to do them all over again for softball. I just was burned out. It was my life. Softball was something new, fresh and fun. I look back and I think, ‘Wow, I’m crazy.’ But it ended up working out for me.”
Things always seem to work out for Lever, even if she has to make them work.
She played one season of softball at Canisius College, in Buffalo, N.Y., then got an opportunity to come to Georgia Tech. It simply was time to change on the fly again and, as usual, she handled it with aplomb.
Once she reached the Flats her softball career took off and her desire to excel in the sport was ignited.
“I never played softball going into Georgia Tech, really. I was an ice hockey player,” said Lever. “I came in and Georgia Tech kind of taught me the game. I fell in love with the game. I had to become a student of the game, which is why every year I got better, because I learned more. That’s why I fell in love with the game. Georgia Tech was my first true passionate memory of, ‘Okay, I am where I’m supposed to be and I’m absolutely in love with it. I don’t see myself leaving this. Ever.’ That’s pretty cool.”
Lever was pretty cool in her three seasons with the Yellow Jackets. She batted .377 for her career (fourth-best all-time), with a .437 on-base percentage, and successfully stole 71 bases in 86 attempts (an 82.6 percent success rate). Defensively, she fielded .960, committing only seven errors in 163 chances, while putting up six assists. She became the school’s first First-Team All-American in 2007, when she smacked a school single-season record 94 hits, the third-best season in ACC history, and won a conference batting title, hitting .452 (currently third-best in Georgia Tech history and 16th in ACC annals).
She left Georgia Tech, graduating in 2007, but never left the softball field, playing professionally in National Pro Fastpitch (NPF). She met plenty of Yellow Jackets along the way.
She joined the Chicago Bandits in 2007, staying through 2011, where she played with former Jackets teammates Jessica Sallinger and current Jackets assistant coach Aileen Morales. All the while she split her time playing with the Canadian National Team, even skipping the 2008 NPF season to play in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That team included former Jacket Jen Yee, Tech’s other First-Team All-American.
The 2012 season saw her play with the Carolina Diamonds and Georgia Tech’s 2012 ACC Player of the Year, Kelsi Weseman, who Lever helped recruit to Georgia Tech.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Weseman of getting to play with Lever. “While I was being recruited she was one of the main players at Tech, so I got to watch her while I was going through that process and before I went to school. So it’s been a lot of fun to play with her now and get to know her on and off the field.”
It’s looking like a one-and-done in that regard, as the Diamonds were eliminated from the NPF playoffs Friday night — ironically by the Bandits — more than likely signaling the end of Lever’s playing career. As sad as that may be, Lever is ready to move on.
“I clearly have a huge place in my heart for the league,” she said. “I’m the grandma of the league so it’s hard to part ways. But it’s easier to do it when you know you’re still giving back to the sport and you’re starting a new chapter.”
Lever will do both starting this fall when she transitions from figurative coach on the field, to literal coach on the bench, serving as an assistant at UNLV under first-year coach Lisa Dodd. Coincidentally, Dodd had been spending her summers as a coach with the Diamonds.
“It’s such a great opportunity,” she said. “It’s such on a bubble to do great things as a mid-major program and Dodd, I can’t say enough good things about what she brings to the table and what she’s going to do. I think it says a lot being 27 and heading your own major program. So I’m excited.”
Lever also is excited about the Runnin’ Rebels running into the Yellow Jackets on the field, which could happen early in the 2013 season.
“I would love to do something,” she said. “I know we’re both going to be in the Palm Springs Tournament. So we’ll get closer to each other every year.”