Itâ€™s safe to say that when you have a sophomore, junior and senior who have already committed verbally to play college softball, youâ€™re doing something right as a program.
Coach Alan Jones at Ballard has that trio in senior pitcher Akilah Mouzon, who is going to Illinois; junior outfielder Catie Barber, headed to UofL in a year; and sophomore pitcher, shortstop and third base player Shelby Kelley, who has verbally committed to Belmont.
Ballard is 23-8-2 on the season and one of the toughest teams in the state. Although it is a team effort that produces wins, this trio of players has been a major component of the teamâ€™s success.
Mouzon, from New Jersey, is playing in her first and only season at Ballard. Sheâ€™s described as a quiet player who exhibits leadership through her hard work. As she made her decision to play collegiately, she said she met the coaches at Illinois and only after a couple visits, â€œfell in love with the program and academic side of the school.â€ As she is only a few months away from high school graduation and freshman orientation in college, she believes the Ballard program has helped her prepare for the next level.
â€œIâ€™ve grown a lot. The program at Ballard is like a college program. We do a lot, practice a lot and have very focused practices, which is what I think it will be like in college, so I think that has prepared me for that next step.â€
As a junior, Coach Jones says Catie Barber works extremely hard and is the â€œtype of kid you have to tell to go home.â€ As a player who is very conscious about her game, whether she is doing well or struggling, sheâ€™s always working hard to get better. As she contemplated her college decision, it was pretty much a no-brainer that she would be a Cardinal. Her father is the Assistant Athletic Director at the University, so she has always been around UofL, and in her words, she â€œgrew up as a Cardinal.â€
She looks to make a major impact on the program once she gets there and hopes her skills will make a positive contribution to the team. Making adjustments, listening to coaches and her solid work ethic are all things she brings to the table.
â€œGrowing up, Iâ€™ve always learned to work hard,â€ she said. â€œOnce you work hard, you get rewarded for it. Throughout my softball career, Iâ€™ve been working hard to reach my goals of playing Division I. To play Division I means my work has finally paid off, and I get to show my skills on the next level.â€
Shelby Kelley has inherited college roots from her parents. Her mother played softball in college, and her father played baseball in college. By being around softball her whole life, she says, â€œI was kind of destined to go and play college softball.â€ Kelleyâ€™s college decision was predicated on who offered what she wanted to study academically.
â€œI really want to go into nursing and build an impact there,â€ she said. â€œThere are only two Division I schools who will let me go and play softball and be a nurse. Belmont was the closer one and that is how I made my decision.â€
She says consistency will be the area she will work on in the next two seasons so teammates can be more dependent on her in critical moments of a game.
On Kelleyâ€™s game, Coach Jones added, â€œShe is a sophomore, but she plays like a senior. She has been here since she was a middle-school kid. Shelby is the tiger in the bullpen. She will do whatever it takes as a player and whatever the team needs. She is a workhorse, a dominant workhorse, and she is going to be really good. She is good now, but as the years go on, she is going to be a beast.â€
Jones adds that Mouzon, Barber and Kelley have the same mentality as players with a hunger to be the best they can be.
â€œThey are hard workers, they want to be the best, and when their game isnâ€™t the best, they donâ€™t get down on themselves, it just makes them want to work more. [Theyâ€™re] a great group and a fun group. Every day, they work hard in practice, and the hard work [has] started to pay off.â€ VT
Photos courtesy of ANGIE HULL