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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Brittany Fowler: The Journey to MVP

At the 2013 Sun Belt softball awards banquet, Brittany Fowler never expected to hear her name from the stage. When she was announced as the conference's MVP of the regular season, she was shocked. "I just stood there for a few seconds, because I wasn't expecting to win it; there are so many great athletes in the Sun Belt," she says. "Walking up to accept the award, I was shaking 'cause I was still in shock!"


Young Brittany
The road leading up to the much-deserved MVP award was anything but easy; battling through illness and injuries (her own and others') and coaches doubting her talent.

Fowler's journey began in a dance class, actually. Participating by request of her mother, she danced her way through a year, all the time begging for the chance to play ball. When mom finally gave in, Fowler picked up a bat and never looked back.

Starting out in tee-ball, a call from a local coach got her to the softball field. "He asked if I had ever thought of or played softball. Of course, I hadn't, but I was like 'It involves a ball and bat? I want to play!'"

Softball became more then just a game - the field became a place where you could leave the worries of life outside the fence; her teammates, a family nearly as tight-knit as her own.

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She was in the 3rd grade when the diagnosis came. Her mom, her biggest fan, had MS. An even scarier diagnosis before the technological advancements that have been made in recent years, it was a scary time not just for young Brittany, but for her whole family.

After the events of September 11, 2001, Perry Fowler, Brittany's dad, was elevated to active duty status and deployed. As he fought for his country, it left her mom as the primary caretaker during those times. "She was at all my tournaments, games, practices, and will always be my biggest fan," Brittany says. "I always saw how she would push through the MS at it's worst to provide for my brother and me so we were happy with dad being gone."

Her mom's fight and drive impacted Brittany, and that translated to the same fight and drive on the softball field. "It made me a better softball player because I would see her fighting through it and it gave me strength because I could see the joy she got from watching me."

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When college time came nearer, the recruiting process was in full-swing. Minnesota, South Alabama, Florida State, and Jacksonville - her hometown school - all expressed interest.

One school that was not interested was Florida International. FIU's head coach then was Beth Torina, now at the helm of LSU. "Too raw" was Torina's comment on Fowler as she watched her during her senior year of high school.

A year later, as Fowler started every game as a freshman for South Alabama and led the team in six statistical categories (including batting average, hits, and on-base percentage), Torina, known for an eye for top talent, had to eat some crow: "In the  spring, she intentionally walked me," Fowler recounts with a laugh.

It's a story she enjoys joking about and telling, but it made Brittany all the more thankful that Kolaitis did see her potential and brought her into the Jags program.

Her freshman season was no fluke; Fowler led her team in no fewer than five statistical categories in every season she suited up for the Jags. Three times the team batting champ, she finished her career with a .347 batting average and twenty-five home runs.

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Brittany & her parents on USA's
Senior Day 2013
With her MVP award atop her mantle, Fowler got back to business. The Jags won four straight in the conference tournament, including an upset of #1 seed Western Kentucky, to take home their second-straight Sun Belt title.

Fowler was right in the middle of the action, batting 1.000 in the game from the leadoff position and driving home one of the two runs the Jags scored that day.

It earned the Jags the right to host a regional in Mobile; unfortunately, two one-run losses to Florida State ended the season prematurely and Fowler's career, as one of the finest players in USA history, was done.

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Since her career ended, Fowler hasn't slowed down much at all. A shoulder injury that led to surgery her senior year ended her dream of a military career, so "nurse practitioner" is the career goal she's aiming for now.

She's in a fast-track degree program at USA; it packs a lot into a fairly short period of time, but she'll graduate in May after just a single year in the program.

Now "coach Fowler", as she leads a travel ball team, she's passing on her knowledge of the game to the next generation. And if any of those players end up calling Jaguar Field home, they'll be able to say they were coached by one of the program's all-time greats.

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