In 36 years of coaching softball and basketball, Coach Mike Muse knows right away when he encounters a special talent on one of his teams.
For the last four seasons, Kennedy Southern has been one of those players for the softball team at East Forsyth. She will continue her career at Appalachian State later this year.
A four-year starter at second base with some pitching, shortstop and center field sprinkled in, Southern has piled up all-conference awards and was an all-state selection as a sophomore.
“As a coach, you can just tell when one of your players has ‘it’,” Muse said. “Kennedy Southern has ‘it.’ When you see an athlete who puts everything she’s got into their sport to make the best of it and then it happens, those are special moments. She has done that since her freshman year. She has paid her dues and put in the time. Everything she gets she deserves. She is a winner in every sense of the word.”
Maybe it’s her leadership ability — she has been a team captain the last two seasons and is President of the Senior Class and on the Dean’s Council.
Maybe it’s how she communicates with her teammates and classmates.
Maybe it’s her ability to come up with a clutch play in a key moment.
Or maybe it’s her desire to excel in everything she does, whether that’s on a softball field, in the classroom, or in the community. She is ranked in the top-20 in her academic class and is in the National Honor Society as well as National Honor Societies for Math, English, Spanish, Social Studies and Science.
She is also involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and at her church, Morris Chapel Baptist in Walkertown.
Softball has always been present in her family. She started playing when she was 8, following in the footsteps of her sister, Madison, who also played at East Forsyth.
“I tried gymnastics for a little while and horseback riding, but I always found myself interested in watching my sister play softball,” Southern said. “I think the competitiveness of the game and the intensity was what won my heart when I started playing it. I started out with Walkertown Girls Softball and then started playing travel ball for the North Carolina Firecrackers and did that for several years. That really helped prepare me for high school and playing in college. I remember watching the College Softball World Series when I was in middle school and telling my mom I wanted to play in that someday. That’s when I knew I wanted to play in college, and I’ve been working toward that ever since.”
Southern said that she had a feeling that making the Eagles’ varsity team as a freshman would be a tall task.
“From watching my sister player her games all four years, I knew I needed to step up if I wanted to play varsity,” Southern said. “So, I just worked and worked and ended up making the team. After I made it, I knew I had to earn my keep to convince some of my teammates that I belonged. But it was kind of a rough start.”
The key moment in her freshman season, Southern said, came against arch-rival Glenn.
She was playing second base and saw a soft blooper over the pitcher’s head that she knew was trouble when it left the bat.
“I knew she couldn’t get to it and I ran up to make a play,” Southern said. “I ended up diving and making the catch and we ended up winning the game. That moment gave me a lot of confidence and really made me feel like I belonged.”
She excelled during her sophomore year but admitted that she put too much pressure on herself during her junior season because of her recruitment. Once she decided that Appalachian State was the right place for her last fall − Clemson and Duke were also recruiting her − she was able to relax for her senior season, which helped lead to two memorable moments in back-to-back games during the Central Piedmont 4-A tournament.
She delivered the game-winning RBI on a sacrifice fly in the semifinal against Davie County and then laced an RBI single up the middle with two outs and a two-strike count in the top of the seventh inning to beat West Forsyth in the championship game.
“That was the first time we beat West in a long time, so that was a great feeling,” Southern said. “Those are the moments you will always remember. Being around my teammates and celebrating − those are special memories no one can take from us.”
She’ll make a few more memories this summer. Southern will play in a tournament with her travel team in Colorado and will also be attending the College Softball World Series, courtesy of her family for her senior gift, as well as trips to Scotland and Alaska.
“Softball has meant the world to me,” Southern said. “It’s the best thing I have experienced. The relationships I have made along the way have been unforgettable. It has helped shaped me as a person and helped me overcome all the obstacles I have faced along the way.”