April 24, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
It’s supposed to storm Saturday afternoon.
While that means the tarp may not come off the infield of Mewborn Field, there’s still a 100 percent chance that regardless, smiles won’t be coming off the faces of at least five people inside the Georgia Tech dugout.
They are the five players who represent Georgia Tech softball’s senior class of 2015, catcher Caitlyn Coffey, first baseman Karly Fullem, right fielder Katie Johnsky, pitcher Kylie Kleinschmidt, and third baseman Chelsie Thomas. The weather won’t bother them today, just like it hasn’t in the past.
They’ve seen storms before. Storms of all types.
They roared in like thunder as freshmen, then withstood turbulent times as sophomores and survived some unpredictable difficulties as juniors and seniors. They hope to go out with a bang on Saturday, their final home weekend when the Yellow Jackets (16-31, 6-15) take on eighth-ranked and ACC-leading Florida State (37-12, 17-3).
“I still really can’t believe that it’s even here,” said Fullem, a four-year starter. “But I’m excited to just get to celebrate our past four years with the other four girls, play the best we can, have a fun weekend and just enjoy our time together, which is the most important part.”
“I still feel like I just moved into our freshman dorms. Each year has gone by even faster. It was just like the blink of an eye,” said Kleinschmidt, the staff’s ace the last two years, who has a shot to pass her predecessor Hope Rush for third all-time in career strikeouts (she begins the weekend 27 K’s behind her). “There are a lot of emotions that we’re all kind of feeling right now. It is our last games here at Georgia Tech, so we want to have fun and just get to celebrate each other a little bit.”
They have a lot to celebrate, with the sweetest moment coming as freshmen, when they were part of the 2012 ACC Tournament champions. That Jackets’ team hobbled into the ACC Tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C., having lost five of their final seven regular season games, but then hit its stride, winning three games in three days, outscoring the opposition 24-6, including a 9-1 run-rule victory over Virginia Tech, to clinch Tech’s fifth ACC Championship in school history and third in four years.
“That was pretty awesome for us, coming in as freshmen and having that ACC Tournament win, that was real exciting,” said Thomas, who played second and was named to the All-Tournament Team. “That was probably one of my best moments that I’ve had.”
“That was just a really fun weekend,” added Fullem, who batted .400 (4-for-10), with two RBIs. “We weren’t really expected to win and we did. That was an unforgettable experience, especially as a freshman to win that.”
Johnsky, who hit .333 with three runs scored and a pair of RBIs in the tournament, Fullem and Coffey contributed consecutively in the seven-run fourth inning that snapped a 1-1 tie and set Tech up to close things out in five. Johnsky and Fullem had big hits, with Johnsky, Coffey, who pinch-ran for Fullem, and Thomas, all coming around to score.
Kleinschmidt got involved the previous day, pitching the final inning to close out the 9-1 semifinal rout of Florida State.
Their four-year career wasn’t all roses, as following the next season, the team went through a coaching change, and the team has had some struggles the last two years.
But Coffey feels that the ability to handle the tough times together cemented the class’ relationship and defines the class’ tenure.
“Pushing through all the adversity. Obviously, we had a coaching change halfway through our career,” she said. “Just shifting gears and buying into a new program and kind of being the foundation for a new program and overcoming a lot of adversity. We stuck together and we grinded through the hard times and now we’re here, enjoying every moment.”
Coach Shelly Hoerner who has coached the team these final two years, has certainly enjoyed every moment of the seniors’ presence.
“I would like to thank each senior for embracing me, my staff, the changes in this program and, most of all, for embracing my family,” she said. “I am extremely proud of all of their success both on and off the field.”
The constant was that they had each other to enjoy the entire way.
“As a group, we have a very interesting dynamic. We all bring different characteristics and attributes to the table,” said Johnsky, also a four-year starter in the outfield. “I wouldn’t have wanted to have done this without them. Each of them can get to my heart a little differently and I can talk to them a little differently about all the issues we’re going through. All the wins and losses, they kind of understand everything and it’s really cool because we’ve all been together the entire time. It’s not like we lost anyone along the way.”
The family has grown tighter over time, as Florida natives Johnsky, from Sarasota, and Coffey, from Tallahassee, have more or less been taken in by Georgia natives Kleinschmidt (Lilburn), Fullem (Suwanee) and Thomas (Flowery Branch).
“We’re all close with each other’s families,” said Coffey. “Honestly, Georgia Tech Softball is a huge family. My family didn’t get to come as often as some of the Georgia residents so they’re kind of my family during the season. It’s great to celebrate that with them, too.”
All five seniors will be well-represented on Saturday, as they say goodbye to Mewborn Field. It’s a precursor for Thomas, Fullem, Kleinschmidt and Johnsky will say goodbye to Georgia Tech next weekend at graduation — Coffey isn’t far behind, as she will take the walk in December.
But for the group, goodbye to softball and Georgia Tech doesn’t mean goodbye.
“Honestly, my best memory has been just building the relationship with my teammates,” said Thomas, who will begin a summer internship doing promotions for National Pro Fastpitch’s Akron Racers (the professional team of former Jacket teammate Ashley Thomas). “Win or loss, or the record, those are all fun but the best thing has been a great four years with these other four seniors that I’ve been with. We’ve all become really close. We’ve become best friends and we’ll be friends for life. I think I’ll miss that the most, just having them around and being able to spend all my time with them. It will be different. My best memories are just the time that I got to spend with them.”
Regardless of how they spend this final weekend, they’ll always have each other and some great memories.
“I would say I’ll always remember getting through workouts and weights our freshman year. We really had no idea what we were getting into,” said Fullem, who will be working as a teacher at a private school in Norcross upon graduation. “It’s funny to laugh at now but we don’t know how we made it through that first year. So that’s always something to joke about and something that made us close from the beginning.”
“It’s stuff like, just the other day we took some graduation pictures and we were just out there having a blast and just thinking of funny poses, things from past years when we’ve taken pictures for team stuff,” said Kleinschmidt. “The five of us just have a great time together. We went to dinner, we hung out, it didn’t need to be in a softball context. We’ve just been super-close these past four years. It’s been great.
“Of course, it’s going to be sad moving on from here and from being around your 15 closest friends all the time but I think it also feels like that time where we’ve been here for four years. My time’s coming up and you have to realize that,” she added. “But I’m not worried about not keeping in touch with anyone. They’re all my friends and we’re all going to stay in touch. I’m not really too worried about that.”