From walk-on to captain, Alexander leads from behind the plate

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - 8:22pm

Senior Katie Alexander was a powerhouse on offense last season, holding a batting average of .314, posting 29 runs scored and five home runs.

Senior Katie Alexander was a powerhouse on offense last season, holding a batting average of .314, posting 29 runs scored and five home runs. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Since her first days of high school, Katie Alexander has been willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field.

Formerly a second baseman, Alexander only had one response when her high school coach, Alicia Seegert, asked on the first day of practice if she’d ever considered catching:

“Well, could I try out for varsity?”

She’d been playing softball since the first grade and was ready for some real competition. Not only did Alexander try out for — and make — Saline High School’s varsity team as a freshman catcher, she was subsequently voted team captain three years in a row. 

Though she had the confidence of her teammates, as an underclassman, Alexander struggled to adjust to her new position and level of play. This was particularly true at the plate where she either hit it hard or struck out, nothing in between — a pattern that Seeger said stemmed from a lack of patience. 

But with a work ethic like Alexander’s, the struggles wouldn’t last long. 

Much like she has in her four years at Michigan, in high school, Alexander only got better. As time went on, she gained confidence and consistency. She wasn’t recruited by any colleges but, by her senior year, she was ready to walk onto a top-ranked team like Michigan. Throughout her high school career, she was chosen as the team’s MVP and was twice named a Michigan All-State player. 

Growing up 10 minutes from Ann Arbor, it had always been a dream of Alexander’s to play for the Wolverines, a dream Seegert — a Michigan graduate herself — fully supported. Seegert, who served as the Wolverines’ starting catcher from 1984 to 1988, was the first Wolverine softball player named an All-American in 1986.

Throughout high school, Seegert held the current senior catcher to a high standard, knowing what would be asked of her if she was going to play at the collegiate level, especially for a program like Michigan. 

When Alexander walked onto the team her freshman year at Michigan, she went from being coached by one Michigan softball legend to another: Carol Hutchins. While the two coaches share a similar style, nothing could have prepared Alexander for the coach she was about to have. 

“Hutch is incomparable to anybody else,” Alexander said. 

As would be expected for a walk-on, Alexander didn’t begin her collegiate career as a starter. Lagging behind other catchers in the lineup and failing to fill the shoes of an impressive senior class including catcher Lauren Sweet, she appeared in just 13 games with a batting average of .273 in 2016. 

“I could only go up from there,” Alexander said. “My dad always told me to work hard and that you’d rather be the underdog. Thinking that way always helped me strive to be greater. My dad’s always reminded me that I can do anything.” 

During her sophomore year, she earned more time behind the plate, maintaining a near-perfect fielding percentage of .997 and committing fewer errors than in her freshman season. 

Even when she wasn’t playing, she watched and learned, getting ready to seize her opportunity when the time came. 

And then, it finally did. 

Alexander rocketed into her junior year with the hard work and determination she showed Seegert all those years ago. Within the first 10 games of the season, she ran off with the starting position. 

“(Alexander) has improved beyond measure,” Hutchins said. “She’s got a heart to beat. She wants to be great. She wants to be her best. This is a kid who’s come to me as much as anybody in my time — ‘Can we hit early? Can we do this?’ She’s open. She wants to improve. We like to see kids on that kind of a trajectory.

“It’s the same with offense; her offense has come a long way and that’s just hard work. In our sport, it’s just a lot of swings, a lot of throws, a lot of detail.”

 

Initially a walk-on on the softball team, Alexander is now the starting catcher, and has always been a strong leader, now holding the position of captain, as well.

Initially a walk-on on the softball team, Alexander is now the starting catcher, and has always been a strong leader, now holding the position of captain, as well. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

 

Alexander’s momentum only took off from there. Her performance at the plate began to catch up to her defense. She ended last season with a batting average of .314, with 29 runs scored and five home runs —  a force to be reckoned with. 

Her energy on the field prompted Hutchins to start Alexander in 54 of 57 games and earned her a place as the catcher on the All-Big Ten Second Team. After that season, Alexander was given an athletic scholarship. 

“She was as good a catcher as there was in the league, in my opinion,” Hutchins said of Alexander’s performance last season. “She handles the pitchers fantastic, her receiving skills — she was throwing everybody out — and she was just having fun with it.”

Despite her personal success, Alexander’s favorite moments have always been with her teammates, whether off the field — counting cacti in Arizona or go-karting in Kentucky — or on it, watching the team succeed. 

“When I see people who haven’t played a lot — someone who wasn’t highly recruited or wasn’t meant to be playing a lot — do something great, like get a good hit in a big situation, those are my favorite moments,” Alexander said, “Just to see my teammates succeed after putting in all this work for the past six months or years on end.” 

While her teammates now describe her as positive and supportive, some were at first a little intimidated by her presence. 

At 5-foot-10, it’s easy to see how Alexander could prompt intimidation. But it’s much more than her tall stature that has commanded the respect of her teammates.

“On the field, she’s a beast,” Hutchins said. “I’ve been really pleased. Katie’s a kid who’s done nothing but get better every year. She’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet; she’s a great teammate. Her teammates love her. She’s a nice kid, but on the field, she wants to beat you. 

“That’s the kind of kid I want on the field.” 

As her senior year continues and her time with the Wolverines comes to a close, Alexander’s own legacy will start to take shape. A tenant of Hutchins’ program is to leave the team better than you found it — a challenge Alexander has not shied away from. 

“She takes (the mantra) to heart, which is the first step,” Hutchins said. “It’s not something that’s totally measurable, but they understand that if we can get this team to be all in. That’s what I want the seniors to lead this team to, a team that is all about the team on every pitch.”

Whether the team has been “all in” up to this point in the season is up for debate. With erratic performances practically every weekend, Michigan is still looking for consistency from its players.

Alexander is no exception.

Though Alexander boasts an impressive 11 RBI thus far, her batting average of .152 — the lowest of the starting players — leaves much to be desired. On defense, Alexander has maintained her confidence, throwing batters out and saving the Wolverines runs in practically every game. 

As Michigan faced the ups and downs of the first few games, Alexander tried to lead by example, coming in each day as if she was still the freshman who hadn’t earned her spot. That mentality has helped her push through the challenges and avoid getting in her own head. 

“Always focus on what you can do at the time,” Alexander said. “Even if you make an error or mess up, focus on what you can do on that next pitch. Focus on what you do well opposed to what you can’t do at the time because it’s so quick paced. It doesn’t matter what you did before.”

Alexander’s natural confidence and inclination to lead carry over into everything she does. Always one to take charge in group projects or volunteer in class, she’s never hesitant to use her voice. She’s developed that voice both on and off of the field, simultaneously growing as a player and a person.   

By virtue of her position as catcher, Alexander has been leading the team from behind the batter’s box long before being officially voted a captain this year. As leader of the defense, Alexander’s prowess behind the plate has garnered confidence from many her teammates. 

“She definitely shows passion,” said sophomore shortstop Natalia Rodriguez. “You can see that right away on the field. You can see how seriously she takes the game. She wants to build the people around her. As a catcher, she takes that captain role, which is one of the most vocal.”  

Added sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien: “Anything I throw, I know she’ll be able to get it. She’ll be able to block it. I know she can throw runners out. She’s tough. She gives you a lot of confidence because she just has a presence. She’s very good at understanding my head knowing the right thing to say to get me back in the mindset to do what I need to do.”

With softball legends like Tera Blanco, Megan Betsa and Kelly Christner to look up to, Alexander had many mentors to choose from as an underclassman. 

“Every person that’s older than you or every person here, tries to make the people around them better,” Alexander said. “I took something from almost every single person that I got the chance to play with.

“To be able to see what they did for me — what worked and what didn’t — and now I can use that for the underclassmen.”

One of the most important elements of Alexander’s legacy will be leaving the team in the capable hands of another catcher. That role will likely be filled by freshman catcher Hannah Carson, who Alexander has worked with all year in preparation. 

One lesson Alexander has imparted, not just on Carson, but on all of the underclassmen, is the importance of commitment. 

“All years, they preach here that you’re a leader and you can be on the field,” Alexander said. “No matter how old you are, you can still have a say and that’s what’s going to make everybody else better.

"I really took pride in, no matter whether I was in the dugout or on the field or how old I was, I could be valuable to my teammates. That’s how we’re going to succeed: if everybody puts in that much effort.”

With these types of sentiments, Alexander strives to emulate the same team culture that Seegert experienced in her time at Michigan, a collective atmosphere upheld by team traditions like a “no phone” rule or writing in the dirt before each game. 

It is this culture that has lead the Wolverines to 20 Big Ten Conference Championships, 18 All-American players and one NCAA World Series victory — a level of play Alexander would love to see again from her team. 

As the season gets into full swing and Michigan bounces between hard losses and easy wins, Alexander is not satisfied. She rarely has been.

In her freshman year of high school, Alexander could have been satisfied sticking to second base on Saline’s junior varsity team.

When she got to Michigan four years ago, she could have accepted that she’d get little playing time as a walk-on. 

As errors plummeted and her batting average soared, she could have been happy with her role as starting catcher, content in being remembered — just like her high school coach — as one of the strongest catchers in Michigan’s history. Instead, she’s gone above and beyond, serving the team as a leader and mentor, on and off the field. 

Regardless of the number of runs she’s scored or runners she’s thrown out, Katie Alexander’s legacy will be defined by one thing: her drive.