To this day, the distinct metal-on-metal grinding sound continues to irritate Kaleigh Edwards.
“I can still hear it,” said Edwards, who was dressed comfortably in a green Tuscarora High T-shirt and white mesh workout shorts as she recalled the incident.
Now a rising senior at Salisbury, Edwards finds herself in a much better state of mind now than she was in January 2018, when a tractor trailer created such friction during a collision on Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania that it virtually sawed about a foot off the passenger side of the blue 2013 Chevy Equinox that carried Edwards and its driver, Kaleigh’s father, Earl.
The accident brought on post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and also resulted in Edwards breaking the fifth metatarsal — a long bone located below the pinky finger — in her left hand. A second straight discouraging season on the softball field at Central Connecticut State University followed.
So, the sound of metal churning against metal helped bring on a cesspool of negative emotions that extended well beyond anger for Kaleigh.
She was shaken. She was frustrated. She was depressed.
Earl, who had his own issues stemming from the accident, knows of several high school softball athletes competing at the next level and, to a much lesser extent, who have found themselves in an uncomfortable situation or environment.
“Most kids would quit,” said Earl, who since the accident has recovered from brain hemorrhaging, three broken ribs and lacerations in both legs.
In the end, Kaleigh’s ability to go beyond merely plugging along in college softball stands out more for the elder Edwards. After batting under .200 over two seasons at CCSU, Kaleigh just finished a junior season at Salisbury during which she returned to her normal status as an impact player, batting a team-best .426 with five doubles, a triple, six home runs and 22 RBIs. Her performance landed her on the All-Capital Athletic Conference second team.
That success along with being in an environment that breeds it, Kaleigh said, stems from having an inner circle of family members, mentors and friends that helped pull her out of a dark world. It also derives from what may seem like a simple course of action but often isn’t for those in Kaleigh’s shoes: asking for help.
Grudgingly pushing through
In November, Earl will have completed his 36th year of employment with the United States Postal Service, and his wife, Jennifer, has served as a nurse at Meritus Medical Center in Hagerstown for more than 25 years. Outside of their jobs, Kaleigh said, more work finds them.
In 2014, Earl was taking a lunch break in the middle of his mail delivery route when he saw a mid-air collision between a helicopter and an airplane in Frederick. Guessing where he thought the plane landed, Earl rushed to the grounds of the Frederick Municipal Airport and helped a passenger exit the small plane, which was stuck in a tree.
Years later, after Kaleigh had played in an under-23 softball game during the summer, a five-car accident occurred near the Carroll County Sports Complex in Westminster, prompting Jennifer and the mother of one of her teammates to scamper over to the accident site and provide assistance to those involved.
“Things find them, and they run to help people,” Kaleigh said of her parents.
After her accident, Kaleigh had no desire to do much of anything. She consistently had nightmares relating to her car accident. With her PTSD symptoms, she viewed the act of getting into a car as a precursor to death, so she often found herself being “jumpy and paranoid.”
But with Earl and Jennifer setting “a very good example of what hard work looks like,” Kaleigh felt the need to follow in their footsteps. So if she had to go to class, she pushed through. If a softball game required her to board a bus or plane, she soldiered on.
Kaleigh posted a 3.88 GPA in the 2018 spring semester.
“I was really depressed at that time,” Kaleigh said. “I look back, and I sometimes think, ‘How did I do that?’
“That whole semester, how did I even wake up in the morning and do anything because it was so difficult for me. I was really in a bad place and bad shape.”
That’s because Kaleigh hadn’t immediately received counseling of any sort to address her mental state. A facility on the CCSU campus that offered mental health services had such a long wait list that it took her a full month to meet with a counselor. Until that meeting, Kaleigh’s therapy involved “talking to random people, trying to take [away] things and learn things that I could use … because I needed help.”
She didn’t start receiving counseling on a consistent basis until the following summer, when Kaleigh engaged in weekly sessions at Blue Ridge Behavioral Health Services in Frederick.
On and off the field, Kaleigh endured a year of adjustments as a freshman at CCSU.
“I had a very hard time adjusting to classes, being away from home,” Kaleigh said. “The whole college deal, I had a very hard time with, and it really affected how I played.”
Kaleigh batted just .178 over 38 games with the Blue Devils, but she returned home for the summer of 2017 intent on improving her performance, which for the most part involved restoring the proper mental approach for success. Her longtime hitting coach, Mike Conway, stressed ignoring any outside forces that may interfere with her performing at a high level. While Player’s Fitness and Performance may have served as Kaleigh’s offseason training base, being around familiar faces who restored the enjoyment of athletic activities became therapeutic.
