By MARINA WATERS
When recent Daniel Boone High School graduate and Lady Trailblazer softball player Kristen Hall stood up to thank those in attendance on the day she signed to play softball at East Tennessee State University, she could feel the nervousness hit her. She was about to speak in front of an auditorium full of people—and she wasn’t wearing her usual footwear.
“I was nervous more than anything else because we had been told we’re going to have to go up there and say something in this auditorium full of people,” Hall said. “And I was nervous because I was wearing heels. Normally I wear cleats or tennis shoes or whatever. But after I got through all that—and got back down from the stage and didn’t fall on my way up—I finally realized my dream was coming true.
“I looked out in the crowd and my family and everyone around me, my best friends and my teammates and my other family that helped me get there. There was a gratitude and a thankfulness for them.”
Hall was a member of the Lady Blazer softball team that earned the Big 7 Conference and District 1-AAA title for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The team reached substate in their 2016 season and ended their season in 2017 at the regional semifinals. Hall was also the District 1-AAA Softball Tournament MVP, a member of the district all-tournament team and the Big 7 Conference Player of the Ye
ar—that came as a pleasant surprise to Hall.
“I was ecstatic. They had went through all the names and my teammates had gotten stuff and then they announced mine as player of the year. It came as a shock to me. But I was happy and thankful for it,” Hall recalled. “I told them when they asked me that I couldn’t be the player I am without the people playing with me in front and behind me and to my left and, well there’s nobody to my right because I’m on the line, but the people I’ve got. There are multiple times the first baseman has saved me because I’ve made a bad throw and they catch it and make me look good.”
For Hall, a big part of receiving that accolade and finding her success as well as the Lady Blazers’ recent victories has relied on a team-mentality.
“It’s a game of teamwork. My dad always said if it’s all about you, go find a singles game. Go play golf, go play tennis. If you don’t trust the person to your left to have your back, then you’re going to really struggle,” Hall said. “Even if you’re just playing a game with a team who asked you to come pick up with them over the weekend, you need to be able to trust that person and their ability just like they have to trust you and yours.”
Though the Lady Blazers saw an increase in underclassmen, Head Coach Jeremy Jenkins told the Herald & Tribune that Hall is a player who “leads by example and with great leadership”—even when doubts were surrounding the reigning conference and district champs.
“We had big shoes to fill and a lot to live up to from the previous season,” Hall said. “People were kind of worried about us going in. But to go in and put everybody’s doubts to rest and let them know we’re here and we’re a force to be reckoned with.
“Before every game, especially with the people you are across-town rivals with, your Crockett game and your D-B game, Coach Jenkins would always tell us before the game, ‘you know everyone’s wanting to knock you out of no. 1. You just have to show up and play the game and let them know that you’re no. 1 for a reason and you’re not going to be knocked out of that.’”
For Hall, who’s will soon enough join the Lady Bucaneers who won the Southern Conference title and reached the NCAA regional tournament, there’s an excitement in joining another successful squad in the region who will represent Northeast Tennessee.
“They came off of a really successful season. So I’m really excited to be a part of that,” Hall said, “I’m excited to be coming into a successful program, especially from the area. I think that’s so cool that ETSU’s starting to get the recognition that it has around here countrywide.”
Hall said from the age of 11 or 12 she knew she wanted to work towards her goal of playing college softball. And ETSU was the perfect fit after this third baseman decided she wanted to stay close to home.
“I just love the game of softball and the area at which I’m at in the country. So for them to come together at the same place is great,” she said. “The distance from home was a big thing for me. My senior year, I got a lot closer to my teammates that I’ve been growing up with, teachers, people in the community and my family. I realized it was going to be a lot harder to leave than I thought it was. So ETSU being 20 minutes away kind of worked out perfectly.”
But when Hall thinks back on her time as a Lady Blazer, it’s not just the time spent on the diamond that will most likely stick out in her mind; Hall said it was her school and the community’s responses to their loss of two students this year that she won’t forget.
“It was one of the best feelings in the world (being a Lady Blazer). The tragedy that we went through this past year and to see the way that we just banded together and the community came and banded with us—not everywhere is like that,” Hall said. “It’s mind blowing to me to see that one thing can happen and the whole community drops everything they’re doing and they’re there to help you.”
It’s that same mindset of working as a team and overcoming the unforeseen circumstances in life that Hall has implemented on the field. And now she’s ready to overcome the obstacles the game of softball presents one town over in Johnson City, Tennessee.
“Softball is a game of failure. The odds are always against you. Softball is a game where if you’re batting three out of 10 you’re really good,” Hall said. “Not just me in particular, but just softball players, I think they have to overcome just the odds. I mean, they’re in favor of the pitcher. And you’ve got all these things that you can’t control. That was a big thing at camps when I was younger, they’d always talk about controls and uncontrollables. You can’t control what the pitcher throws you or how the umpire calls it, but you can control how you react. If you know you’re bad at one pitch, you can control what you practice and work towards that and get better at it.”