The Good Word | by Jon Cooper
The final home weekend of the season has arrived for Georgia Tech Softball.
“Finally,” not final, is the word Katie Krzus, Kaylee Ellebracht and Sydney Stavro are using to describe it.
It’s not that they’re eager to end the season or their careers — not at all. They’re just excited about being only weeks from “getting out.” But the magnitude of the weekend and the salute to their class is not lost on them.
“It’s very exciting. Four years, it’s a big weekend,” said Krzus, the slugging third baseman from Orland Park, Ill. “What has made it a big blur, especially in our situation as seniors, is we had a different coach our first two years and then our junior year Coach Morales came in and it kind of felt like freshman year all over again, like having this new experience for two more years. So it’s a weird kind of feeling because it felt like we re-lived freshman and sophomore year.”
“It’s kind of surreal. I thought the day would never really come, but here it is,” said catcher Ellebracht, a Los Alamitos, Calif., native, and three-year roommate of Krzus. “It seems like every year is so long. But looking back it seems like I just got to Georgia from California, like yesterday.”
It’s just as unique for Stavro, the lone Georgian of the class.
“It’s still a little weird because I just kind of decided that I was going to graduate a month or so ago because I had the credits to graduate early,” said the Buford, native, outfielder who nearly transferred after her freshman year, but stayed around when Coach Aileen Morales took over and who has primarily been a weapon on the basepaths as a pinch-runner. “It doesn’t feel real yet. I’m still kind of in the shock phase. I’m sure it will hit. As soon as I see my friends coming out to bring me my jersey — the waterworks will start.”
While the day is special and one they look forward to celebrating with family — all three expect a good showing — they also realize that the primary order of business is beating Syracuse.
It hasn’t been easy, as Tech is 4-5 overall and 0-2 with one split in three series since the Orange joined the ACC but the games have been hard-fought, as seven of the nine games in the all-time series, have been decided by two-or-fewer runs (the Jackets are 3-4), with four of those games extra-inning affairs (the teams have split them).
The Jackets would also like to put the brakes on a season-high-tying four-game losing streak.
“We need some big wins right here to set us up for going to the ACC Championship,” said Ellebracht. “We’ve run into a couple of bumps the past couple of weekends but I think if we do well this weekend it will set us up for postseason after we’re done with ACC. It will kind of solidify us going to the tournament.”
Stavro believes having so much at stake will help counter the obvious emotion of the day and stay focused on beating Syracuse.
“Every game, every play matters. I think it’s definitely going to be a positive because we have something to fight for out there,” she said. “This is our last hoorah, our last moment to make our impact and leave our legacy out there on the field. I think it kind of lights a little fire and motivates us a little bit more.”
Returning to the ACCs is paramount for the entire team, but especially the seniors. Ellebracht calls getting to last year’s ACC Championship her most memorable career moment.
“Even though we lost the game (to North Carolina), everyone was in it and it was just so much fun hosting,” she recalled. “It was so much fun to see everyone at our field and I just felt so proud to show off our field and our facility and our school and our city. That whole weekend is one of the biggest things I’ll take with me.
“I was so proud that Georgia Tech was everywhere,” she added. “For TV purposes, for the fans, I don’t think that our school gets the credit in the ACC that it deserves. So it was just a really proud moment for me. We hadn’t been to the ACC championship in four or five years. So being part of that first team back with Coach Morales, and being a part of those building blocks, it was just such a proud moment.”
Krzus, a four-year starter who leads the team in slugging (.707), and is third in homers (11, one behind co-leaders Crosby Huckabay and Cameron Stanford) after last season leading the team in hits (46), runs (46), RBIs (33) and tied for the lead in homers (9, with Draven Sonnen) and walks (32, with Stanford), recalled the Sunday, March 24 game at North Carolina as the most memorable and most emotional of her career. It came in the wake of the tragic passing of senior football player Brandon Adams.
“‘Big B’ had just passed away the night previous and we had that big game against North Carolina the next day,” she recalled. “We all came together as a team and we played for something bigger than ourselves and we ended up winning that game. It was the most incredible feeling ever. We felt like ‘Big B’ was with us.”
There will be a togetherness on Saturday as the Jackets look to send the seniors off with a win. Being together for one final weekend at Mewborn Field means a lot to Krzus and Ellebracht, who have roomed together for three years and plan to stay in Atlanta as they pursue life after graduation.
“It’s definitely something special because we’ve both seen and witnessed the hard work that each other has put in,” said Krzus, a three-time — she’s shooting for four — ACC Academic Honor Roll member. “It’s awesome to see we made it.”
“She’s my best friend on the team,” said Ellebracht. “We’ve been through it from day one. We’ve lived together for three years now. We won’t be parting ways after (graduation). We’ll still be living together after. It’s really cool to have your best friend by your side through everything. I think we’re both rocks for each other. It’s always nice to look and see that I always have my rock there.”
Stavro, who is a two-time (hoping for three) ACC Academic Honor Roll, may not be staying in Atlanta after she crosses the stage at McCamish, but has very much relished her days with classmates Krzus and Ellebracht and has forged an unbreakable bond with them.
“We all came in here as freshmen together. We have that bond and relationship that can’t really be broken,” she said. “We kind of get each other a little bit more than everyone else does just because we did go through other coaches, as well as our new coaches. I’m so excited to share the day with Katie and Kaylee because we do have that special bond. I love them so much. They’re awesome. They’re in all my classes and make me smile every day. I don’t know what I would do without them. It’s great.”
The Jackets’ trio is hoping for a great finish to their home career and their first win on senior day but also want the ‘W’ from the team perspective.
“Coach Morales is always telling us to live in the present and I really take that seriously,” said Ellebracht. “It’s not about me. It’s about the team. I might be a senior but there are plenty of other girls out there that are in it, too. Going into this weekend I don’t see it as just about us seniors. It’s about ALL of us.”
“Just take it play by play and be present in the moment,” said Stavro. “If we can all focus on what really matters and be there in every single play and every single at-bat, we’re going to come out victorious.”