From Playing To Coaching

From Playing To Coaching


From Playing To Coaching
From Playing To Coaching

SECOND FROM TOP, Krista McDaniel celebrates with a teammate after making the last out to prevent a grand slam and seal the win for the Rockbridge Crush, her travel ball team. (photo courtesy of Paul McKemy) ABOVE, McDaniel gets set to catch a ball for an out in left field for the Wildcats. (Adele Addington photo)

Following Injury, McDaniel Finds Meaning In Mentoring Others

After a heartbreaking conclusion to her playing career, Krista McDaniel did not give up on the sport of softball.

McDaniel, a 2017 Rockbridge County High School graduate and a rising senior at Division II school Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia, suffered a severe back injury before her freshman year of college. She was playing in a game for her travel softball team, the Rockbridge Crush, and she went over the wall for a ball in center field. The fall caused a fracture in her right vertebrae.

The injury required her to redshirt her freshman season at Davis & Elkins, spending the entire season in a turtle shell back brace. In an essay she wrote last month for Davis & Elkins, McDaniel said, “Determined to get back on the field, I did physical therapy nearly every day and consistently spent time in the training room. I was heartbroken that something I worked so hard at came to an end so soon.”

After months of hard work, she was cleared to play her sophomore season, but her injury resurfaced just a week into workouts. “My frustration mounted because it seemed like all the hard work, physical therapy and time in the training room were for nothing,” she said. “I reluctantly began the rehabilitation process again, spending every day in the training room, but nothing seemed to work.”

McDaniel then met with her orthopedic surgeon, who told her it “was reasonable for me and my future to stop playing because it could (and was) causing more damage than initially expected.”

“Watching everyone on the field getting to practice was something that was very hard,” McDaniel said. “It took a lot, mentally, to pull through. Many nights of tears, frustration and just not knowing.”

Transition To Coaching

During her sophomore year, McDaniel talked with Davis & Elkins then-head coach Jordan Olson, who had recruited her, about different possibilities to keep McDaniel as part of the softball program. McDaniel said she was “heartbroken” that she couldn’t play anymore, but she and Olson agreed that she could transition to a role as a student assistant coach. Having coached since her sophomore season, she’s entering her third year of helping coach the Senators.

In a phone interview last Thursday, McDaniel said Olson “was there for me and helped me transition into that [coaching] position so I would be helping her do things and helping the team.”

In her essay, McDaniel wrote, “I am confident that staying a part of D&E softball is what was best for me. This group and coaching staff have done so much for me, showing me many different things, teaching me many life lessons and showing so much appreciation. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without Coach Olson and my teammates, who have also shown that just because I can’t play, it doesn’t mean that I’m less important. I don’t know how I would have gotten through being told I couldn’t play again without them. Many things have come from this team, one of my best friends, fun trips, memories that will last me a lifetime, people that I know I can count on, and another family.”

“I’m blessed that I was allowed to stay apart of the program,” McDaniel added. “D&E softball is something I will cherish forever.”

Olson, who left Davis & Elkins this summer to take the head coaching job at Doane University in Nebraska, where she had previously been an assistant coach, had great words of praise for McDaniel. “Krista is the glue to the entire D&E softball program,” Olson told Davis & Elkins. “The players respect her, treat her like family and their teammate. She has one of the biggest hearts you will ever come across in another human.”

Davis & Elkins is searching for a new head coach, but the school returns assistant coach Kelsey Bernhardt, whom McDaniel said she has learned a lot from. Also serving as a student assistant coach is Abby Fincham.

Bernhardt, who has been the Senators’ assistant softball and women’s basketball coach since summer, “was very influential to me,” McDaniel said. When first working with Bernhardt, McDaniel mostly watched. “She took me under her wing and showed me how things needed to go and how to push the girls,” McDaniel said.

Since she was a left fielder throughout high school and sometimes played center field, McDaniel has spent a lot of her coaching time with outfielders, but she’s also coached first base.

