May 4, 2011
Hessel leads softball team into tournament play
By David Boyce
No finals, no tests and no homework will lurk in the back of Kristen Hessel's mind when she steps on the field against Missouri Southern 6 p.m. Thursday evening.
The only thing Hessel will concern herself with is helping Northwest Missouri State advance in the three-day MIAA Softball Championship at Blue Valley Sports Complex in Overland Park, Kan.
"It's great," Hessel said of no more homework. "I wish it was like that all the time, no?"
Of course, Hessel is joking.
Hessel arrived at Northwest four years ago as a serious student-athlete. She earned the Kansas City Star scholar-athlete award her senior year at Kearney. She left as the school's all-time leader in batting average at .441, RBIs with 91 and doubles with 23.
She has succeeded in the classroom and the playing field at Northwest. Last Saturday Hessel graduated from Northwest with degrees in both math and economics.
In fact, last Saturday was a day Hessel will always remember. She graduated at 10 a.m. and later that afternoon played in a doubleheader against Emporia State.
"It was a little tough," Hessel said. "We had to hurry from graduation to our game. It was a really exciting day for me personally, getting my degree and then I got to do what I love to do and that's to play softball. Overall, it was just an exciting day for me."
The Bearcats lost both games to Emporia State. A day earlier, the Bearcats dropped both games to Missouri Western.
It wasn't quite the momentum the Bearcats were hoping to build going into the conference tournament.
"We were a little disappointed," Hessel said. "Mo West and Emporia are real good teams. We knew we had to play well. I thought we were really close on a couple of games and we could have won. Overall, we were kind of disappointed but knew we had to bounce back."
And the Bearcats did exactly that on Monday, taking both games of a doubleheader at Lincoln, winning 3-0 and 5-2.
"It was real important. It gives us more confidence going into the tournament," Hessel said.
Northwest, 25-17 and 14-8 in the MIAA, is the five seed. Missouri Southern, the No. 4 seed, is 31-20 and 14-8. If the Bearcats win their first game, they probably will face top-seeded Missouri Western.
"We have the talent," Hessel said. "We just have to believe in ourselves and know we have capability to beat anyone in the tournament. We just have to go to the plate, be aggressive and play how we know we can play."
For Hessel and seniors Kit Daugherty and Dacey Hassey, the double-elimination tournament represents their last chance to help the Bearcats advance to the regional tournament.
The Bearcats were a young team this season with only three seniors. But the veterans showed the way.
"All three of us tried to be leaders who set the example for the underclassmen," Hessel said. "It is hard for young players who come in and don't have college experience. All three of us tried to be leaders on the field."
It was easy for the underclassmen to follow them. Daugherty led the team with a .380 average and she socked six home runs. Hessel also had a home-run swing going, clubbing six while knocking in 30 runs, which tied her for team-high honors with sophomore Hailee Hendricks.
Hassey, a returning All-American from a season ago, is batting .273 and is second on the team in doubles with 11.
"It has been a lot of fun," Hessel said. "I came into the season telling the team I just wanted to enjoy the season since it was my last. I love my teammates, and we've done really well.
"I hope we continue our journey and play really well in the conference tournament. You go in thinking every game can be your last game. You have to come out strong every single game and every single person has to go all out."
All in all, last week and this week will leave plenty of memories for Hessel as she moves to the next chapter in her life.
"Getting my degree was a big step for me and getting it from Northwest meant a lot," she said. "It has been a great four years at Northwest. All the teachers have been really nice and accommodating to softball players. All four years have been enjoyable for me."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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