The following article about Florida State pitcher Kathryn Sandercock is republished with permission from author Kevin Long, Correspondent for Extra Inning Softball. The original article was published online on the Extra Inning Softball website on 2/5/19.
(Kathryn Sandercock has taken pitching lessons with Rita Lynn Gilman since 2012 when Kathryn was in 7th grade. At the end of this article, we added an additional slideshow of photos of Kathryn’s pitching journey from Little League to Florida State and the Junior Women’s National Team – photos courtesy of Kathryn’s dad Colin Sandercock).
FLORIDA STATE FRESHMAN & JR. NATIONAL TEAM PITCHER KATHRYN SANDERCOCK: RISING TO THE CHALLENGE AT EVERY LEVEL
She started in Little League and pitched in the Little League World Series (LLWS) Championship game; became the Virginia High School Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior; competed on one of the East Coast’s elite travel team, Virginia Glory – Mertz; recently became a two-time Junior Women’s National Team (JWNT) member; and is now a freshman for coach Lonni Alameda’s reigning Women’s College World Series Champion Florida State Seminoles, who are about to begin their season this Friday in the Joanne Graf Classic at FSU.
A NEW CHAPTER: FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
Last fall Sandercock joined her FSU teammates on campus as a freshman and her new head coach, Lonni Alameda, told Extra Inning Softball earlier today that when Sandercock first approached her about playing for FSU a few things caught her attention.
“First, she was already in the USA pool, so you knew she had a high level of ability and competitiveness.”
“Second, Kathryn has an incredible mixture of breaks, speeds and spins on her pitches… all helped by her physicality, stature and presence in the circle.”
“Third, when I met Kathryn and her family, I could tell it would be a good ft. She’s a fun, goofy kid, and that fits in well to our culture. A great mix of a loose demeanor, yet still able to focus and bear down when the game is on the line.”
Coach Alameda is not sure yet where Sandercock will fit in as a freshman for the reigning Women’s College World Series Champions, but she is glad to have her in a deep stable of pitchers this season.
“We know we are going into every game with a bullseye on our backs. I look at this as a positive because not many teams get to experience being the reigning champions–only one team can be in this position every season, and I’m glad it is us.”
“We’ve talked to our team about it,” Coach Alameda continued. “They understand we are going to get everyone’s best every time out. However, every team in the country is in the same position…we are all starting with a first game and a first pitch and a 0-0 record, so it will be up to us to respond.”
TWO-TIME JUNIOR WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM MEMBER
Sandercock has just accomplished a rare feat: she was just named to her second stint on the Junior Women’s National Team, having made the team again in the first week of January.
Sandercock says, “The first time, in my junior year of high school, I attended the open tryout in Clearwater, Florida. My pitching coach suggested going and trying to make an impression. Making the team wasn’t even a thought. My family came with me and I went to tryout and did the best I could. There were over 200 attendees. I only got to throw a couple pitches in front of the selection committee.”
“We were in our car driving to Orlando on the way back home and I got a call that I was invited to the selection trials. There were 50 players who had a shot to make the final cut. Once there, I pitched in real scrimmages and I did really well. I was very nervous. I could feel adrenaline in my body. It was surreal to be there and be playing with all the top players. Making the team was such a shock. I was so grateful.”
“While making the team was great, it was also bittersweet because I wanted to play with my Glory teammates and friends at PGF in California. But how do you turn down a chance to play for Team USA? I didn’t regret the decision, but while they were at PGF, I missed them and wished I could be there with them too.”
The athlete remembers her first experiences with the Jr. National Team.
“We did our first JWNT training camp in Oklahoma City at the Softball Hall of Fame right after the Women’s College World Series. We ended up getting to play JWNT games in Clearwater, Boston, and got to travel all around the U.S. I had never really experienced traveling like that before. It was totally different being there on my own. I was one of the youngest players as a high school junior and we were on the team of mostly rising freshmen or sophomores in college.”
Was there one memory that stands out over the others?
“The moment I remember the most is crystal clear–it is an incredible honor and responsibility to take the field with USA on your jersey. We talked to the women on the National team and of
course the U.S. Olympians, and they said, ‘Once you look at the flag, you’ll never forget what an honor it is to represent your country.’ They were 100 percent right.”
