Junior Brooke Shell has set Grace College single-season records for hits, runs and stolen bases. Photo provided by Grace College
Junior Brooke Shell has set Grace College single-season records for hits, runs and stolen bases. Photo provided by Grace College
WINONA LAKE – Playing for an 18-under travel softball team, Olivia Winget and Brooke Shell were part of a national championship.
Now playing together at Grace College, the dynamic duo is trying to lead the Lady Lancers to a national title.
Grace is the fourth seed in the 10-team, double-elimination NCCAA World Series, which is being hosted by Bluefield College this week near Roanoke, Va.
The Lady Lancers begin play Thursday at 2:30 p.m. against fifth-seeded Trinity Christian (Ill.)
“We played together on an 18-under travel team and won the NSA national tournament in Chattanooga,” said Shell, a Blackford High School graduate and junior at Grace. “This has the same kind of feeling. We’re going to this tournament, and we want people to know who we are. We want to get our name out there. This is big for Grace College.”
Other teams – listed in order of seed – in the tournament include Shorter (Ga.), Oklahoma Christian, Azusa Pacific (Calif.), Union (Tenn.), Campbellsville (Ky.), Central Baptist (Ark.), Cedarville (Ohio) and Mississippi College.
“We’re a scrappy team,” said Winget, a Grace senior and Southwood High School grad. “We want to be known for effort and hustle.”
The Lady Lancers, who punched their ticket to the World Series by beating Cedarville 9-5 in a regional final, have won 27 games this season, their first 20-win season since 1997.
The 1997 campaign was also the last time Grace advanced to the NCCAA World Series.
“I’m excited to see our hard work pay off,” said fifth-year Grace coach Heather Johnson, a former Grace pitcher and NAIA All-American. “We want to go there and play really well and compete against the best.”
Johnson, a member of the Grace College Athletic Hall of Fame, talked about how far the program has come in her time at the helm.
“I got hired late,” said Johnson, who can’t hide her love for the program. “I walked in on a Saturday and we got started Monday. We’ve come so far. It’s just a whole new attitude and culture.”
Part of that new attitude is being able to recruit players like Winget and Shell.
Winget, the Lady Lancers’ cleanup hitter, holds Grace’s school records for both hits and home runs in a career, as well as home runs in a season this year with 13.
Shell, who started her college career at IPFW before transferring to Grace, is the Lady Lancers’ leadoff hitter. She has set single-season school records for most hits, runs and stolen bases.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know where Grace College was,” said Shell, Grace’s first NAIA All-American since Johnson earned the accolade in 1994. “I was Coach’s first recruit. I went to IPFW and transferred after a semester. Coming to Grace is one of the best things I’ve ever done.”