DARIEN — While there is no verifiable proof, it is within the realm of safety to say that Kelly Vodola this past spring had one of the least heralded great seasons ever by an FCIAC softball player.
Outside of some league coaches and close followers, how many people even know which school she played for — answer: Darien — or that she likely led the conference in hits and possibly batting average by a regular player?
“The kid flew underneath the radar, but not with us,” said Blue Wave coach Nick DeMaio of his understated but overly productive second baseman.
Vodola finished with a .604 batting average on 49 hits as Darien advanced to the semifinals of both the league and state tournaments. Vodola scored 31 runs, had on-base and slugging percentages of .603 and .791, respectively, and drove in 17 runs.
It was quite a performance by a player who admittedly after her sophomore year dismissed the idea of playing in college because she didn’t think she was special.
“I didn’t consider myself one of the ones who was going to try to go to a Divison I school or anything like that,” Vodola said. “I started to do better and worked harder. Every year you kind of get better.”
There’s no question Vodola possesses the skills to play at the next level, though she is foregoing the opportunity — at least for now — to focus on a career as a chemical engineer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Vodola is as accomplished in the classroom as on the field).
So the big question is why Vodola’s performance this past year and for four seasons has not been appropriately celebrated. A big reason is her close friend, Erika Osherow, the state’s Player of the Year, who played a position — pitcher — and at a level that commanded 24/7 attention.
“People had their eyes focused on what Erika was doing,” DeMaio said.
Vodola, who offers compelling insights but is perfectly comfortable away from the microphones and recorders, hardly missed the limelight.
“I don’t like the attention,” she said. “I just stick to my game. Erika deserves all of the attention she gets, every positive word about her.”
Osherow didn’t average 21 strikeouts a game and was fortunate when she saw good pitches to hit as coaches did everything to avoid letting her beat them. So it is no surprise she is one of Vodola’s biggest backers.
“She was huge,” Osherow said. “To have a second baseman where, if (a batter) gets a piece of anything, you know she is going to make the play. Many people think it’s a pitcher-catcher dominated spot, but if you take a step away from the pitcher-catcher duo, you can see there are a lot of great players in the field. Kelly at second proved it.”
One reason for Vodola’s development as a batter was her versatility. As a freshman she was the designated hitter in the No. 9 spot, with a role to slap the ball and try to get on base. Vodola and Osherow were the two members of this year’s team that started for the Blue Wave that FCIAC championship season.
Vodola worked on her bunting skills and then flashed power that allowed her to drive the ball into the outfield gaps.
“The way Kelly was approached in practice was to have her do all kinds of hitting,” Osherow said. “The mystery about Kelly was she was one of those players you didn’t know what to expect from because she could do so much. That elevated her game.”
Many forget that it was not just offensively where Vodola’s role changed. As a sophomore she was the starting third baseman before moving to the other side of the infield.
“You find a way after you face a pitcher once what is going to work best,” Vodola said. “Once you face Erika in practice and try to bunt against her, the rest is easier.”
Vodola admitted that as she got better, her decision not to play in college came under question. But she is comfortable with her decision, in large part because of her career path, which is consistent with her general outlook on life.
“I like chemistry,” she said. “People like space and it is so big, people don’t understand it all. Chemistry is so small, and we really don’t understand it all. I like math and innovative thinking. I would like to help people, like making cleaner water.”
Vodola has an affinity for the word cool — “I think one reason I did well this year is I didn’t have a profound slump, which was kind of cool,” she said — and attempting new things. She mentioned trying club volleyball — at 5-3 and with sharp reflexes, she would be an ideal libero — and perhaps getting involved in theater. She appeared in several productions at Darien and would like to do more acting.
And the bat and cleats may now be closeted, but Vodola is keeping the storage unlocked.
“I’m not completely closing the door,” she said.
Vodola taking on the challenge of trying to excel at the college level? That, if it should happen, would be cool.