Elkins Thumb Surgery Could Be Blessing In Disguise
Ragin' Cajuns Catcher Lexie Elkins will undergo surgery for her injured glove hand and miss significant time, but her coach thinks it could be a blessing in disguise.
Not only was Elkins leading the nation in home runs and batting average before she suffered her injury, she was also chasing history. This injury most likely dashes her chances of setting NCAA and university records. More importantly, it gives her team and coaching staff a major chunk of adversity to handle.
Typically, coaches would be wrought with disappointment or frustration in a situation like this. Head Coach Michael Lotief is choosing to look for silver linings in this storm cloud.
"Elkins is a good kid, who, to me, will look back at this point in her life as a blessing," Lotief said with a stern face. "Maybe she doesn't need this record."
Lotief reminded everybody at his weekly press conference that life has a way of humbling you. Sports often mirror the real world, and Lotief knows a little something himself about battling adversity. After going through his own personal battle for life, he tries to share what he took away from his fight with his players.
Elkins' injury certainly isn't life and death, but Lotief believes it could teach her lessons she might not have expected to get with this much success.
"Nobody wants to win worse than I do, but life is not about that, and softball is not about that. It's about humility, and now that that kid is hurt, and she comes to me and says 'it's not fair, I'm chasing a record, I'm having a great year, we're ranked' and all that nonsense that people think what this is about...all they have to do is look at me," Lotief said. "Pain, suffering, injury, it's a blessing, it's not a curse. If you're chasing power and rankings and arrogance, I guess we have a problem here, but that's never been the journey we've been on."
The goals remain the same: get into postseason play and eventually reach the College World Series. Their climb to the top of the mountain became more steep, but the summit is still the same height. As long as they keep progressing and trusting the system, they can deal with the loss of anybody.
Against Texas State, six different Cajuns clobbered ten home runs in Elkins' absence. Sara Corbello, a senior who suffered her own tough times at UL, stepped up with a shot over the wall in each of the three games. That makes six straight Sun Belt games with a homer for Corbello, who is quietly stepping up with the rest of the team to shoulder the load left by Elkins.
Fans hit the panic button, but the team had a plan for this emergency scenario from the start.
"We prepared for this situation." Corbello said. "As crazy as it sounds, it's something we talk about and prepare for."
Corbello also reminded the fans that Elkins is still there with them in the dugout. She might not be able to swing the bat, but her words of wisdom for true freshman Brittany Nollkamper (her replacement at the catcher position) and the pitching staff will still have an effect on the games.
Lotief emphasized Elkins' presence will be missed the most behind the plate, where she handles the game and calms it down for a young but talented pitching staff. He also said her injury is "the worst place to have an injury as a catcher." It not only affects her ability to catch the ball, the thumb injury is on her lead hand at the plate too. If Elkins is going to help the Cajuns down the stretch, she's going to have to put the work in recovering her strength over weeks of waiting.
The wrong way to approach this injury would be to neglect its impact. Playing the denial game with the loss of your best player would be naive, and Lotief is too smart for that. He understands the beast his team is faced with, but he refuses to let it intimidate him and the players.
"We're going to be OK. Does it hurt our chances of winning and getting to the [College World Series]...sure it does," Lotief admitted. He also pointed out his team already survived a similar scenario before the season even started. "This is the second kid to go down. Nobody remembers that. [Samantha] Walsh went down, and we overcame it."
Walsh' injury provided freshman Kara Gremillion the platform to perform, and she locked down the third base position with grace and skill. Will Nollkamper be able to replicate Elkins' productivity? Clearly not, but all she has to do is handle what she can and allow her teammates to do the rest. They're called "team" sports for a reason. Losing one player affects the preparation, but it shouldn't be the end of your season.
If her surgery and recovery go smoothly, Elkins could still be back to help the Cajuns with their postseason push. There will be growing pains without her, but injuries are part of the game.
Lotief has been coaching for long enough to know that injuries never come at a convenient time. This injury just so happened to strike a National Player of the Year candidate halfway through the season. The milk is already spoiled, no need to shed any tears.
"If the boat rocks a bit going forward, we'll just keep our mentality the same." Lotief said. "Keep grinding, and let's see where we end up at the end of this thing. I think it has the opportunity to make us better."
Some blessings come in disguise. If the Cajuns can find a way to improve with this harsh punishment from the powers that be, nobody will be able to question their team spirit.