It might have been a quiet conversation, a pep talk. It could have been a compliment after a key play or a big hit. And it was always expressing pride and joy at the success of others that distinguished this year's Deseret News Most Valuable Players.
It wasn't just when the game was on the line that these four players led their teammates to success. It was every day at practice, in the gym, in the rain and even in the off-season. Their work ethics were second to none and their attitudes endlessly positive.Determining the value of one person among a team of talented contributors is difficult. But this year's softball MVPs distinguished themselves by leading their teammates in different ways and through various challenges.
5A: CYD ALLEN, Taylorsville, C, Sr.
After her performance in last year's state tournament, Cyd Allen became like Goliath to opposing pitchers. There wasn't a bigger accomplishment for a hurler than striking out or limiting this BYU-bound slugger to a single.
Allen led the Warriors to the 5A state title last season. Any player trying to defend a state championship feels pressure, but none more than a standout like Allen.
"She didn't rest on that at all," said Warriors head coach Rich Kaelin. "She worked her tail off, staying late and practicing whatever she needed. She led by example."
Kaelin said it was in the shadow of last year's accomplishments that Allen showed her true grit and fortitude.
"This year she really showed me her strength," he said. "She didn't care what she'd done last year or where she'd signed. She just wanted to work hard and try to get another championship."
Allen fell just short of that goal and, unfortunately, was sick on the day of the title game. Still, she was behind the plate and doing her best to help the Warriors have a successful season.
She finished the year with a .465 batting average, had 34 RBIs and smacked nine home runs. She had an outstanding .831 slugging percentage. Most importantly, she demonstrated that there is no situation that humor won't improve."She's a really funny kid," Kaelin said. "She kept things light, but then also very focused. ... She just went about her business and played ball. She was just amazing."
4A: LAUREN FOLTA, Tooele, P, Sr.
In the middle of the season, Tooele's three seniors approached their coaches about their efforts as players.
"They really wanted a state title and they were afraid they weren't doing enough," said Buffaloes head coach Barry Pitt. "They wanted to make sure they were ready."
Hard work is one thing Folta, a four-year starter, doesn't shy away from.
"She leads more by example," Pitt said. "She never makes excuses, and you'll never hear a negative word out of her. If we say we're going to run, she says, 'Good.'"
Folta's work ethic, attitude and ability to raise both the spirits and confidence of those around her allowed her to lead Tooele to its first 4A softball title."Everybody likes Lauren," he said. "She's always positive and she never has an ill-word to say about anyone. If anyone complains to her about themselves, she always turns it into something positive. She's just very uplifting and positive."
3A: KELSEY HODGE, Bear River, 3B, Sr.
Bear River softball coach Calvin Bingham knew he needed senior Kelsey Hodge on the field to be successful this season. So when she injured her knee during basketball season, he jokingly told her she was "going on the field, even if she needed a crutch to play."
Turns out this senior didn't need crutches, but she needed a lot of determination and fortitude to get through the season at third base with a knee that caused her constant pain.
"She just did an excellent job for us this season," Bingham said. "She's a lot of fun, but she's serious and intense when we need it to be that way. ... She is someone that everybody looked up to and respected."
Hodge is both an honor student and a gifted athlete who committed just four fielding errors this season while leading the Bears to the 3A title."These girls were as cohesive a group as I've ever had," Bingham said. "They got along really well, and I attribute that to the two captains, Shaunee (Christensen) and Kelsey."
2A: GENERRA NIELSON, San Juan, P, Sr.
In leading her team to the school's first softball title, this senior left-hander left nothing to chance. Always a defensive leader, this pitcher worked on improving her hitting so that when the Broncos needed some offense, they could count on her.
"She's just amazing," said San Juan head softball coach Craig Swenson. "She has a lot of confidence."
Swenson said that confidence is earned through hours and hours of practice.
"Her greatest attribute is that she doesn't get rattled," Swenson said. "The last time I saw her get rattled was a couple of years ago. It's just really hard to get under her skin. ... That comes with all of the work she's put into it. Her work ethic is outstanding."
Nielson led the Broncos defensively as she struck out 301 batters.
"I can't count the number of times we'd have runners in scoring position and she'd come up with two strikeouts to end the inning," Swenson said.And this season, she also led her team at the plate with a .442 batting average and seven doubles, two triples and nine home runs. She wound up with 27 RBIs and plans to continue her softball career at the College of Southern Idaho.
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