Illini infielder overcomes injuries to excel as starter
For some athletes, making the transition from high school to college is a long process, taking a year or more before fully adjusting.
For others, the game comes so easily that stepping up to the next level hardly seems a challenge.
"Saying it like that makes it sound like it was easy, but adjusting to college softball, and college in general, is a process," University of Illinois softball infielder Annie Fleming told the Peoria Standard. "The adjustment takes time but the best part about it is that you are going through it with all of the other girls in your class, and the older girls know what it is like to go through the transition."
Fleming didn't appear to struggle much during her freshman season. The Chillicothe, Illinois. native flew onto the scene for the Illini, appearing in 30 games, 26 of those starts. She hit .355 with a .694 slugging percentage, including six home runs. She walked 15 times and only struck out six. Had she managed to record the qualifying mark of 100 at-bats, that .694 slugging percentage would have shattered the previous Illinois rookie record by nearly .200 points. In her first career starts (two games against conference-foe Indiana), she went 4-for-6 with three runs scored, three RBIs and a home run.
However, there were doubts early on (from others, never from Fleming herself) that she'd make it to the college softball field. Fleming was an anticipated incoming freshman at Notre Dame High School in 2010, a multisport star skilled in basketball and volleyball as well as softball. During the first week of freshmen basketball, Fleming suffered one of the most feared injuries in sports; a tear of her right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
Fleming threw herself into rehab and about eight months later was ready for action again. But about a quarter of the way through volleyball season, injury struck again, this time a tear to her left ACL. Some might have given up on the idea of playing sports at that point, but Fleming said she never once considered that.
"There was never an option not to come back," Fleming said. "At the time, I didn't see it as big of a deal as other people did. I just did it. I rehabbed, got stronger, and learned a lot. Looking back, the desire to be an athlete never faltered, no matter what got in my way. I never saw my injuries as career ending or anything other than another step on my journey."
Fleming came back strong and put together another strong season last year for the Illini. Fleming batted .314, starting 58 of her 59 games and collected 23 RBIs. With her injuries now years behind her, Fleming is finally looking forward to a third season with one team.
"I am incredibly excited for this coming season," Fleming said. "Seeing our team grow as much as it did last year makes me excited for all the growth that will happen this season. I'm excited to be a part of a team that puts in the work to be better and to be pushed everyday by coaches that want the best for us. I'm excited to take this program farther than it's ever gone before. Our goal is the World Series, and we will be there."