Katherine Huey had certain expectations for college softball, some of which came from her experience following the sport when she was still at South Forsyth High School. Huey would look at the players earning the top honors in the game – the conference players of the week and national players of the week – and see juniors and seniors, and maybe a few sophomores.
So in Huey’s freshman season at Duke, it was a surprise when a certain name showed up on one of those lists: her own.
The Blue Devils’ inaugural season as a softball program is off to a strong start, and Huey’s brilliant play has been one reason why. As of March 8, she’s thrown 46 innings, allowing 38 hits and recording a 2.13 ERA. Huey has also been one of the team’s best hitters, batting .351 and leading the team with two home runs. And on Feb. 21, after Huey piled up seven hits and allowed three earned runs over 8 2/3 innings in the circle in four games the previous weekend, she was named espnW’s national player of the week.
“To come in and get those accolades is very exciting,” Huey said. “But I don't take them too seriously, because I don't want to get too in my head about that stuff.”
The spot Huey is currently at is a significant departure from where she seemed to be headed for much of her time at South. She committed to Purdue early in her sophomore year because of her strong connection with the Boilermakers’ coaches and the opportunity to get a full scholarship. And while Huey hit and pitched in high school and club softball, it was her play at pitcher that helped her twice earn All-County Pitcher of the Year, and that position was where Huey saw her future in college.
That path soon curved off, though. Purdue head coach Kim Schuette resigned in July 2016, and Huey started looking at other options, particularly those closer to home. She met Duke head coach Marissa Young at a clinic in the summer of 2016, and she committed October of that fall.
The fact that the Blue Devils were starting a program from scratch gave Huey some pause, but she liked Duke as a school and trusted Young’s coaching abilities enough to make the leap.
Huey still saw herself as mainly a pitcher after her career at South ended, but she didn’t completely give up hitting. She knew Duke would have a smaller roster – while teams typically have 20-plus players, the Blue Devils have just 17 – so her chances of getting in the lineup would be that much better.
Huey’s time in Durham didn’t start that way, though. Young said that Huey came to her and said that she wanted to be a pitcher only, that she couldn’t handle the pressure of doing both. And while Huey eventually backed off that desire, she was working through an injury during her first series with the Blue Devils, so while she threw the first pitch and got the first win in program history, her work was limited to the circle.
But Young saw enough good signs in the week following that she put Huey in the lineup to start the next series, and the freshman hasn’t left since. Her success at the plate has come with a new way of thinking, one where Huey tries not to think much at all.
“I'm just going to take my hacks,” Huey said. “…Whatever happens, happens, because I don't want it to affect my pitching.”
Huey hasn’t sustained the torrid pace she set during that first weekend at the plate, but that isn’t rattling her or Young yet. She is still a freshman, so there’s still much to learn about her as a player.
“Kat has tremendous power, and that's something you can't teach,” Young said. “It's just going to be a matter of if she's able to sustain the ability to hit pitchers once we know her strengths and weaknesses.”
For now, though, Huey’s career with the Blue Devils is going swimmingly. The team has a winning record, she loves the town and campus – “Everybody’s wearing a Duke shirt, where at other schools, everybody’s wearing normal street clothes,” she said – and she’s playing every day as a freshman.
It certainly doesn’t seem like the typical experience of a first-year player in a first-year program.
“We look like just about any other team out there,” Huey said. “And many accomplished coaches have said that about us. Like, they can't believe what we're doing as a first-year team.”