Entering her sophomore year, Kaleigh felt rejuvenated and confident, and it showed in her performance in CCSU practices that fall. Her freshman season may not have gone smoothly, but 2018 was sure to be different, she thought.
The car accident derailed those plans.
Kaleigh admitted she tried coming back from injury too quickly, saying her left hand hadn’t fully healed until she completed her physical therapy sessions for her broken bone at the end of the spring. Although Kaleigh had just eight plate appearances in 2018, going 1-for-7 with a walk, she practiced regularly and attended every game — on the road and at home. She did everything grudgingly.
“I had worked so hard [during the previous summer] to get my time in, to mentally prepare to make sure I was ready to go so I could get some playing time and, if I was given the opportunity, to perform,” Kaleigh said. “My mindset was strong, and it kind of just deteriorated, and I lacked confidence.”
The car accident certainly played a role in her mindset, but Kaleigh also believed the Blue Devils’ coaching staff didn’t provide any sort of support system that could address any of her needs.
“The coach-player relationship wasn’t what I wanted it to be,” Kaleigh said.
Turning the page
Kaleigh chose to start anew at a school with familiar faces, including that of a longtime teammate on her Frederick Heartbreakers softball team, Walkersville alum Dakotah Fraley. At Salisbury, Kaleigh also went from majoring in exercise science and minoring in psychology at CCSU to double-majoring in exercise science and psychology at Salisbury — a decision prompted by a burning desire to help others who may need similar assistance.
But first, she had to help herself.
The counseling she received starting last summer started putting her accident further and further behind her.
“When I used to get into a car, my mind went to a loop from, ‘OK, you’re going to get into this car, and the end result is death,” Kaleigh said. “That’s where your brain takes you.
“But now you reshape the way that that loop is. You reshape the way that you think, and eventually that doesn’t end with death.”
Loud noises generated by one object making contact with another may cause Kaleigh to shudder every now and then, but the nightmares she experienced after her accident are now few and far between. She has been driving for the past year, and she now describes herself as “out of the depressive state.”
Kaleigh’s counseling, coupled with repeating the offseason work the she put in the previous summer through PFP and Conway prepared her for taking on a new challenge at Salisbury. Ever since she started playing softball, Kaleigh had suited up behind the plate. But Sea Gulls coach Margie Knight asked her to shift to third base — a position she had never played before.
“At first I was a little hesitant,” Kaleigh said. “I was like, geez, I don’t know.”
Having a good friend in Fraley playing a few feet over to her left at shortstop certainly helped with the transition.
“Once I got there, she definitely helped me — made sure I was doing OK all the time,” Kaleigh said. “She was awesome.”
Also, a host of other welcoming teammates along with Knight’s genuine concern for her well-being made Kaleigh that much more comfortable. During the spring, Knight schedules weekly meetings with all first-year players, who have the opportunity to air out any concerns they may have.
“She definitely did a really great job of taking the position up and really working hard and doing a great job for us there this year,” said Fraley, who earned first-team All-CAC honors after hitting .398 with 10 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 26 RBIs and seven stolen bases. “It was definitely nice [playing next to her]. It was easy communication throughout the year just because we had been communicating almost every day our whole lives.”
As for her performance at the plate, Kaleigh uttered few words, simply saying she was “pretty happy” with her season. She takes much more stock in enjoying softball yet again, and this takes on added importance because she knows her days as a player will come to an end soon.
“There’s so much pressure around playing and performing or whatever, and I think my mindset kind of changed to having more fun,” Kaleigh said.
When her playing days are over, she hopes to provide therapy to athletes who sorely need counseling as she did a year ago. While sports psychologists and mental skills coaches are readily available in professional sports, Kaleigh noted that athletic departments in most colleges don’t have them. Whether they do or not, Kaleigh puts the onus on athletes who have mental health issues to address them as soon as possible.
“If you need help, ask for it,” said Kaleigh, a summer intern at PFP who also offers softball instruction at The Athlete Factory. “If you need some guidance or if you feel like you’re lost, there’s nothing to be ashamed of to ask for help.”
- Junior attack Emma Bowman (Oakdale) tallied 20 goals and four assists for East Carolina (5-12).
- Sophomore midfielder/defender Sam Coffey (Urbana) started every game for Frostburg (4-13), collecting 24 ground balls and causing 13 turnovers. Her teammate, sophomore attack Wynnanne Walters (Brunswick), had two goals and five assists.
- Senior attack Ally Coggins (Linganore) piled up a team-high 35 assists for Wheeling Jesuit (12-7) in addition to scoring 43 goals, landing her on the All-Mountain East Conference second team. Her 78 points ranked second on the team, and she also collected 24 ground balls 10 caused turnovers. Coggins also earned MEC Player of the Week honors for the week ending March 30 as she led her team to two victories, scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals in a 15-14 overtime win.
