COLUMBIA — With seven freshman and two other new players, more than half of the players on the Columbia College softball team are going through their first season with the team.
At one of the season’s first practices, several of the freshmen came to senior captain Lindsey Williams for advice about how to stay on coach Wendy Spratt’s good side.
Rather than giving her teammates useful information, Williams decided it would be funny to make up some team rules of her own.
She told the freshmen that Spratt would be upset with them if they left their batting gloves in the grass or carried their duffle bags on their right shoulders. Williams told them they would have to do the homework of the upper classmen and that the team had a curfew.
But Williams couldn’t keep her joke going for long. As soon as she saw one of her teammates trying to follow the fraudulent rules, Williams broke into one of her trademark grins. Her smile alerted the freshman to the ruse.
Williams’ fake rules didn’t give her teammates the help they were seeking, but her practical jokes do help her team stay loose during games.
“She has always had this good sense of humor where she can pick up the team from any situation,” junior Rachel Brawner said.
Brawner played with Williams at Kirksville High School before the pair came to Columbia College.
Earlier in her career, Williams sometimes didn’t know when to switch from making jokes to acting serious.
At the American Midwest Conference tournament her freshman year, Williams broke into the team cooler and stole Spratt’s snickerdoodles. Williams took the cookies back to her room, but before she could eat any of them, her teammates ate them all.
The players left the packaging from the cookies in their hotel room, where Spratt found it.
As her punishment, Williams had to do the team’s laundry for a week. Williams said that Spratt made her scrub dirty jerseys and practice clothes until they were spotless.
“My fingernail still hasn’t grown back after scrubbing all the dirt,” Williams said.
In 2006, when Brawner was a freshman and Williams was a sophomore, the pair would often spend so much time joking and laughing they made team meetings that usually took about five minutes last for 20.
“For the first 15 minutes they would have everybody laughing,” Spratt said. “You’d have half the team that would crack up with them and half the team that was either tired or they wanted to go study and they would get annoyed with it.”
But as Williams’ career went on, she learned to decide when to be funny and when to be serious.
Part of that learning experience came when Spratt held a leadership class for her five returning players from last season, who are all captains. The group met once a week and discussed how to become better leaders. Spratt also assigned readings for the group from a book about leadership.
This season, Williams has become the primary leader for Columbia College.
On Monday, the Cougars needed to sweep Williams Baptist to clinch the regular season AMC title. After winning the first game, the Cougars fell behind 4-0 entering the sixth inning of the second game.
Williams knew from her freshman year that if the team won the conference title, Spratt would treat them to a steak dinner.
She tried to help her teammates relax by telling them to focus on the steak. She told her teammates that they had their figurative steak ready and all they had to do was cook it by winning the game.
The analogy may have been silly, but according to Brawner, it helped the players relax in the pressure situation.
Then Williams started the Cougars comeback by leading off the sixth inning with a triple, eventually scoring Columbia College’s first run. The Cougars scored two runs in that inning to close the gap to 4-2.
In the seventh, Williams came up second, reaching on an error and scoring the game’s tying run.
“The thing that really stands out is how many game winning runs or RBIs she has,” Spratt said. “She finds a way, no matter who the pitcher is, to get on base.”
Williams has been starting in center field for the Cougars since she was a freshman, and she looks forward to the opportunity to be at the plate with the game on the line. According to Spratt, Williams’ competitive and confident nature rubs off on her teammates.
As the Cougars’ leadoff hitter, Williams sets the tone for the team by starting games with a hit. With a batting average of .366, Williams does plenty of hitting.
“She sets the example and shows them that it can be done and then they follow,” Spratt said.
Williams says she tries not to give too much specific advice to her teammates about what to do at the plate. Usually, she just tells them that the opposing pitcher is “hittable.”
In 2005, when Williams was a freshman, the Cougars finished tied for seventh at the NAIA National Tournament. It was the program’s second best finish. Williams was named the conference freshman of the year that season.
Columbia College starts the AMC tournament today against Hannibal-LaGrange in Springfield, Ill. Williams is trying to use what she learned during her freshman playoff run to help her younger teammates perform their best.
“We just had fun,” Williams said. “We have played, what, 40 games up until now, and it’s no different. It’s the same exact game.”
The Cougars are ranked No. 15 in the NAIA, and Williams sees this season as a chance to recapture the success that the Cougars had when she was a freshman.
“I think that we had our down time and now its back up where we started,” Williams said. “I’m happy that we’re doing it this year.”
Since the Cougars won the regular season conference championship, they have an automatic bid to the Region V Tournament, making the conference tournament less important.
But Williams doesn’t see it that way. Columbia College finished the season at 12-2 in the AMC, and Williams sees the conference tournament as a chance to avenge the team’s two losses.
“It’s time to go in and actually set the tone and show them that there was just maybe a lax and a mistake and that we really, truly are the best team in the conference,” Williams said.
Williams’ goal for the rest of the season is simple.
“To win. To win from here on out every single game,” Williams said.