Smooth Transition: North’s Lovelace is The Republic Softball Player of the Year

Columbus North’s Kelsey Lovelace is The Republic Softball Player of the Year. She is pictured at The Republic Monday, June 10, 2024.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic

One could argue that no one went through a tougher transition than Kelsey Lovelace, but she embraced the challenge.

Lovelace, the lone senior for the Columbus North softball team this season, went through different coaching regimes, switched several positions in the batting order due to team injuries during her four-year career with the Bull Dog program and in her senior year, filled in pitching a few games.

During her freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, Lovelace played under coach Ron McDonald, who retired following the 2023 season.

TJ Jarvis became the new coach Lovelace’s senior year. While it could be hard for any senior to make the necessary adjustments to having a brand new coach and coaching staff, that wasn’t the case for Lovelace. She bought in and accepted the new change in scenery.

“He came up to me the very first tryout and was like, ‘This is going to be way different. I hope you know that. I hope you go along for the ride,’” recalled Lovelace, this year’s Republic Softball Player of the Year. “I was totally ready. It was time for a change.”

“Anything I ever asked of her, there was never ‘Why are we doing this?’ or ‘Do we have to do this?’ She did it, and if she did it, everyone else followed,” Jarvis added. “She believed in me from Day 1, and I believed in her from Day 1.”

Being the lone senior and most experienced varsity player returning, it meant Lovelace was going to have to assume the leadership role. She was thankful for the previous senior class taking her under their wing and helping her improve as a softball player on and off the field significantly. They also helped her with game mentality, keeping calm under pressure and pushing her to become a more competitive player.

“Anytime I had a question, I wasn’t afraid to go up to them. They showed me leadership I‘ve never seen before,” Lovelace said. “Going into my senior year, I took their leadership and tried to apply it to my girls to keep passing it on. They took me in so well, and I needed to do it to my girls because I know how much pressure I felt having them by me. This is like a family. This isn’t a game, it’s a family, so that’s what I tried to do my senior year to those younger girls.”

It didn’t come across Lovelace’s mind that softball was in her future. After all, she was playing baseball with boys at 8 years old, never having swung a softball bat. After she was done with baseball, another opportunity came. She got an invitation from Joe King to try out for his travel team at age 10. The rest was history.

It took Lovelace some time to get used to softball. She got the fielding aspect down, but she wasn’t the hitter that she is today. She wanted to change that, so when she was 14, she started getting hitting lessons from Kevin Danford.

“I was like, ‘Wait, I can actually hit,’” Lovelace said. “I do have the potential to play softball because I was always told I was a good fielder. That’s all I ever was. I was never a hitter.”

When Lovelace arrived at North her freshman season in 2021, there was plenty of competition for a spot in the lineup because of the potent class above her that had lost their freshman season the year before due to the COVID pandemic. Eventually, her hard work paid off and she earned her spot in the starting lineup for the Bull Dogs.

McDonald told Lovelace that she’d be ninth in the batting order and had to earn her spot in the lineup. She took it to heart because after showing much potential from her first game, Lovelace never saw the 9-hole the rest of her North career. She was immediately inserted into the 2-spot, a place that was her mainstay for four years.

“Being a freshman, there was so much more pressure batting in the 2-spot because I was the youngest, and then you and the first batter set the tone,” Lovelace said. “If you don’t get on base, your third batter is stuck in a position they don’t want to be stuck in because they’re usually one of the power hitters. I felt I had to get on base to provide for my team or at least move the first batter over so the third batter could get her in.”

Even with the added pressure, Lovelace thrived in her role. This season, she led the Bull Dogs with a .483 batting average and 10 doubles and was second on the team with three home runs.

Lovelace also added some fill-in pitching to her arsenal this year to help out the pitching staff. She went 13 2/3 innings, allowing 25 runs — zero were earned — with 21 hits, four walks and nine strikeouts. She named First-Team All-Conference Indiana.

With her time coming to an end at North, Lovelace is excited for the next chapter of her life. She will continue her academic and softball career at Calumet College of St. Joseph next year.

Lovelace said she chose CCSJ because Crimson Wave coach Dave Lopez never gave up recruiting her since she was a freshman. Lovelace mentioned that Lopez came to many of her high school and travel softball games.

