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Shepard keeps the faith

Bear River grad fights through injuries to become a valuable leader at Sacramento State
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Correspondent
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Kelly Shepard’s softball teammates at Sacramento State call her “Smiley.” “She always has a smile on her face,” Hornets coach Kathy Strahan said. “She’s a happy young person who’s a joy to be around.” The Bear River High graduate didn’t always feel so joyful, however, when injuries wiped out all or part of her freshman and sophomore seasons. “Every athlete (who gets injured) has thoughts of, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t be here,’” Shepard said. “‘Why would God put me in this situation if I’m not even going to play?’” To get through it, Shepard turned to her friend and mentor Ashley Baker, then a leader with Sac State’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). “Being able to talk and pray with her about it really helped a lot,” Shepard said. Now a redshirt sophomore, Shepard is a starting outfielder for the Hornets. She is fourth on the team with a .275 batting average – a 70-point jump from her freshman campaign – and is playing injury-free. More important to Shepard than raising her batting average, however, is how she has grown in her faith at Sac State. Not only is she now a small-group Bible study leader for FCA, she has gotten four of her teammates to join the organization. “If I wasn’t here my first two years, maybe that wouldn’t have happened,” Shepard said. “Being involved in FCA helped me make a stand and make an impact on my team for who I’m supposed to be living for – God. It’s also brought me a lot closer to my teammates.” A pitcher during her days at Bear River, Shepard misses entering the circle sometimes. But she’s happy in the outfield. “The pitchers at Sac State are phenomenal,” Shepard said. “I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with them. But I love playing the outfield more than anything. If I had to choose a spot, I’d choose the outfield more than anything.” Shepard has played all three outfield positions — left, center and right — with minimal dropoff, having committed just two errors all season. “She’s adapted really well to wherever we’ve moved her,” Strahan said. “She’s also got one of the top arms in the country as far as throwing — she can throw on the line as well as most guys.” Shepard has also devoted a great deal of time to improving her hitting. She was hitting at a .300-plus clip for most of the season before cooling off a bit in recent games. “She spends a lot of extra time on the tees and in the cages working on things,” Strahan said. “Her bat angle’s improved, she’s reading pitchers and she’s starting to see the ball a lot better.” It doesn’t hurt that Shepard has some speed — in fact, Strahan has tried using her as a slap hitter from the left side of the plate. “She’s tall, has long legs and can really eat up real estate running down to first base,” the coach said. An early childhood education major, Shepard eventually hopes to have a career working with children in kindergarten or below. “I like working with little kids,” she said. For now, though, Shepard has two years of softball left — and she intends to use them to be a role model to her teammates while hopefully leading the Hornets to a Pacific Coast Softball Conference championship. “God is the biggest part of my life,” Shepard said. “He’s at the center of everything — everything I do revolves around God. Every time I take the field, I’m playing for him.”