College Softball: NAIA Player of Year honor for Gardner
By Tim O’Brien For Sun-Times Media June 6, 2014 11:40PM
Updated: July 9, 2014 6:24AM
As her senior year at Providence came to a close, Hannah Gardner readied herself for college softball.
She did not intend to be surprised by anything.
Four years later, it is safe to say Gardner stuck by her guns, putting in the time to be the best player she could be.
“Entering your freshman year of college, you know how difficult it is going to be,” Gardner said. “The level of competition is so much higher.”
Helping lead Olivet Nazarene to a NAIA World Series berth, a Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference title and a 49-5-1 record, Gardner was named the NAIA Player of the Year.
The player of the year award was the first for Olivet Nazarene since the award was first handed out in 1998.
“It means a great deal to me,” Gardner said. “It feels like all the hard work really paid off. I tried to leave it all out there on the field every game and really play at 110 percent.”
Playing in all 55 of Olivet’s games, Gardner finished with a .531 batting average, 12 home runs, 74 runs, 73 RBI and 18 stolen bases. A defensive mainstay at second base, the 5-foot-10 senior made just eight errors in 209 chances.
Gardner’s coach at Providence, Jay Biesterfeld, knew what a talent Olivet Nazarene was getting.
“You can never say you expect someone to win a Player of the Year award, but Hannah always worked hard,” Biesterfeld said. “She always worked to improve her game, and she always had impressive bat speed. Hannah isn’t a big kid, but she could hit for power and really drive the ball.”
Olivet Nazarene won both the regular season and conference tournament in the CCAC and then won three games at the NAIA Opening Round to advance to the NAIA World Series.
Making the program’s ninth appearance at the World Series, the Tigers dropped two quick games to end their season. A disappointing end, but nothing that would put a damper on the season as a whole.
“This team was by far the most cohesive I’ve ever played on, on and off the field,” Gardner said. “We trusted each other and knew our roles, and that made us that much better. It’s hard to stop that kind of team.”
Gardner will start work on her master’s in the fall. She will play this summer with the Bloomington Lady Hearts, a semi-pro team.