The feelings of pride return as she drifts back to that experience.
“Seeing the American flag raising while we were on the field, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I never dreamed I would get there. I thought about how all the hard work had paid off and how proud I was to represent my country!”
Kathryn explains the nerves were still there when she attended the selection tryout about a month ago.
“Going into the Junior Women’s National Team tryouts the second time around last fall, I was still very nervous. When I was in Clearwater, I was very aware of all the amazing talent assembled there. It is overwhelming to see the players — the best of the best come to the tryouts. I was humbled to even be there.”
“This time around, I knew what was coming a little bit and that made it a little more comfortable.” When I made it, I was shocked. I am so excited and honored to play for Team USA and represent my country again.”
At least this time, she explains, she will be with some friends from her first JWNT go-round.
“Alexis Kilfoyl and Julia Cottrill, two of my teammates from the previous team, also made it again this time. We are all very excited. After the Women’s College World Series ends, we will begin training for Team USA and all travel together. We will spend the summer training and playing exhibition games. We’ve been told we may get to go to Paris! I am really excited about that possibility. Playing softball in Paris – wow – you can’t dream of things like that!”
Sandercock says that she has had nothing but encouragement and support from the coaching staff at Florida State.
“It’s great that my FSU coaches were thrilled for me to have the opportunity to play for Team USA again. They are concerned about their players as people, not just the number on their back. Several of my FSU teammates play on their respective national teams as well. I see them as role models and go out there to play my best and represent FSU and, of course, the USA.”
Coach Alameda says she is excited for Sandercock to have the opportunity to play for the JWNT.
“When you come to college, it is much different than high school and travel ball. When you play internationally, it is much different than college. That Kathryn, as a pitcher, has had that opportunity to do it once already and now again, will only increase her experience and help her grow as a player.”
Alameda sees this, in-turn, benefitting Sandercock’s FSU teammates as well.
“We have other players who are playing for their national teams. Playing at that level ends up being great experience for all of them that they can come back and share with their teammates here. It’s really an opportunity for those players to then come back and become leaders on our team at Florida State.”
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
Sandercock’s has not been the traditional journey for a softball star as she started in Little League instead of rec or travel ball. She explains, “We were really just a close bunch of friends. We had all played together since we were 8. We were really good for a Little League team.”
Her Little League World Series (LLWS) coach Gerry Megas said, “We have a very competitive Little League in McLean. When Kathryn came to play with us at 10U, she was a top prospect, but usually 10-year-olds struggle when facing the top 11 and 12-year-olds in the league. She was a significant contributor to a championship team right from the start. She hit .450 and while she wasn’t a starting pitcher at this level, when she did pitch, she competed and helped her team win. She would stand up against anyone and hit–nothing phased her.”
Even at that early age, her Little League coach saw in her the fire to compete.
“Her development is the most amazing thing about her. She was determined to be our star pitcher at 11. Unfortunately, just before the season started, she broke her wrist and couldn’t play the first two-thirds of the season. She did make it back and pitched at end of season and beat the team that won league.”
Here is a video of Kathryn speaking to her fond experiences as a Little League standout pitcher…
In the fall and winter of 2012 Sandercock began pitching lessons in Richmond and came back in the spring as a 12-year-old having gained 10 mph on her fastball. She went from being a good pitcher to a dominant pitcher. Her team won the league and Megas became the all-star coach.
In a very strong league with talented players across the board, Kathryn was Coach Megas’s star pitcher and the team won the Virginia State Championship over what they thought was an unbeatable team.
Megas excitedly remembered every detail of the title game.
“Our opponents were a powerful team from rural Virginia. They hadn’t had a close game all season. They had some huge players with home run power. The coaches decided we couldn’t pitch to their No. 3 and 4 hitters. I had Kathryn put it an inch high, outside, low, just outside the strike zone. We let their 3 and 4 hitters get on with walks and made the rest of the line-up beat us.”
The strategy didn’t sit well with the opposing team’s coaches and parents, who let Megas’s team know about it.
