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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Courtney Albritton Steps Into Justin's World

While I rarely cover any level of the game other than professional & Division 1, there are a handful of players at lower levels (D2, D3, NAIA, etc) whose resumes and achievements make them worthy of coverage. Courtney Albritton is one of those players.

The Valdosta State Blazers' all-time home run queen, Albritton came into the 2015 season needing just seventeen home runs to set the new all-time Division 2 mark. Chasing a similar record to Lauren Chamberlain, with far less notoriety, Albritton hit twelve bombs before a hit-by-pitch left her with a broken forearm and on the bench for weeks. Out of commission through the prime of conference play and coming back only right at the tail-end of the season, she didn't hit another home run and ended her career in second place all-time.

Whether her name sits at the top in the record books or not, Albritton enjoyed an excellent and extremely successful career. The owner of a .439 career batting average, she led her team in that category all four years of career, including the injury-shortened 2015 campaign. To go along with her seventy-five home runs, she was a threat all across the diamond, not just with the longball.

Her 75 roundtrippers are good enough for a top-ten ranking on the all-time list, regardless of division.

Albritton committed fifteen errors in the field over her four seasons. As a center fielder, that number is impressive in its own right. Even more so, however, when you consider that fourteen of those errors came in 2013, her sophomore season, and only one over the rest of the entirety of her tenure.

Courtney joined me for an extended-length interview following her season's end, where she produced her thoughts on playing at Valdosta; keeping her mindset solid in the midst of a record chase; her injury that kept her from breaking the record; and so much more.

Justin’s World: How did you get started playing softball?
Courtney Albritton: To be honest, I do not even remember starting to play softball.  I think I was born playing.  My parents signed me up to play rec t-ball when I was 3 years old.  So I guess that was the beginning of what would become a major part of my life and who I am today.

Justin’s World: Talk to me about playing in the D2 championship series… as the biggest event at that level of the sport, tell me about the atmosphere; the competition level; etc.
Courtney Albritton: Coming in freshman year, we had somewhere close to 10 seniors who could all play well, so talk about intimidating.  Knowing I wanted a spot, I told coach I could play center (knowing the center fielder just graduated) even though I had played outfield maybe 3 times my whole life.  All I knew is that I loved shagging fly balls, but I caught on fast and landed myself a starting position in center field surrounded by a defense of all juniors and seniors.  It was our year.  Going to nationals was very intimidating for a small town freshman.  Going through the airport 2 by 2 with matching outfits on was a great start to an awesome week.  It was a festival year so we were basically treated like royalty.  We had our own bus driver, the nicest motel I have ever been in, breakfast fit for a king, and a huge game room for the down time.  During practice and warm up time, we were on a strict time schedule that made it even more intense.  Interviews followed every game in the press conference room and kids everywhere wanting autographs. 

Justin’s World: What led you to Valdosta and made you decide that was the place you wanted to get your education and spend your playing career?
Courtney Albritton: Family is very important to me and I love spending time with them.  Going far away was never in my agenda.  I wanted to go somewhere that was fairly close to home and somewhere I had a chance to play my freshmen year.  I went on visits, talked to coaches, and got mail from bigger schools but none of them felt like they would be home.  Having had hitting lessons from Coach Macera my junior and senior years of high school, coach changed my swing completely (for the better of course).  I knew I had the mechanics he was asking for and was improving weekly.  It felt like he took forever to offer, but when he did and #11 was available, I knew it was the place for me.

Justin’s World: Talk to me about how you keep your mindset fresh and new each game when you’re in the midst of a big-time record chase.
Courtney Albritton: The records were never really at the front of my mind.  I am not one to really overthink much.  The records I was approaching and broke my junior year were never on my mind because being so close as a junior, I knew if not this year, I would get them the next.  However, senior year, coach told me at the beginning of the year to concentrate on enjoying every moment.  He said don’t get caught up in the success but to just enjoy the last year, and that’s what I was doing.  I wasn’t thinking about what would happen but just playing the game that I love surrounded by 20 of my best friends.  I was looser and more confident in the box than ever. 

