Whenever Stony Brook’s softball players need a little motivation, they look to former teammate Danni Kemp.
“Really thinking back that she doesn’t have these same opportunities definitely gives us that extra little bit of a push to keep going and see the perspective in everything,” Seawolves captain Lexie Shue said.
In July, Kemp, 19, was hit in the head by a pitch while playing in a summer softball league. When Kemp began feeling dizzy and had trouble keeping her balance, doctors tested her for a concussion. Instead, an MRI revealed a cancerous brain tumor, Kemp’s uncle, Bradley Taylor, told Newsday in September.
Doctors cannot surgically remove the rare tumor, called a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, because of its location.
The softball team has dedicated the season to Kemp, and coach Megan T. Bryant said her battle puts things in perspective.
“It’s a road that no one would want their team to have to take, but we’re on it,” Bryant said. “We’re going to put one foot in front of the other and dedicate our season to Danni and play the game the way she would want to play the game and try to honor her with what we do every day on and off the field.”
Added Shue, “We’re really just rallying around that and making sure she knows that we’re not taking every day for granted.”
On the field, the Seawolves are looking to improve on a 26-24 season, including 11-6 in the America East, after winning at least 30 games in each of the previous four seasons.
Stony Brook returns catcher Irene Rivera, who was second-team all-conference and made the conference all-rookie team after hitting .317. Along with Shue, an infielder who hit .281, co-captain and infielder Chelsea Evans returns after hitting .291, including .423 with six home runs in conference games.
Maddy Neales will open as the primary pitcher after going 10-7 in 32 appearances last season, including 18 starts.
“I feel like we have a lot of potential,” Shue said. “We are kind of young, so we do have a little bit of the unknown, the uncertainty, but we do have a lot of potential.”
Stony Brook will feature six freshmen this season, many of whom could compete for playing time (eight seniors were on last season’s roster).
Evans, a captain as a junior, is excited to help them out.
“I know how it is being a freshman, and it’s rough, and some of them are away from home and you’re adjusting to college and everything,” Evans said. “But I definitely went through that experience.”
Stony Brook opens its season with five games at the Madeira Beach Tournament in Florida from Feb. 24-26. Its home opener will be a doubleheader against Monmouth on March 22 at 2 p.m.
“This group has good energy,” Bryant said. “And we have significant upperclassmen with experience and we’ll be looking toward those people to be our leadership.”
And throughout the season, they will be looking to embrace Kemp’s fight.
“Danni’s very strong,” Evans said. “And playing with her for one season, just knowing that she loved the game and playing for the love of the game and not for anything else, that definitely motivates us to play like Danni.”
With Rachel Uda