The long and winding journey of Kelsie Packard’s collegiate softball career is ready for its final stop: the University of Illinois.
Packard, a former Beloit Turner star who helped lead Rock Valley College to an NJCAA Division 3 National Championship before heading to Valparaiso, has landed in Champaign to finish her career.
Packard was terrific as a Crusader, accumulating a 20-16 record with a 2.76 ERA in 238 innings.
Before the season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Packard was 4-4 with a 2.17 ERA for Valparaiso in the 2020 campaign.
Packard cited the departure of Monica Wright, her pitching coach at Valpo, as a major factor for why she was looking elsewhere.
“A pitching coach at a program can really make the difference, and Monica made the difference there for me,” Packard said. “She not only made me a better pitcher, but she made me a better person. She was all-in for my growth overall.”
Armed with her bachelor’s degree from Valparaiso, Packard now can focus on earning her master’s in recreation/sports and tourism.
The fact that Illinois offered that program was a significant benefit.
“They are obviously a great softball program,” Packard said. “And I get to get my master’s degree there. Growing up, when I was in high school, playing in the Big Ten was my ultimate goal. Then I had some injuries that kind of derailed that idea. But the way I look at it now, everything that I’ve gone through, it was all meant to be. It might not have been the way I thought it was going to happen, but I’m getting to live out that dream, and I couldn’t be more excited.”
The Illini finished 11-11 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season after finishing the 2019 season with a solid 33-25 mark.
“As it looks right now, I’m the sixth pitcher on their staff,” Packard said. “And the way they run things is really staff-oriented where they use a lot of arms. At that level, that’s what you have to do, so I’m looking forward to that.”
While any talk of playing fall ball for the Illini was squashed by the Big Ten’s decision announced Tuesday that all fall sports will be canceled, Packard said she’s hopeful to have a season to remember in the spring.
“I’m just taking it day-by-day right now,” Packard said. “It’s tough because there’s so much unknown and uncertainty. The last few months I’ve really dug deep into my faith, and I’ve learned to just trust God and put everything in his hands.”
Packard’s master’s program is entirely online, something that would have been the case regardless of the pandemic. She’s already got an idea on what she’d like to do with her career.
“I’ve really been thinking about getting into coaching,” Packard said. “I feel like I’ve been through a lot of adversity, and I’ve had coaches help me along the way. I’d like to be able to give younger players that same experience that I had.”
Before she goes along helping others fuel their dreams, it’s time for Packard to live out one of her own.