COLUMBIA — Outfitted in rubber boots, navy blue Coveralls, gloves and a black stocking cap, Abby Vock was hard at work. After getting up at 5 a.m., she was helping her father Phil Vock vaccinate more than 3,000 freshly weened piglets in a long metal outbuilding. As a grade school and high school student, Abby Vock was always ready to help her father on their family's third-generation farm in Morrison, Ill., even if it meant hard work and clothes covered in manure.
"I would work whenever he asked me to," Abby Vock said. "It was something to do. Living on a farm, I expected to do that."
No. 3 Missouri (22-3) at No. 12 Oklahoma (25-6)
WHEN: 2 p.m.
WHERE: Norman, Okla.
FACT: At the beginning of the season, Big 12 Conference coaches picked Oklahoma to finish first in the conference, while Missouri was picked to finish second.
For Abby Vock, there was always a way to deal with the sometimes unappealing nature of the work.
"She would tie her hair up in a bun and put a stocking cap on to keep the smell of manure out of her hair," Phil Vock said by phone. "I don't think she was a fan of that smell."
It's not surprising that Abby Vock's teammates voted the junior infielder the Missouri softball team's Hardest Worker after the 2009 season. She has been developing her work ethic since age 8 when she took on her first chores as a member of a hard-working farm family.
"My motto for my children was work hard now, play hard later," Phil Vock said. "It was expected for family members to help out with the farm."
Chores varied widely. Abby Vock and her sister and teammate senior Michaele Vock helped raise pigs, harvested corn and cleaned out grain bins. When helping out with the pig farm, Michaele Vock often named the pigs and played with them. But Abby Vock would compete with her older brother Nathan Vock to see who could get their work done the fastest. After vaccinating the piglets, Abby Vock would pick up as many as three of the 10-pounds animals at a time to move them to a holding pen.
"She (Michaele Vock) was more of the nurturing type, and I was more of the get job done type," Abby Vock said laughing. "I just wanted to get things done quickly and efficiently. I always wanted to be the best at it."
"Abby has always been very ambitous," Phil Vock said. "She was always watching me work on the farm, and I think that helped influence her to become a hard worker. She was eager to learn how to do new jobs on the farm."
Abby Vock's ability to handle hard work did not diminish after leaving home for college. Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine said he noticed it when she first joined the team. She is known for her gritty playing style, and Earleywine praises the constant effort she gives at practice.
"Some kids will be in a great mood, it's a beautiful day outside, it's sunny and they got a lot of energy and they are diving around for balls. The next day it's raining and they are a different player," Earleywine said. "Abby is the same every single day. She is tough as nails, and she leaves it all out on the field."
Sometimes, after Abby and Michaele Vock were done with their chores, Phil Vock would take them outside to work on hitting a softball. He would throw as hard as he could, but was not the best at controlling his pitches, and some of his wilder pitches would occasionally hit one of his daughters, leaving bruises.
"I think that was just part of the deal having me pitch to them," Phil Vock said laughing. "It helped build their tolerance to pain. Little things like that didn't seem to bother them."
Her gritty style of play and toughness has earned Abby Vock numerous starts at second base. She is known for diving after ground balls and putting her body in any position to make a play.
"She's not afraid to get behind the ball and take a gut shot," Missouri assistant coach Melissa Tucci said. "She (makes tough plays) all the time. She should be on ESPN. She just throws her body at every ball that comes her way, and she does it every day."
Even when the Tigers don't practice, Abby Vock and her sister will go to the field to work on their swings and the little things needed to improve their play.
"She is in the cages all the time with her sister, they are really good about that," Tucci said. "They always take it upon themselves to work on what they need to."
Growing up in a rural area, Abby Vock was always around her family since she did not live near any of her friends. She grew up shy and timid. Earleywine said that when she joined the Tigers, he pushed her to become more vocal, which she had trouble with in her first two seasons. Now, Earleywine said he depends on the junior to direct the infield and to help her teammates know where the play needs to be made.
"She is kind of my coach on the field," Earleywine said. "I have been kicking her butt for two years to be more vocal because she is just so smart. This year she is much more vocal. I don't have captains on the team, but if I did, there is no doubt that she would be one of them."
In practices, Earleywine keeps a notepad with him with the players' names on it. He will put a tally mark by each player's name when they display vocal leadership. Vock has thrived at accumulating tally marks.
"Oh yeah, I win every time," Abby Vock said laughing.
Abby Vock has struggled hitting this season, posting a .087 batting average. But her defensive ability and attitude keep her on the field.
"She is definitely someone you want out there for big games," Tucci said.
Abby Vock said she was surprised when she won the Hardest Worker award.
"My sister actually worked just as hard as I did," Abby Vock said. "She was with me every time I worked out there."
Thinking about her family is another quality Abby Vock won't lose. After the softball season, she said she still plans on returning to the family farm to help her father.
"I miss it, and being home," she said.