(UM-Dearborn Athletics)

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Wolverine slugger brought lessons learned after transfer from Kellogg Community College

By JACK VANASSCHE, Sports Editor

Kassidy Butler is used to the spotlight.

It was only two years ago this spring that Butler found herself above the fold across Michigan prep sports pages in her senior year at Parchment High School (Parchment, Mich.).

Her coaches and teammates knew that she was a force in the batter’s box, but an injury to her ankle during her junior campaign led to a disappointing third year.

“I was out for three weeks,” Butler said, “so my senior year I wanted to come back and show my teammates and my community and my dad what I could do.”

In her fourth year on the varsity softball team, the slugging catcher put up one of the most impressive seasons at the plate in the history of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

“I really changed my mindset,” Butler said. “I felt like I had a lot more confidence. I wanted to be a good role model for everyone on the team, so that helped a lot.”

In a game against South Haven in May 2015, Butler sent a 1-1 pitch over the centerfield fence for her 19th home run of the season, which was good for a new Michigan state record.

The record for homers in a single season was previously set by Melinda Van Gillis in 1979, and stood intact despite being tied in 2014.

Butler, after breaking the 36-year-old record, was all smiles.

She had just wrapped up the defining seaso of her high school career with 20 total home runs on the year, and had her future planned out well in advance.

After finishing her senior year, she would head to Kellogg Community College where she planned to stay for her two years of eligibility while obtaining an associate’s degree. Butler said her relationship with Bruins coach Darrick Brown played a major role in her decision.

“I really wanted to play for him,” Butler said. “I knew they would get me somewhere good to play in two years.”

A highly touted prospect, she looked beyond the bigger schools’ offers and stuck with her plan to attend Kellogg Community College in the fall.

But before Butler ever suited up as a Bruin during spring play, Brown left to take a job at Olivet College, an NCAA Division III team.

“He was my coach for just a month of fall ball,” Butler said.

The biggest reason for Butler to play at Kellogg vanished before a single spring inning had been played.

She pushed through her freshman year with the Bruins to have a big year, hitting .469 with 18 home runs and 71 RBI.

With her plans now scrambled, Butler decided to leave Kellogg after only one season. Her options were vast as scholarship offers from various schools flooded in for the second time in two years.

UM-Dearborn was one of those schools.

“I figured that I’ll visit and see how it is,” Butler said. “I really liked my teammates and I really liked Coach Scott (Combs).”

In search of a Michigan degree and a spot in the middle of a stacked lineup, Butler signed on with Combs and the Wolverines.

But for the second time in two years, a shake up at the top of her team came without warning.

Combs and all of his assistant coaches left the team in late fall, leaving Butler without a spring game under the system she committed to playing under.

“I think it was more of a bomb drop, personally. It was upsetting,” she said. “I loved Coach Scott. It sucks to see a great coach like him leave.”

This wasn’t new to Butler. What drove her away from her school just a year before brought her closer to her new team in Dearborn.

“The teammates that were really upset about it came up to me like, ‘I know you’ve been through this before.’”

It was then that Butler was able to assert herself as a leader, providing solace and comfort to her concerned teammates.

“We all came together. We had to– we were the only ones left,” she said.

Her previous experiences made her a valuable asset to her new team as they coped with the departure of their coaching staff, and Butler’s investment in the team was noted throughout the clubhouse.

“After that happened in my freshman year, I handled it a lot better,” Butler said. “I kind of helped my teammates through it since I know how it feels, and it does suck.

“You have to get through it; there’s nothing you can do.”

With the hiring of new head coach Vince Alessandrini, Butler had to prove her worth as a three-spot hitter to yet another coach.

“Everything changed at that point,” she said. “You keep your mindset and mentality. I just went out there and worked hard and showed them what I got.”

This season, Butler has showed the entire conference what she is capable of.

She leads the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference in batting average at .516 and homers with seven. She boasts a conference-best .938 slugging percentage and is atop the conference with 2.45 total bases per game.

Her 29 runs batted in and .531 on-base percentage lead the Wolverines.

Her homers per game ratio is good for sixth in the entire NAIA with 0.35 and her RBI per game is ninth at 1.35.

Tuesday, Butler became the first softball player from UM-Dearborn ever named NAIA National Player of the Week. No other student athlete from the university has been recognized with the national honor since 2013.

The award comes after a weekend in which Butler went 10-for-12 with three home runs, eight RBI and seven runs scored over a four-game tear.

“I don’t really let that define who I am,” Butler said of her accomplishments at the plate. “I know it’s a great thing that I did that, but I just have to keep looking forward.”