“Kathryn executed the strategy to perfection keeping the score close in the face of taunts from the opponent coaches and fans who were not happy about the strategy. It was a neck-and-neck game. Their rooting section was loud and raucous with horns and cow bells. It was bedlam. As the game wound down, we were down by a run and momentum was on their side. We got a couple of freak hits and took a one-run lead in the top of the final inning. To hold the lead Kathryn had to pitch through the meat of their order.”
“The first batter got on and with one out the powerful No. 3 hitter came up. Kathryn pitched around her and walked her. The tying run was on second, the winning run on first and the clean-up hitter at the plate. The noise level was deafening. Kathryn rose up to the occasion – she bore down and struck out next two hitters – with 11 pitches to one of them – to win the Virginia State Championship!”
The team played the following weekend in the regionals against top teams from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. But they had to make it through pool play without Sandercock and
three of their other top players who had a travel ball tournament commitment. With only nine players, the team came together and persevered.
Sandercock and the others made it back in time to play in the semi-final game against the top-seeded Georgia team in front of its home crowd. Kathryn threw a shutout and with the top team out of the way the McLean team went on to win the championship game the next day, sending them to the 2013 Little League Softball World Series and ultimately the championship game at Alpenrose Stadium in Portland, Oregon.
Sandercock’s description of the fun she had on that team, and the LLWS in particular, will make you smile.
“To this day, that Little League field in Oregon is the nicest field I’ve ever played on. The field itself, the setting and scenery were all gorgeous. They had a wonderful grounds crew. Oh, and this may have swayed me a little bit – it’s on an active dairy farm, which means there is fresh, homemade ice cream,” adding sarcastically, “We didn’t take advantage of that at all.”
There was also a “big-time” component to the game which would help her deal with playing under pressure down the road.
“This was the first time any of us had ever played on TV. It was also my introduction to playing against international teams. That experience has played a big part in my life now that I’ve gotten to play for Team USA. “
Sandercock continued, “We got second place, which was awesome. Due to Little League rules, because I had pitched the semi-final game, I wasn’t able to pitch the championship game. However, I wouldn’t trade the experience at the Little League World Series for anything. It was awesome!”
“That team, that season, it was a magic carpet ride,” added Megas. “After you do that, you feel like you can walk on water.”
He finished by praising his former star pupil: “Kathryn has a rare mental toughness. She remains cool and calm and I’ve never seen her wilt under pressure. She has a work ethic that is second to none. She is very competitive and is not intimidated by anyone. To top it off, she’s an easy kid to coach.”
Sandercock says that her friends on that team made it fun and even more memorable. All of her teammates from the LLWS team went on to play varsity softball in high school, including three who joined her at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia.
HER DAD AND HER PITCHING COACH
Like many players, Sandercock says her dad, Colin, played an important role in her development. He sat on the bucket and caught her for countless hours whenever she practiced her pitching.
“My dad would find somewhere we could pitch in the winter and it would take up so much time driving to and from in the Northern Virginia traffic that he just built me a facility at our house.”
That’s right… Kathryn got her own pitching cage so she and her parents would never have to waste time again in a car travelling to do a workout.
“He put a building in our back yard that had a pitching cage with dirt. That way if we only had an hour, we could go work out and not sit in traffic both ways. I was able to throw year-round on dirt. I am 100 percent convinced that this was one of the reasons I got to the level I needed to be at in order to make the Junior Women’s National Team.”
That doesn’t mean that she didn’t seek help to hone her craft in other ways. Rita Lynn Gilman says she remembers when Sandercock walked into her Richmond, Virginia, Softball Pitching Tools facility on November 18, 2012.
“She was a scrappy 7th grader who threw 50 mph, but within six months we had her up to 57 mph,” says Gilman, who has kept meticulous notes on every one of the 62 visits Kathryn made to her facility over the six years she has been her pitching coach. The last lesson was just before she headed to Florida State last August.
Gilman is full of stories, committed to memory, about Sandercock.
“In her fifth lesson on January 13, 2013, her dad broke her nose. He threw the ball back to her and she wasn’t paying attention and boom. She handled it very well, but her dad, was having a cow. It changed the routine of how I have pitchers and catchers work in my facility. Now I have the catchers drop the ball in a bucket and let the pitchers analyze their pitch. No balls back at the pitchers anymore.”