Justin’s World: Tell me about your injury this year.  The injury, recovery, and missing a good chunk of your senior season surely made for a difficult road.
Courtney Albritton: Well, I have always been a sucker for the rise ball and inside made it even better.  I turned to swing and decided this one was a little too far inside.  Not having been hit much throughout my career, I never really developed reflexes to turn backwards.  Instead, I leaned back, and exposed my arm.  I thought it was a bruise like any other until I got to first and heard a pop.  I had never broken a bone but I knew right then that it was broken.  On the way to the emergency room, all I could think was that I would never play the game I love again. That was my immediate response.  After awful x-rays and getting a splint, I returned to the field where coach assured me I would be hitting in 4 weeks, which gave me a little hope, but I quickly realized this would not be the case when the doctor told me I would be completely out 8-10 weeks, which put me back the weekend of the conference tournament.  I began chugging milk, icing through my cast, and using a bone stimulator as often as possible.  Upon returning, there were many awful days.  The worst feeling was the doctor telling me I can do as much as pain allows.  To me, that meant suck it up and play.  This was frustrating because I physically could not do it.  Many times I hit and hit trying to get back until I had tears in my eyes and the trainer made me stop.  Once I returned hitting, my next goal was to play center field again, which the doctor told me I would not throw again, and he was right until the day before the last weekend we played.   I had tried to throw every day and couldn’t stand the pain at all.  However, we had an hour of practice before the region tournament and I figured I would try one more time.  I threw and nothing hurt.  I did it again and again, stepped back, and nothing hurt.  I was amazed and am assured it was a true miracle.  God knew it would be our last weekend and allowed me to have one more opportunity in center field.  For this I am extremely thankful.

I still do not know why it happened that I broke my arm just games after the cut off to be medically redshirted.  I will never know.  However, I did learn patience, perseverance, how to trust God even more, and developed relationships with people that I would not have otherwise. My teammates and friends were awesome.   For at least the first two weeks, a day did not go by that a teammate or friend did not reach out to me, whether it was bringing my favorite ice cream, surprising me with flowers, sending me a random text of support, washing my hair for me when I had my cast, or helping me fold laundry.  The support was unimaginable. 

Justin’s World: Thanks to that same injury, you fell just short of the all-time home run record. To come so close and not reaching it because of something outside of your control had to have been difficult. How did you overcome that and not let it affect you when you did return to the field?
Courtney Albritton: During my recovery, I had no doubt that I would make an awesome come back and break the record.  However, God had other plans.   In practice, I did finally hit a homerun and we all celebrated, a lot.  Having such supportive family, coaches, and teammates did make the process so much easier.  They believed in me 100% of the time and were rooting for me to come back and get stronger each and every day.  While being injured, I came to the conclusion that if I did not reach the record, it was not the end of the world.  I realized it is not the records people will most remember you by, but your character you had during the run.  After returning, I was too thankful for the opportunity to be back on the field to worry about records to break.  I was embracing every step on the field and enjoying it to the fullest.

Justin’s World: Four-time all-American… that’s just not a description you hear very often. Tell me what it means to you to know that your name will be remembered as one of the greatest in Division 2 history, and even the history of the game period.
Courtney Albritton: It is a great feeling to be called a four-time all American.  When I heard I was chosen, I asked our SID who I needed to thank for still choosing me. I was not expecting it at all.  I would not consider myself one of the greatest, but one who loved the sport, loved to play, and was truly blessed by God with the amount of talent and support that I have.

Justin’s World: When your playing days are done, what kind of impact and legacy do you hope you’ve left on the game for future generations?
Courtney Albritton: I hope people remember me for the way I played the game, not necessarily how well I played the game.  When I was first being recruited, I know for a fact that I was passed over by a major D1 coach because of my size and it wasn’t until the assistant coach of that team saw me that he stopped and watched.  I want people to realize that you don’t have to be big to be successful in softball.  I want younger girls to know the same.  I want people to realize that success in important and usually more enjoyable but there is much more to the game than success.  From this game, I have learned to be a leader.  I have realized no matter how long my body tells me it’s enough, I can give more.  I have learned what it is to be a teammate and what it means to truly encourage others.  I have learned how to find success in a game built on failure.

Most importantly, I want people to realize and remember the One who has given me the ability to play the game of softball.  My talent came from God.  He blessed me by giving me the ability. He gives us all certain abilities, but what is the ability if we do not put it to use? Whether it be a sport, school, or a career, God has placed us and given us the ability.  We must not waste this ability but work hard at it, to get the most of all we were given & pointing our success to Him.

Justin’s World: Was or is playing softball past college something that you would like to pursue?
Courtney Albritton: Playing softball professionally was something that I did consider.  However, having an almost season-ending injury isn’t the best way to secure a spot.  When given the opportunity, I told God if I need to go, let it be evident and if I do not need to go, do the same.  I think breaking my arm let me know that I needed to go for a different path. 

Justin’s World: What are your plans for the future, both involved with softball and otherwise?
Courtney Albritton: I will be around VSU for another year as a Graduate Assistant for Coach Macera.  I will complete my masters in Middle Grades Education: Math and Science in May.  In June, I will be marrying my best friend and high school sweetheart.  So for now, I am helping coach, taking classes, and planning a wedding.  I am very excited for what is to come.

Justin’s World: And, to close, my favorite question. Say you were stranded on a deserted island for an undetermined period of time, but could take three things with you. Anything tangible goes, except boats and phones. What would you take?

Courtney Albritton: My family (it counts as one), the Bible, and a Frisbee!

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