- Junior attack Megan Dusci (Walkersville) had 10 goals and one assist for Shepherd (11-7).
- Freshman midfielder Paige Kamer (St. John’s Catholic Prep) was the fourth-leading scorer for Wingate (9-9), compiling 22 goals and nine assists. Her teammate, freshman attack Bella Pellet (Frederick), had 13 goals and five assists.
- Junior midfielder Clio Kerr (Thomas Johnson) led Robert Morris in draw controls (96) while also ranking second on the Colonials in caused turnovers (23). She also had 18 goals and three assists. Her teammate, senior midfielder Sophie Eureka (Catoctin), was Robert Morris’ fifth-leading scorer, finishing with 16 goals and eight assists.
- Freshman goalie Sam Lenfesty (Frederick) played in 12 games, including seven starts, for Washington & Jefferson (9-8). She went 6-1 with a 7.29 goals against average and a .547 save percentage.
- Senior midfielder Brittany Levine (Middletown) led UMBC (6-12) in draw controls (64) and ground balls (39). She also scored three goals. Another former Knight, senior goalie Carly Tolino, started every game in front of the cage, going 6-11 with an 11.99 goals against average and 172 saves.
- Junior midfielder Nikki Lunn (Tuscarora) was named second-team All-MAC Commonwealth for Hood after ranking second in the conference in ground balls (61) and caused turnovers (34). She currently holds the school’s career record for caused turnovers (68). Another former Titan, senior attack Kara Phoubandith, was the second-leading scorer for Hood, compiling 37 goals and 11 assists. She finished her career as the Blazers’ all-time leading scorer (172), and she ranks second in career goals (142). Meanwhile, freshman goalkeeper Danielle Holt (Oakdale), earned honorable mention All-MAC Commonwealth honors after finishing 6-7 with a 12.60 goals against average and 152 saves over 14 starts.
- Sophomore attack Jena MacDonald (Tuscarora) piled up a team-high 22 assists for Shippensburg (5-11) in addition to scoring seven goals.
- Senior midfielder Katy Miller (Brunswick) compiled 12 goals, two assists, 24 ground balls, 13 caused turnovers and 25 draw controls for Queens University-North Carolina (19-3), which advanced to the NCAA Division II tournament semifinals before suffering a 10-9 loss to West Chester.
- Senior defender Hannah Powell (Middletown) earned third-team All-Pennsylvania State Athletic conference honors, helping Seton Hill (11-9) make its first appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament. She started every game for the Griffins, ranking third on the team in ground balls (39) while finishing with 17 caused turnovers and 45 draw controls. Seton Hill fell to West Chester 20-10 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
- Junior defender Kaitlyn Ridenour (Middletown) was named Northeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year for Mount St. Mary’s (16-3), which led the nation in scoring defense (7.05 goals per game). Ridenour caused 17 turnovers for the Mountaineers, who set a single-season record for victories in addition to holding 15 opponents under 10 goals.
- Junior defender Sarah Roerty (Linganore) landed on the All-MAC Commonwealth first team for the second time for Stevenson (15-4), leading the Mustangs in ground balls (52) and caused turnovers (38) while ranking third on the team in draw controls (34). She also earned Division III All-Metro Region second-team honors, and for the week ending April 27, she was named MAC Commonwealth Defensive Player of the Week after amassing four caused turnovers, five ground balls and two draw controls in the Mustangs’ 14-3 win over Messiah.
- Junior goalkeeper Melissa Semkiw (Oakdale) earned first-team All-Atlantic 10 Conference honors after going 11-6 with a 12.22 goals against average and 160 saves for George Mason (11-7). Semkiw’s 11 victories are the second most ever recorded by a Patriot in a single season.
- Sophomore attack Kristyn Staley (Middletown) helped the University of Tampa reach the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time in school history, ranking second on the team in assists (24) and points (66).
- Staley also scored 42 goals, which helped land her on the All-South Region’s second team and the All-Sunshine State Conference first team. As the No. 6 seed, the Spartans (14-4) won the SSC tournament, beating Florida Southern College 19-18 in the championship game. Tampa then suffered a 16-15 loss to Queens University in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
- Junior defender Liz Yeomans (Brunswick) made the All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference first team and the All-Midwest Region second team for Grand Valley State (14-4), which posted the second-best goals against average (7.14) in the GLIAC. Yeomans started every game for the Lakers (14-4), leading the team in caused turnovers (26) and ranking second in ground balls.
