A Campbell River softball player is taking her game south of the border.
Saje Kurpiela is attending a Division 1 university in Maryland to further both her game as a pitcher and her education.
While classes began earlier this month, the fall collegiate sports season has been cancelled. No team-sanctioned practices are taking place but Kurpiela said her team is finding other ways to keep their skills sharp.
It’s been a while since the Campbell Riverite has played ball. The spring season at her junior college (JUCO) in Missouri was cancelled as well.
She’s disappointed with how the season ended. Her former squad was poised to make nationals, she said, plus she had made some pretty good friends in her two years there.
“Leaving them so early was kind of sad,” she says.
With coronavirus concerns amplifying, she packed up all her belongings and set off on the 40-hour drive home to the Island. She finished her early childhood development courses online (Kurpiela will be studying child development at her new school).
She kept her fitness up while at home by going for runs at the Southgate track, where she knows four laps equal one mile, taking her dog Chase for walks along the Sea Walk, swimming at McIvor Lake, lifting weights in a home gym and pitching with her dad.
You could say softball is in her blood. Both Kurpiela’s parents played the sport and even met on the softball diamond. Her sister has played as well. But it wasn’t love at first sight for Kurpiela.
“I never wanted to play softball,” she says. “I told my mom I hated it.”
But that changed while she watched her sister’s games alongside her dad.
“I taught myself how to pitch and just started loving it from there,” she says.
Instead of sitting in the stands, the pair would practise outside the field during her sister’s games and eventually, she became a pick-up player for the team.
Growing up, Kurpiela was a multi-sport athlete, not solely committing to any one of her myriad sports. In high school, she played indoor and beach volleyball, soccer, baseball and participated in track and field. Outside of school, she was involved with soccer, volleyball, softball and even wrestled for a bit.
“You want to be a multi-sport athlete to help your body strength get better,” she says. “I always found time for school and sports.”
With multiple offers for school, it wasn’t an easy decision for Kurpiela to attend the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. But the team’s schedule – with morning practices followed by school and open evenings – won her over as well as having her first female softball coach.
Karla Powell, the Eastern Shore Hawks softball head coach, says Kurpiela is a valuable addition to the team.
“We are very excited to be adding Saje to our program,” she says in an emailed statement. “She has a strong arm with great movement to her pitches. She will bring a depth to our pitching staff.”
And with nearly 10 new recruits on the squad, her experience with her Division 1 JUCO team will come in handy.
Kurpiela is ready to resume playing ball.
“I’m ready to get back playing,” she says. “I’m tired of this break.”
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.