Talent is rarely enough in team sports.
In order to achieve success, including region and state championships, teams need determined, compassionate and hard-working leaders. This year’s Deseret News most valuable softball players led their teams to successful seasons by leading in word and deed.
Though they were among the most talented players on their respective teams, they proved to also be among the most committed. They elevated those around them — on and off the field — and they showed their teammates the kind of trust that inspires confidence in even the youngest and most inexperienced players.
Sydney White is only a sophomore, but her leadership is indicative of a much more mature player.
That was never more evident than when the pitcher led the team to the 5A title after the Pioneers suffered what could have been a season-altering disappointment.
After finishing the season in a three-way tie for first place, Lehi lost both coin tosses to enter the tournament as a No. 3 seed — traveling and playing a region champ.
But led by White, the Pioneers spent very little time lamenting their misfortune and a lot of time building each other up.
“The one thing Syd kind of offered to our team that was so beneficial was that she was so consistent, so confident, and she just didn’t seem to get flustered under pressure,” Thomas said. “She’s a great leader, especially for being so young. Even when we were down, and there were tough times in the season, we could count on her to stay confident. That was huge for our team.”
White led Lehi with a 14-4 record and 84 strikeouts. She finished with a .381 batting average, 21 RBIs and scored 37 runs. She’s an honor student and a volleyball player as well.
“Her greatest asset is just her will to win,” Thomas said. “She just has this desire; she goes out and gives it everything she has, every time. That pushes her over the top.”
Watching her senior pitcher throw five softball games in two days made Salem Hills coach Renae Kinghorn a little uneasy.
She worried that Kirtlyn Bohling’s fatigue would end in an injury. But on the final day of the 4A state tournament, Bohling not only kept reassuring her coaches that she was capable of leading her teammates in the circle, she got better as the day wore on.
“The day we won the final, she pitched just as well in the last inning as she did in the very first inning against Spanish (Fork),” Kinghorn said. “In fact, she looked better. She just gets stronger as she goes.”
Kinghorn approached Bohling on the bus as the team celebrated defending its 4A title, which it had to do from the one-loss bracket.
“I said, ‘How do you feel?'” Kinghorn said. “And she said, ‘I could have thrown another one.’ She was just on fire.”
Kinghorn knows Bohling well, and not just because she’s last year’s 4A MVP and the heart of the Salem Hills softball program. She’s also her tennis coach.
“She’s just a very tough competitor,” Kinghorn said. “She brought so much maturity back to the field that we needed. And she had a lot of growth. You can have incredible athletes, but if they don’t have a good leader, they can't be successful. She was a fantastic leader on and off the field.”
Bohling’s teammates trusted her completely, but she reciprocated that trust. It helped them weather storms they didn’t expect to face as they only lost two seniors from last year’s title-winning team.
“Last year we were underdogs,” Kinghorn said. “We lost 10 seniors and nobody expected us to do anything. This year, we were no longer an underdog, and we had to learn how to adjust to people playing their very best games of the year against us. There was this kind of unspoken pressure to be the best.”
They needed confidence; they needed calm.
They found both in Bohling. She led the team to a 26-7 record with an ERA of 0.97. She had 312 strikeouts and a batting average of .299. She pitched all but a single game in the season and a single inning of the state tournament en route to the 4A title.
“She’s just all-around top-notch,” Kinghorn said of the academic all-state winner. “It’s easy for people who have this God-given talent, which I believe she has, to rely on it and not really work as hard. That’s not her. Her work ethic is unmatched.”
Drew Smuin is like a lot of fierce competitors.
“She hates to lose, even a board game at home,” said her father and Uintah High softball coach Jamey Smuin.
But unlike some of those who embody the will to win, Drew Smuin understands there are more important things than a victory.
“If she struck out, she’d be the first one back in the dugout cheering for the next batter,” Jamey Smuin said. “That’s just her personality. She’s a leader.”
Drew Smuin is a leader who is talented, driven and compassionate. Her hard work and humility set a tone that Jamey Smuin hopes will persist as the program moves forward without the senior shortstop.
“She was the kid who after practice stayed after to take more ground balls, to hit one more bucket of balls,” he said. “And I hope the younger kids noticed and think, ‘Wow, she’s good for a reason, because she works harder than anybody.’ It’s definitely going to be a big hole for us to fill next year.
Drew led the Utes to a region title and a second-place finish in the 3A state tournament. She finished with a .490 batting average and an .800 slugging percentage. She also had 17 doubles, while anchoring the team’s defense. She worked just as hard off the field, graduating with a cumulative GPA of 3.85.
Maybe the best compliment came from the teams that had to face the senior, who will play volleyball at Colorado Northwestern next fall.
“She was the player on their team that we were careful with,” said Stansbury head coach Bridget Clinton. “She’s fast, hits with a lot of power and plays great defense. Some kids on teams, you just don’t like to face when they’re up to bat.”
Jamey Smuin said one of the best aspects of his daughter’s leadership was her ability to bring the team together.
“She was the girl they knew they could turn to if they needed a big play,” he said. “But she also did all of those team things, like dinners and singing songs on the bus. The freshman loved her, looked up to her because she was good to them.”
Kali Thomson felt she had something to prove this season.
But the statement the senior pitcher made in leading the Manti Templars to a 26-1 season and a 2A state title was directed at one person — herself.
“My goal at the beginning of the year was just to prove myself,” Thomson said during the 2A state tournament. “I really wanted to be the best I could. So I ended up working out more. I trained everyday. It was a lot of hard work by myself.”
Templar coach Susan Hatch said Thomson’s commitment to this season began as soon as the team was eliminated from the 2A state tournament last year. Thompson suffered a knee injury during the volleyball season of her junior year. Although she was cleared by doctors, soreness and weakness dogged her throughout the softball season.
“It really bothered her because she didn’t have the strength and stamina to go the way she wanted to,” Hatch said.
In addition to her hard work in the offseason, Hatch said Thomson had more confidence in herself and her teammates.
“I think she felt in her junior year like, ‘I was MVP my sophomore year, so I have to do this,'” Hatch said. “She realized she had a whole team to rely on, and I really felt like she did that. To see her come through was a relief and excitement that she found hard work does pay off.”
Thomson said she didn’t worry about being the fastest pitcher with the most strikeouts. She simply hit her spots as best she could and let her teammates do the rest. Her preparation allowed her to relax, even in pressure-packed situations. She became a player on which her teammates could rely — on and off the field.
Thompson will play softball at Snow College next year, where Hatch expects her to reach new heights.
“She’ll just take that hard work ethic and apply it in her college career and school,” Hatch said. “She knows she still has room for improvement, and with Kali, there is always the, ‘What can I do to get better?’ She’s so coachable and so willing to work.”