This year, Davis & Elkins had a record of 9-5 before the season was stopped in early March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Senators went 20-30 in 2019, McDaniel’s first year of coaching.

As a student, McDaniel has done exceptionally well, finishing her junior year with a grade point average of 3.6. She’s earning her bachelor’s degree in child and family studies and an associate’s degree in elementary education. McDaniel is on pace to graduate from both programs next May, and she wants to be either an elementary school teacher or a social worker.

In addition, McDaniel could see herself continuing to coach softball after college. “I think me doing the things that I’m doing now has made me want to be that influential person for the girls,” she said. “Having these girls look up to me will help me in the future.”

While balancing her busy schedule of classes and softball, McDaniel also enjoys spending time with her boyfriend, Zach Higgins, a 2017 Parry McCluer High School graduate who is a rising senior baseball player for Davis & Elkins. McDaniel attends Higgins’s games when she can. This summer, McDaniel worked at a summer camp in Lexington until it was closed due to the coronavirus, and she was babysitting until returning to Davis & Elkins last weekend.

McDaniel is excited about her final season of coaching softball at Davis & Elkins. She said the team has a talented class of freshmen coming in, and she looks forward to helping them adjust to the college level.

Playing Softball For Rockbridge

McDaniel looks back fondly on her years playing softball for Rockbridge County teams. She began playing travel softball for the Rockbridge Crush when she was in eighth grade, under head coach Paul McKemy.

McKemy was “a very good coach,” McDaniel said. “He really took me under his wing.

He showed me everything that I know. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it this far.”

One of McKemy’s best travel softball memories of McDaniel was when she made a catch in left center field to prevent a grand slam and end a game, sealing the win. The Crush was up by three runs against a team it had never beaten. McKemy’s daughter, 2017 RCHS graduate Madison McKemy, was pitching well, but the other team was starting to have success.

“Krista made another game-saving catch,” Paul McKemy said. “She made Madison the winning pitcher and me look like I knew what I was doing.”

Adding praise for McDaniel, McKemy said, “Krista always gave me 100 percent, no matter what. She worked hard and has a contiguous smile. She was a player that became family to me as many have. To this day, I tell her I love her. Her reply is, ‘I love you more!’”

McDaniel continued with travel softball throughout high school, and she joined the RCHS junior varsity team as a freshman. Coached by Karen Clemmer, McDaniel started in center field in her first game.

McDaniel said she learned a lot from Clemmer and then from RC’s head varsity softball coach Keith Ruley when McDaniel moved up to the varsity level as a junior. She said Ruley “did push the girls in a good way. He made me want to do better. He was always talking to me when I was up to bat. He gave me a little bit of a confidence boost when I was struggling. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so Keith Ruley pushed me and helped me and gave me things to work on.”

One of the highlights of her career was winning the Conference 31 title as a junior in 2016. On their way to the title, the Wildcats upset Northside, and they beat Staunton River 7-2, with McDaniel making the catch in left field for the final out. “It was the most nerve-wracking thing, but I was confident because I had my teammate and I had Keith and Paul, who were going to lift me up.”

As a senior, McDaniel helped the Wildcats repeat as conference champions, upsetting Lord Botetourt 12-7 in the finals.

Commending McDaniel, Ruley said, “Krista was a very big cog in helping us to win back-to-back Conference 31 championships.”

“She had a great athletic frame with power and could run,” Ruley added. “She was nagged with small injuries on and off, but she was a great teammate and never complained when things didn’t go her way.”

Ruley said it was a shame that the back injury ended McDaniel’s playing career before she could reach her full potential, but he wasn’t surprised she became an assistant coach. “With Krista’s upbeat personality, I can see why they want her in their program in any facet,” Ruley said.

In addition to her coaches, teammates and friends, McDaniel is grateful for the support of her family. Her mother, Marie Campbell Yeary, and her grandparents, Emmett and Cathey Campbell, have been in her corner throughout her journey. She’s also thankful for the support of her aunt, Hannah McDaniel, a 2014 RCHS graduate who played softball in high school and at Roanoke College.

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