CARBONDALE — Kelsey Gonzalez won’t be remembered as a superstar when her softball playing days come to an end in the next few weeks.
However, SIU’s four-year starter at shortstop will be remembered as a consistent, complete player who came to play every day. And, Gonzalez is perfectly fine with that legacy.
“I didn’t really expect to come here and set records,” she said. “I’m no (former slugging second baseman) Jana Spivey, that’s for sure, or some of the other players I’ve played with.
“I’m not so much concerned with the statistics or the hype of the records. I’ve just tried to come in here and be a solid player for this program. If the records came, they came. That’s not the kind of stuff that’s really bothered me. I’m happy with the way I’ve played in this program.”
The Naperville native has been the model of consistency, offensively and defensively, for the Salukis.
A lifetime .278 hitter, Gonzalez his hitting .288 this year. She got off to a slow start as a freshman, hitting .210, but backed that up with .328 and .286 marks the next two years.
The story is the same defensively. Her career fielding percentage is .943. In individual seasons her fielding percentage has been .932 to .952.
“She’s someone you build your program around for four years,” said SIU coach Kerri Blaylock. “She’s an intangible kid. Her leadership is fantastic. We’re a really young team. A third of our kids are freshmen. She’s such a good leader.”
Gonzalez’ leadership role is a natural extension of her personality, as well as a function of the position she plays.
“Probably midway through my sophomore year is when I kind of started picking it up and realizing I need to be that voice on the field,” she said. “Last year I probably was more hesitant than I needed to be vocally with some of the players.
“This year, we have five freshmen, the majority of them are in the starting lineup every day. We have a young team that, this year I’ve especially tried to guide them and teach them the culture of this program as I know it … just kind of instill some values in them.”
That’s just part of the growth Gonzalez has experienced in the past four years.
“I would probably say when I came here I was definitely more of a defensive player,” she said. “Kerri recruited me for my defense. I think over the years I’ve definitely started to enjoy the offense more. I think that just comes with being more successful and being more confident. So, now I like going up there and taking hacks and hitting the ball.”
“She’s a kid that has really embraced the coaching she has received,” Blaylock said.
In addition to the incremental improvement over her career, Gonzalez accepted the role of lead off hitter.
“The last time I did it was probably about 12,” she said. “It had been a while. I think as the years have gone on I’ve figured it out. I’ve become a little more comfortable. I think it is more of a mindset. You’re the first one to go up there in a game. It’s my job to set the tone for the offense the entire game.”
With just seven games remaining in the regular season, Gonzalez finds herself thinking ahead a bit, thinking about what she’ll feel when she takes off the Saluki uniform for the last time.
“Honestly, I don’t know how it’s going to feel yet,” she said. “I don’t know how it’s going to be until that moment is there. It’s definitely going to be sad walking away from this program. I’ve had some good memories there. Those will be with me forever.
“I hope that I leave here as a respected player. I hope my teammates and coaches respect me as a player and as a person. Hopefully, they’ll see me as a good leader, just that I went out there and worked hard every day and competed every single day. That’s the one thing I’ll try to leave with the younger kids.”