“The effort really pulled me in, and I went up there for a team practice and workout, and the girls were so nice,” Lovelace said. “They’re 20 years old, and I was only 16 at the time. For them to be that welcoming to a kid who couldn’t even drive at the time was really nice. That made me feel good. I always went to bigger schools, so I was thinking if I go to a smaller school, I can have one-on-one time with professors because my academics are really big to me.”

Lovelace is thankful of her time with the Bull Dog program the past four years.

“It’s definitely taught me to have a sense of independence and a sense of communication I never knew I needed,” Lovelace said. “I’ve also taken a lot of leadership from it that I can take into the real world because I never had to really work with other people except in the sport, so having to help so many people at one time and then trying to focus on myself but also the main picture at the end of the day. That’s something that will be huge in the real world. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m sad that it’s done, but it has to end at some point.

“I think I did it the best way I could. I had a lot of fun,” she added. “I learned. I grew as a player, but it’s definitely going to be weird seeing somebody else in my jersey next year. It’s definitely a little bit of sad moment, but you have to grow up. You have to leave at some point.”

Lovelace leaves big shoes to fill next year. Jarvis said one key thing she possessed was leadership.

“There were times we didn’t have to go out there as a coaching staff. If a pitcher was in trouble, usually the catcher would come out and talk to the pitcher, but it was always Kelsey bringing them in and talking to them,” Jarvis said. “The way she controlled the locker room, and the way she controlled the diamond. I think that will be the biggest thing in how we replace that leadership. I hope that she really passed down some knowledge, and I think she did and somebody else wanting to take that next step up and lead because it is such an important part that doesn’t get talked about enough in team sports.”

The Republic All-Area Softball team:

Kelsey Lovelace, Columbus North: The senior led the Bull Dogs with a .483 average, 10 doubles and 28 runs and had three home runs and 19 RBIs.

Payton Morris, Columbus North: The sophomore batted .380, led the Bull Dogs with four home runs and 24 RBIs and went 4-5 with a 4.33 ERA.

Bailee Scruggs, Columbus North: The sophomore batted .380 with one home run and 15 RBIs and went 9-6 with a 3.61 ERA.

Miley McClellan, Columbus North: The sophomore batted .412 with six doubles, one home run and 11 RBIs and led the Bull Dogs with two triples.

Baleigh Fish, Columbus East: The freshman led the Olympians with a .470 average, seven home runs nine doubles and 28 RBIs.

Hermione Robinson, Columbus East: The senior went 6-10 with a 2.91 ERA and had eight doubles, one home run and 12 RBIs.

Savanna Sullivan, Columbus East: The senior batted .366 with five home runs and 13 RBIs and led the Olympians with 24 runs.

Paige McDaniel, Hauser: The senior batted .493, led the Jets with four home runs and 37 RBIs and went 13-6 with a 1.89 ERA.

Izzy Brunner, Hauser: The junior batted .506 with 26 RBIs and 33 runs and led the Jets with 13 doubles and three triples.

Lucie Asher, Hauser: The junior batted .471 with seven doubles, two triples and led the Jets with 14 stolen bases and 34 runs.

Maley Jordan, Hauser: The junior led the Jets with a .512 average and had two home runs, 26 RBIs and 21 runs.

Kenzie Matern, Jennings County: The senior batted .291 with two home runs and 13 RBIs, led the Panthers with 26 runs and went 9-3 with a 1.99 ERA.

Jillian Brauer, Jennings County: The sophomore batted .300 with one home run, 21 RBIs and 16 runs and had a 3.98 ERA.

Kyah Streeval, Edinburgh: The senior led the Lancers with a .667 average and 24 RBIs, 15 doubles and six triples and had two home runs and 28 runs.

Kenna Streeval, Edinburgh: The sophomore batted .586 with 22 RBIs; led the Lancers with three home runs, 22 stolen bases and 30 runs and went 4-0 with a 2.71 ERA.

Ava Stogsdill, Brown County: The sophomore led the Eagles with a .508 average, five doubles, 12 stolen bases and 16 runs.

Grace Lance, Trinity Lutheran: The junior led the Cougars with a .415 average, had 10 RBIs and went 10-9 with a 4.13 ERA.

Honorable mention

Brown County: Ava Sanders. Columbus East: Lola Watkins. Columbus North: Morgan Jarvis, Summer Williams, Ali Wooten. Edinburgh: Eloise Cox, Alix Streeval. Hauser: Lexie Hamilton. Jennings County: Claire Hack, Maycie Ward. South Decatur: Molly Eden. Trinity Lutheran: Olivia Cain, Zoey Dulaney.