Editor's note: The FCN sports staff introduces a new feature, the Nalley Roofing Player of the Year Rewind series, catching up with former county players of the year to see where they are now.
Kassie Howard does not think she is a much different softball pitcher now, in her second season at Berry College, then she was at Lambert High School.
Howard’s high school career portended auspicious things for college. As a senior, she went 23-4 with a 1.31 ERA, striking out a school-record 186 batters in just 138 2/3 innings to win Forsyth County Player of the Year and help Lambert win a region title and reach the second round of the state playoffs.
Howard’s dominance has simply continued at Berry. She was named the Southern Athletic Association Player of the Year as a freshman and has been even better this season, going 26-2 with a 1.10 ERA in 165 innings while striking out 215 to win SAA player of the year again.
Even more, Howard is one of 25 players considered for the NFCA/Schutt Sports Division III National Player of the Year award.
“It feels really good to know that all my hard work over the years has paid off, and that I’m being recognized on a national level for what I’ve done,” Howard said.
Howard could certainly make her case with a strong showing in the upcoming NCAA Division III regionals. The Lady Vikings are 36-6 after winning their second straight SAA tournament championship, ranked No. 4 in the nation and in contention to host a regional for the first time in program history.
“We’re at a good playing level going into [regionals],” Howard said.
Howard felt she could play like this in college from the start, and she credited her years at Lambert and on competitive travel teams for the confidence. Playing in Class AAAAAA, she grew comfortable facing elite competition. She had to stare down Division I-caliber batters regularly and go frame-for-frame with the best pitchers in the state.
“It helped to know that I could pitch against anybody,” Howard said.
There’s been no sudden transformative adjustment that’s turned Howard into one of the best in Division III. She still throws the same three or four pitches she used at Lambert. She can use a fifth if she needs to.
From year to year, season to season, Howard has just continued to throw, letting each repetition refine her throwing motion into something that releases pitches opposing batters more and more struggle to hit.
“I just think all my pitches have been working really well this year,” Howard said. “My defense has been there to back me up.
“The pitches I had back [at Lambert] are working even better now. They’re more accurate and moving more consistently than they did at Lambert.”
Howard will now get a second chance to see how well they work in the NCAA Division III tournament. Last season, Howard and the Lady Vikings came up one win short of advancing to Super Regionals, falling to host Emory.
This time, Howard feels she, and the team, are more prepared.
“We’re hoping to win Regionals so we can go to Super Regionals,” Howard said, “but we’re just going to take it one game at a time.”