The coach pulled some strings and got a broadcasting friend to tie Gilman and Sandercock together on an ESPN broadcast.
“When Kathryn made the LLWS, I sent a text to my friend, Michele Smith, the former Olympian, who was announcing the game, and she mentioned that Kathryn was my student on the broadcast. It helped that she had a great game where she didn’t walk anyone.”
The instructor remembers Sandercock telling her she had some hip pain in the winter before her senior year.
“She went to get it checked out and the next time I saw her she was recovering from hip surgery. But she had only lost four miles per hour on her speed despite losing some muscle mass.”
What stands out about her star pitching pupil to Gilman is that her mechanics are smooth and quick through movement.
“Kathryn excels at ball placement and loved doing the sniper challenges we set up for her in training where she had to hit a spot every throw. She is so competitive, that she wanted to know who has the high score so she could beat their scores.”
Gilman has had a number of top pitchers as students, including Jailyn Ford, who played on the 2013 JWNT and went to James Madison University, as well as Lacey Waldrop, the 2014 NCAA Player of the Year who went to FSU and now is the pitching coach at Duke.
“Lacey was a big stud and Kathryn would go with me and watch her when FSU would play near us. Lacey also did lessons with Kathryn. Lacey did one with her just before her first JWNT tryout and helped her understand what she would need to do and how she needed to perform.
Gilman has her next stable of stud pitchers now, including Extra Inning Softball Elite 100 pitcher Madison Inscoe, who pitches for one of the top-ranked 14U teams in the country, Ted Flannery’s Birmingham Thunderbolts 04 team.
BISHOP O’CONNELL HIGH SCHOOL & VIRGINIA GLORY
Sandercock says that while high school ball was lower level competition than she faced on the travel ball circuit, the private school had a lot of really great players because they could recruit.
“We won Virginia State Championships all four years and went undefeated my junior year.”
That was the same year she won the Virginia Gatorade High School Player of the Year, but her senior year would be much more of a challenge.
“The first three years went by then I tore my labrum and had hip surgery in the winter of my senior year. It made the journey more difficult my senior season. We still won the Catholic league title.”
“Throughout all four years, our coach went out of his way to play top public schools in the northern Virginia area. We always played McLean, Madison, and Woodgrove, all of whom became our rivals,” said Sandercock.
It was when she was a freshman that Sandercock joined Mike Mertz’s Virginia Glory club team.
“Travel was more competitive than high school because the roster was larger. I went to the Glory because I wanted to play in college and I felt like Mike Mertz and the Glory organization were going help get me there.
Mertz, for her part, said, “Kathryn grew a lot with Glory. She loves to compete at the highest level and she really feeds off of that. She’s fierce and very detail-oriented.”
“She also thrived in our close knit, team-first culture. Everyone trusted and loved each other. And being on the younger side of her class, she and I talked about the responsibility that comes with playing in the biggest spotlight and the pressures she might face when the doors opened for her at Florida State, which was her dream school. I think she has handled her success really well for her age.”
“I’m super proud of her and excited for her future. We all are.”
Sandercock says her biggest thrill playing for Glory was playing at PGF Nationals her sophomore and senior years. “My favorite game was against a Firecrackers team. We scored one run in the first
inning and the rest of game was intense and we won 1-0. We had fun that game and I love a game where it’s a battle the whole time.”
Though now on Team USA and a member of the National Champion Noles, Sandercock emphasized she hasn’t turned her back on her club program and former teammates.
“I still keep up with my Glory teammates. They are my best friends in the whole world. It’s amazing that every girl on that team got to play at their dream school. Glory has a culture of really working hard and a team-first mentality.”
“I came to Glory, which was a team that had a bunch of girls who were already very good and had a healthy competition among teammates. I wanted to do the same for myself. We were all happy for each other when we all committed. This mentality really helped me know this is what I want to do.”
What lies ahead for Sandercock?
With her work ethic and competitive reputation nothing is off the table and all who’ve known her agree: the Virginia native and former Little Leaguer has a bright future in softball and in life.
Michelle Smith has continued to follow Kathryn’scareer and will likely call one of her games before it’s all said and done.
KATHRYN SANDERCOCK PHOTO SLIDESHOW
(Courtesy of Colin Sandercock)