As the lone seniors on a young UConn softball team, Jill Stockley and Kelli Bates are leaders, but in an unconventional sense. They are the first followers: The first players to dive into head coach Jen McIntyre’s system.
“They are the first followers, we come in and have a vision, set the tone, establish what the standards are, how things are going to run and what we believe this program can achieve,” McIntyre said. “It is up to them to buy into it and when the seniors really commit to it, they become the first followers and get everyone on board behind them.”
McIntyre showed each of them a video called “the first follower,” where a shirtless man at a concert dances wildly and slowly attracts another dancer, then another and so forth until there is a mass crowd of dancers.
McIntyre is the man at the concert, willing to lead and be different. Bates and Stockley embody the first one to join him. Both of them committed from the beginning and have been dedicated to lead the rest of the crowd to join them. This program has seen ups and downs, but Bates and Stockley have stuck with the team and grinded when others have not.
“They, and seniors in the past, have really helped us to adjust this program and come in and get started with our goals,” shortstop Briana Marcelino said of the two seniors.
Stockley was recruited by the previous head coach, Karen Mullins, but stayed committed to UConn despite the coaching change. Stockley, a self-proclaimed elite pogo-sticker, has put up a 3.02 ERA in 460.2 innings over the course of her collegiate career. Last year she put up career numbers and helped UConn to a 20-win season, their highest under McIntyre to date.
“Jill is probably one of our toughest competitors. When she is on the mound, she is just a bulldog,” McIntyre said. “She grits her teeth and dials in and goes after it. She is super competitive when she goes out there.”
Stockley comes in and gets her work done quietly, on the mound and in the classroom. She is not the leader who will give speeches and try to rally the troops. Instead, Stockley leads through her competitive fire and will “drop the hammer” when necessary, according to her.
“From Jill, I learned to do your own thing, handle your business and handle your part,” outfielder Aziah James said.
Stockley goes about her business and will not speak about something unless she feels it needs to be said, according to her. This has trickled down to her teammates, like Marcelino, who have seen her work ethic and ramped up their own efforts to compete at similar levels to Stockley.
Bates’ style is completely different, she is the supporter. Her role is to bring everyone together and get them involved. Her light-hearted personality and energy help drive this team. Alongside Stockley, she has helped put this program on a path to success.
“She is the one who looks around to make sure that the team is all on board,” McIntyre said. “She takes care of every single person that is out there and is somebody to reach out to, which is really important.”
Bates was recruited to UConn after a chance meeting with McIntyre at a tournament in Florida, where she secured a tryout through email. Bates’ father, a Massachusetts native living in California, had bet her that if she could get a tryout with an east coast team, then he would get her a car. A last-minute de-commit gave McIntyre a spot for Bates and the rest is history.
“I want people to think I was a good teammate; someone that was there for them and they could rely on,” Bates said on her legacy.
According to James, Bates is quick to pick up her teammates after they make a mistake. She is someone who lets you know that she will be there to support you and keeps that promise.
Both Stockley and Bates will continue their education at UMass and the University of Washington, respectively. Stockley is pursuing a master’s degree in speech pathology and will one day work in rehabilitation. Bates will be pursuing a master’s degree in education at their collegiate athletic leadership program. She will also be working in their athletics department.
The seniors are the last players left from their class of five. They have stayed committed from the beginning and are facing their last regular season series this weekend. They may have been the first followers of McIntyre’s tenure here, but they will certainly not be the last.
Mike Mavredakis is a campus correspondent for the Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .