Conant senior Kelsey Smith signs to pitch for Bentley
Conant senior Kelsey Smith signs her letter of intent to play softball at Bentley University on Nov. 19,2012.
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One year ago, Kelsey Smith wasn’t sure what would become of her softball career.
Last September, Smith, then a junior at Conant, hurt her left knee in a soccer game at ConVal and the original diagnosis was to get physical therapy and that no surgery would be needed.
But a month or so later, even with going through therapy, Smith’s knee was not getting any better. So another trip to the doctor and an eventual MRI revealed a complete tear of her anterior cruciate ligament. It was the worst possible news.
“Originally I thought everything would be fine,” said Smith. “And I didn’t really want to know if anything was wrong.”
In January, Smith underwent ACL reconstruction surgery and it meant she would have to miss her entire school season. She was devastated, but determined to work her way back.
“I didn’t think that not playing was an option,” said Smith. “But it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
And on Monday, Smith showed how a lot of hard work can pay off. In front of her parents, family, Conant coach Tom Lambert and members of the Conant administration, Smith signed her national letter of intent to play softball for Division II Bentley University.
It was a moment she would have never thought would come true just 12 months prior.
“You don’t ever think about yourself doing this,” said Smith. “To get to know I get to play four more years. I’m really lucky.”
Smith was able to get medical clearance just in time for the start of her summer travel season in late June and that is when the next four years of her life started to come into focus. Her travel coach’s daughter, Kayla Johnson, just happened to be the pitching coach at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., and Smith got a little insight into the college game.
It took a few innings to shake the rust off, but soon she was back to her tenacious self inside the circle. Her team went on to win the Massachusetts state championship and along the way, Smith participated in a few college showcases.
“I can’t even describe it,” said Smith. “I just felt back where I belonged.”
As a hard-throwing lefty with some movement on her pitches, she caught the eye of a few programs. During the process, Smith had compiled a list of about 10 schools she thought would be a good fit for her.
“I tried to look at softball and the academic part of it,” said Smith.
Over the summer, Smith took a tour of the Bentley campus and had a conversation with head coach Michele DeGregorio. The soon-to-be Conant senior was impressed with DeGregorio and the direction of the program. It made her list of potential colleges a little bit smaller.
“I liked everything about it,” Smith said. “I really liked her coaching style. She has really high expectations for her players.”
Once the travel season was finished, Smith got an email from DeGregorio about possibly setting up an official overnight visit. Smith made the trip to Bentley in September, took part in a Falcons practice and left with her future decided.
“I didn’t really want to look anywhere else,” said Smith.
But like most students heading off to college, the financial aspect of higher education was a big part of the equation. Then two weeks ago, Smith got an email with an official offer to play at Bentley. Between athletic and academic grants, most of Smith’s education will be paid for and she will be able to continue her playing career.
“When you get that, you can’t even believe it’s happening to you,” said Smith.
It did not take her long to make the decision. National signing day is not until Feb. 1, but Smith was ready to put her name on the offer and make it official. She had applied for early decision because Bentley was the school for her.
“I knew I wasn’t going to change my mind,” said Smith. “I wanted to be at the best place for me.”
Within a week of her surgery, Smith was attending physical therapy sessions. It wasn’t easy, but she was determined to get back as quick as possible. Sitting on the sidelines for her entire junior season was difficult.
“It was hard watching my team play and knowing I couldn’t help them on the field. I learned a lot from sitting,” said Smith. “It definitely gave me more of an appreciation for it all.”
Smith was coming off a Division III first-team all-state selection as a sophomore and primed for another huge season. In 2011, she was 10-6 overall with four shutouts and 10 games where she allowed three runs or less. Two of those games came against eventual champion Campbell, where Smith limited the Cougars to just a single run each time. Over her final 18 innings, including her first two playoff appearances, Smith allowed just one run.
“She really came into her own at the end of that year,” said Lambert. “She started to understand the aspects of pitching and not just throwing.”
For the season, she had 159 strikeouts in 113 innings with 46 walks. At the plate, Smith posted a .470 batting average with eight doubles and two triples, while striking out only eight times.
Smith enjoys pitching and is the main reason Bentley is bringing her in, but she is also prepared for anything asked of her.
“She has a desire to play,” said Lambert. “And it shows in how much she worked.”
As a freshman, Smith made five starts behind then senior Courtney Chamberlain and finished with a 2-2 record. She had three complete games and two shutouts, including a complete game, two-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in her first career start.
“She has some pitches that she can throw that most kids can’t,” Lambert said. “And she has no fear.”
While Smith is excited about the next phase of her softball career, she isn’t quite ready for it to start. After sitting out her entire junior season and watching from the bench, Smith can’t wait to take the field for Conant in March.
“She did what she could,” said Lambert. “She had a desire to be part of something. To be part of a team and more than just a player, but also a teammate.”
But come this June, Smith will put her full attention into becoming the best college softball player possible.
“I don’t just want to be good enough. I want to be the best I can be,” said Smith.