By John Krenger
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The 2009 graduating class from Kansas has accomplished numerous feats in all sports, including conference titles, Big 12 Championship titles, and even a National Championship. Through all the successes of the past four years, perhaps no Jayhawk student-athlete has been more consistent and dependable than KU softball’s Val Chapple.
Chapple, a 2008 ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America Second Team member, has started all but one game in her career, and has been the team’s third baseman the past three years. While she has been a starter for four years, her career is marked by steady improvement and is highlighted by a senior season that has her leading the team at the plate.
The senior leads the Jayhawks and ranks fourth among Big 12 seniors with a .354 batting average. Chapple leads the team with a .400 on-base percentage, is also tied for the team lead with 17 runs and is second with a .537 slugging percentage. She credits a change in her mental approach at the plate as the reason for her senior campaign successes.
“Each year you learn how to let go a little bit of something, as far as pressures and things that bug you,” said Chapple. “When you’re young you think too much and you can’t think in softball. Of course you have to be a smart player, but you can’t over-think or overanalyze.”
A home-grown product from nearby Olathe East High in Olathe, Kan., came to Lawrence as a solid defender and a smart hitter. As a freshman, she tallied a respectable .306 on-base percentage.
“As a freshman you come in and you don’t know any better,” said Chapple. “You’re playing against kids that are maybe three or four years older than you, and you just try and go hit the ball. You’re just swinging, not realizing how you’re doing it.”
While 2006, Chapple’s freshman season, seems like ancient history today, she remembers the season fondly because it was then that she realized she made the right decision to come to KU.
“We played in the Palm Springs Tournament my freshman year and we played UCLA,” said Chapple. “We ended up losing that game, but we never gave up and gave a great effort. It stunk that we lost, but that was the first time that I was walking around and was proud to have Kansas across my jersey.”
Chapple took a step back in her sophomore season with a .222 batting average. She believed that the sophomore year struggles are typical for most softball players that had successful freshman seasons.
“A lot of times they call it the ‘sophomore slump’ because you see the results from freshman year and your sophomore year you focus on obtaining what you did your freshman year,” said Chapple. “You start thinking about it and a lot of people hit their sophomore slump.”
Since overcoming her own sophomore year struggles, Chapple has become a team leader on and off the field for the Jayhawks. She and the other KU seniors are instilling the qualities they learned as underclassmen with a new young group of Jayhawk softball players.
“I want to bring in the freshmen a certain way and show them how to act and gain that mindset,” said Chapple. “I want to show them the ways that I’ve succeeded or failed and to learn from that.”
And while the Jayhawk softball team has had an uneven start to the 2009 season, Chapple still enjoys playing the game.
“I’m still having fun,” said Chapple. “Even though we’re not always winning, we just have to keep on trucking.”