Kelsey Brown entered the NCAA transfer portal mired in doubt.
The Battlefield High School graduate decided to leave James Madison University following her freshman year. But she did so wracked with uncertainty. Was it the right move? And if it was, would another college softball program show interest? Everything seemed up in the air.
“It was so scary,” Brown remembering thinking. “Is anyone going to want me?”
Pete D’Amour wasted no time in easing her fears. Familiar with Brown from her high school playing days as an all-state outfielder and record-setting base stealer for the Bobcats, the Virginia Tech head softball coach contacted her via email the first day Brown’s name appeared in the portal.
There was no immediate decision made that day. Just an honest conversation about her prospects. But Brown appreciated D’Amour’s interest and candor.
Yes, D’Amour told Brown, she’d have the chance to compete for a starting job since the graduation of all-ACC performer Emma Strouth provided an opening in left field. And if all else failed, she’d at least have the opportunity to pinch-hit.
Nothing more, though, was promised.
Brown had a lot to consider. Other colleges reached out to her as well. But as Brown weighed her options, she kept coming back to Virginia Tech.
Brown wanted to stay in-state and she always liked Virginia Tech as a school since family members had attended there. The softball program was an added bonus. In his first year at Virginia Tech in 2019, D’Amour turned the program around after it endured back-to-back losing seasons and missed the NCAA Tournament appearance for three straight seasons. The Hokies won their first ACC Tournament title since 2007 and posted a 47-11 record, a 24-win improvement from the previous season.
D’Amour, meanwhile, left Brown alone. He refused to hound her or set a specific timeline for an answer. When Brown was ready, she’d let him know.
In late July, 2019, Brown was ready. She called D’Amour back to double check that she understood their previous discussion. The call jolted D’Amour’s memory, but he confirmed their understanding. That’s all Brown needed to hear. She agreed to join the program.
“I knew I wanted something better for me,” Brown said.
With her transfer to Virginia Tech complete, Brown proceeded to work as hard as she could to become a starter. D’Amour knew about Brown’s speed. That was no secret. But Brown’s hitting ability opened D’Amour’s eyes and led him to believe she could indeed contribute more than just as a pinch-hitter after hitting .500 that fall.
Brown took care of the rest.
In her first season with Virginia Tech, she started in 24 of the Hokies’ 25 games, hit .378 (third on the team) and led the Hokies with 18 stolen bases and 34 hits to earn VaSID second-team all-state honors for a team that was 21-4 and in first place in the ACC before the pandemic shut everything down.
This season, Brown has picked up where she left off from the shortened 2020 season.
Brown ranks among the ACC leaders in four categories: batting average (tied for fifth, .420), runs scored (tied for second with 29), hits (tied for second with 42) and stolen bases (fifth with 18). Overall, No. 15/13 Virginia Tech (25-6) leads the conference in batting average (.306).
Brown, though, is never one to rest on her accomplishments.
After returning back to school late Sunday night after a recent four-game series at Duke, Brown asked D’Amour if she could come by and hit the following morning at 8. D’Amour preferred to sleep in, but he honored Brown’s request. If she wanted to keep pushing herself to improve, D’Amour wanted to support that endeavor any way he could.
“She wills herself to be good,” D’Amour said. “She’s the ultimate competitor.”
A NEW COLLEGE HOME
Brown never figured she’d end up at another college after committing to James Madison her junior year with the desire of playing for head coach Mickey Dean. Brown began to rethink her plans, though, when Dean accepted the Auburn job in September of Brown’s senior season.
Brown felt good about sticking with the Dukes for a least a year and seeing how things went after JMU named assistant Loren LaPorte as head coach.
Brown got on the field, playing in 44 games, including 13 starts and led the Dukes with 10 stolen bases for a team that reached the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals.
But it wasn’t enough.
So she put her name in the transfer portal, a database of college athletes who are considering switching to another school. Once the athlete’s name is entered into the transfer portal, schools can immediately reach out.
In addition, she’d have the opportunity to play immediately since Division I exempted softball players from sitting out a year for transferring as long as they didn’t transfer to another school in the same conference as the player’s previous school.
As she debated her next step, Brown had the option of removing her name from the transfer portal and stay at JMU. But she felt it was time to move on. Although she said it was the hardest decision of her life to seek a transfer, Brown did so with one purpose in mind.
“I wanted to be able to help my team more than I was there,” Brown said.
While serving as a Missouri assistant, D’Amour said he was familiar with Brown in high school, especially her speed. A four-year starter at Battlefield, Brown finished her career as the Virginia High School League’s state record holder for career stolen bases (133) and single-season stolen bases (45) along with single-season hits (61).
D’Amour said the Tigers did not recruit Brown because “we did not have a spot on the team or money for someone out of state.”
But her accomplishments gave D’Amour the chance to become aware of Brown beforehand when he contacted her about transferring to Virginia Tech.
“By me knowing her, I knew she could play,” D’Amour said. “We weren’t fishing in the dark.”
For all her success as a base-runner, Brown said she’s learned even more from Virginia Tech’s coaches on how to run smarter on the base paths. She still has latitude to steal, but she seeks the extra help to increase her level of understanding.
She’s also an asset in left field where many balls are hit based on pitcher Keely Rochard’s set-up.
Brown is most excited, though, about having an extra year of eligibility after last season ended early because of the pandemic.
Another season will give the sophomore another chance to get the most out of her college experience. D’Amour, for one, expects nothing less.
“She does not want to lose,” D’Amour said.