- Freshman midfielder Patrick Coggins (Linganore) finished with 10 goals and two assists for Wheeling Jesuit (3-11).
- Freshman defenseman Alec Fletcher (Tuscarora) made 15 starts for Newberry (10-6), causing 10 turnovers.
- Senior attack Zephan Harnish (Walkersville) was the leading scorer for Goucher College (5-10), piling up 32 goals and nine assists. He finished his collegiate career with 74 goals and 25 assists for 99 points.
- Freshman defenseman Jason McElroy (Oakdale) earned All-Region XX honors for Howard Community College (11-5), which advanced to the NJCAA national semifinals before falling to Nassau. McElroy’s region-leading 33 caused turnovers ranked fifth in the nation. Meanwhile, freshman midfielder Jack Watsic (Linganore) was named honorable mention All-Region XX after finishing with 20 goals and 20 assists. In the NJCAA quarterfinals, Watsic scored on a bounce shot in overtime to give the Dragons a 12-11 victory.
- Junior midfielder Justin Richmond (Linganore) won 53.6 percent of his face-offs (143 of 267) for Saint Michael’s College (4-11), leading the team with 77 ground balls. He also had two goals, four assists and 15 caused turnovers.
- Sophomore defender Anthony Sparacino (Linganore) ranked third in caused turnovers (19) for St. Mary’s College of Maryland in addition to grabbing 26 ground balls.
- Freshmen attackmen Jordan Swoyer (Linganore) and Jack Riddle (Oakdale), and junior defenseman Burk Hill (Oakdale) played on a Queens University-North Carolina team that earned an NCAA Division II tournament berth. Swoyer and Riddle each had a goal and three assists, and Hill caused two turnovers for the Royals, who suffered a 16-15 loss to the University of Indianapolis in an NCAA tournament first-round game.
- Freshman pitcher Sam Downs (Linganore) went 3-1 with a 2.94 ERA for Stevenson (20-20). Over 11 appearances (three starts), he pitched 33 2-3 innings and struck out 18 batters.
- Freshman infielder Ryan Fisher (Catoctin) hit .306 with nine doubles, two home runs and 19 RBIs for Mount St. Mary’s (15-35).
- Sophomore infielder Robbie Houck (Middletown) was the fourth-leading hitter at Hagerstown Community College, batting .332 with three home runs, 31 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. He led the Hawks (37-18) in runs scored (59) and doubles (15). Meanwhile, freshman pitcher Dylan Reid (Catoctin) led HCC in innings pitched (62), going 6-3 with a 5.37 ERA and 52 strikeouts.
- Freshman AJ Javitt (St. John’s Catholic Prep) turned in a stellar season at Montgomery College, making his presence felt at the plate and on the mound. Offensively, he led the Raptors (19-18) in batting average (.375), runs (34), hits (45), doubles (14), home runs (three) and RBIs (30). On the mound, Javitt went 7-2 with a 3.51 ERA, striking out 75 batters over 48 2-3 innings.
- Freshman pitcher Colby Johnson (Oakdale) went 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA over seven games for Garrett College (29-25), striking out 10 batters over 8 1-3 innings.
- In his final season at Maryland-Eastern Shore, senior infielder Joey Nicastro (Oakdale) collected 13 hits over 55 at-bats, driving in three runs and scoring eight.
- Freshman catcher Christian Policelli (Walkersville) hit .299 with seven doubles, three home runs, 19 RBIs and a team-high .446 on-base percentage for Navy (39-17).
- Senior pitcher Nick Stegman (Oakdale) went 3-0 with a 5.35 ERA at Wingate (33-19), striking out 36 batters over 38 2-3 innings.
- After spending a year at HCC, sophomore outfielder Andrew Wenner (Middletown) enrolled at Hood (25-13-1), where he hit .304 with seven doubles, a triple, 21 RBIs and a team-high 19 stolen bases. On the mound, senior Chris Devine (Urbana) went 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA over nine games (three starts), striking out 19 batters and walking just four over 21 1-3 innings. Also, senior Connor Henniges (Linganore) went 3-2 with a 4.29 ERA over 16 games, walking only three batters over 21 innings.
- Freshman outfielder Jacob Wetzel (Walkersville) earned first-team All-Region XX honors for Frederick Community College after leading his team in runs scored (64), stolen bases (14) and on-base percentage (.510) in addition to setting a Cougars single-season record for triples (11). He batted .377 with five doubles, six home runs and 55 RBIs. Sophomore pitcher Brad Foster (Oakdale) was an All-Region honorable mention pick for FCC (36-15) after going 9-3 with a 3.54 ERA. He struck out 68 batters over 56 innings. Meanwhile, freshman catcher Jacob Berry (Thomas Johnson) hit .303 with 38 runs, 10 doubles, a triple, five home runs and 36 RBIs. Also, freshman pitcher Max Proctor (Oakdale) made 19 appearances in relief, going 1-1 with a 3.94 ERA while striking out 35 batters over 32 innings.
- Freshman Cailyn Barthlow (Linganore) started every game at shortstop for Hood, leading the team in hits (39), doubles (eight) and RBIs (21). She also hit a home run and scored 10 runs for the Blazers (7-27). Another former Lancer, freshman catcher Jordan Specht, batted .277 with seven doubles, a triple, 10 RBIs and nine runs scored. She struck out just five times in 101 at-bats.
- Freshman pitcher Taylor Beckley (Catoctin) garnered second-team All-Region XX Division II honors for Frederick Community College with strong play at the plate and in the circle. She led the Cougars in triples (five), runs scored (38) and stolen bases in addition to hitting .283 with nine doubles, a home run and 28 RBIs. As a pitcher, Beckley went 7-2 with a 4.96 ERA, recording six complete games while striking out 53 batters over 76 2-3 innings. Meanwhile, freshmen Kaitlyn Naill (Linganore) and Lexi Hofflinger (Middletown) also showed their versatility for the Cougars (19-15). Naill led the Cougars (19-15) in batting average (.393), hits (44), doubles (10), home runs (three) and RBIs (34). In the circle, she went 3-3 with a 3.87 ERA, striking out 37 batters over 54 2-3 innings. Hofflinger hit .271 with four doubles, a triple, a home run, 27 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. As a pitcher, she went 4-3 with a 2.79 ERA, recording 51 strikeouts in 50 1-3 innings. Also, freshman infielder Mikayla Toms (Middletown) made the most of her 35 at-bats, hitting .371 with two doubles, a triple and 12 RBIs while freshman catcher Lindsey Thomas (Linganore) hit .262 with five doubles and eight RBIs.
- Sophomore outfielder Michaela Persinger (Catoctin) earned first-team All-Centennial Conference honors for the second straight season after driving in a team-high 23 runs for McDaniel (21-16). She batted .324 with a team-leading nine doubles, three triples, a home run and 23 runs scored. In the field, she did not commit an error and had three outfield assists.
- Junior outfielder Brittany Walker (Brunswick) batted .278 with two doubles and eight RBIs for Washington College (10-29). Her 10 stolen bases ranked second on the team.
- Senior pitcher Lexi Windsor (Walkersville) landed on the All-MAC Commonwealth second team after going 11-11 with a 2.39 ERA for Lebanon Valley. She pitched five shutouts, striking out 99 batters over 161 1-3 innings for the Dutchmen (19-22). An All-MAC Commonwealth honorable mention pick, junior shortstop Annie McClain (Middletown) started 38 games for Lebanon Valley, hitting .313 with seven doubles, a triple, 11 RBIs, five stolen bases and a team-high 27 runs scored as the team’s leadoff batter. She recorded seven multi-hit games.
TRACK AND FIELD
- Sophomore Ritchie Case (Oakdale) placed second in the decathlon for Stevenson at the AARTFC championship, posting a school-record score of 6,023 points. Case’s performance included a first-place finish in the 400-meter dash (50.43 seconds). Earlier in the year, Case claimed his second straight Middle Atlantic Conference decathlon title with 6,014 points.
- Senior Jackie McNulty (Oakdale) finished 11th (12 feet, 0.75 inches) at the Pac-12 outdoor track and field championships.
- Freshman Dalton Nichols (St. John’s Catholic Prep) placed second in the discus for Winthrop at the Big South outdoor track and field championships with a throw of 156 feet, 2 inches — just 2 inches off the winning mark posted by Hampton’s Joshua Hunter.
- Sophomore Delia Sipe (Urbana) took fifth in the shot put (45 feet, 5 inches) and 10th in the discus (135 feet, 10 inches) for Bucknell at the Patriot League outdoor track and field championships. Earlier in the season, Sipe swept the shot (46-7.5) and the discus (152-11), posting personal bests in both events. She is currently ranked fourth and fifth in the shot and discus, respectively, on Bucknell’s all-time list.
- Freshman George Stultz (Oakdale) took fourth in the triple jump for MIT at the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference outdoor track and field championships with a mark of 43 feet, 11.25 inches.
- Freshman Matt Warner (Oakdale) finished 13th in the shot put (11.11 meters) and 15th in both the discus (31.40) and hammer throw (3.19) for Frostburg State at the CAC championships.