When Florida State’s Kiersten Landers laced a rocket along the left field line at the bottom of the ninth inning to score the winning run in Florida State’s 4-3 NCAA Super Regional draw against LSU on Friday, it wasn’t none of those in the West Virginia softball community hadn’t seen in four years during his prep career at South Charleston and Hurricane.
Four Class AAA All-State First Team caps, a State Tournament Finalist plaque at SC and two State Championships at Hurricane, Landers has recorded many successes and has been under quite a few dogs in his days of preparation in the Mountain State.
But what those who may have lost track of Landers in the three years since his last days at Hurricane haven’t been able to see on the ESPN show is the fact that there was a lot of different about her highlight this time around.
This time around, Landers did something she hasn’t had to do much for four years and beyond as a preparation athlete – she has conquered adversity, three seasons being worth to be exact. And he came on the biggest stage of a growing sport, and on national television to boot.
So, when asked what the hit meant to her, Landers certainly did spring up, but the peak of the moment came with a grounded perspective that is only won through patient persistence.
“I’ve been waiting for a moment like this since I was a little girl just dreaming about it,” Landers said. “I’m really happy to be in a full season. Right now I’m really grateful for it. That’s the main thing, just having a full season with my team and learning to play softball.
Since his youth, Landers has developed a habit of making the extraordinary look basic. She is a 5ft 6in speed demon possessing a combination of strength, raw talent and a multisport skill set that would place her among the best natural athletes to come out of the Kanawha Valley in recent memory. It is as indisputable as it is inexplicable and as obvious as it is rare.
Some call it a “monster”. Some call it “given by God”. Some call it “once in a generation”. Some just call it “that”.
But whatever it is, Landers has it.
His youth and college athletic exploits became an almost urban legend, stories that were told on social media in the days following his big night in the national spotlight.
Yet at that time, softball was the farthest thing from his mind.
“I played softball when I was 8 [years old] for a week and then I went back to baseball, ”Landers explained. “I just liked baseball back then.”
And she excelled, throwing several non-hitting goals in her sixth and seventh years while also occupying the first base and also participating in the travel ball.
Still, it’s still her speed, strength and agility that has helped her stand out. Landers was undefeated in the 100 and 200-meter sprints in college, thrived in the high jump, and was also a nationally ranked long jumper. She also used this jumping ability as a part of the Horace Mann volleyball team. After taking her second and first seasons in high school, she was also on the All-State second-team roster at Hurricane.
As college looms on the horizon, Landers has decided to switch from baseball to softball in eighth grade. At the request of Huntington-area hitting coach Adam LaLonde, a Huntington-based fast hitting instructor, Florida State checked in to see Landers play in a travel tournament in Orlando following his ninth-grade season. in South Charleston. It didn’t take long for both sides to emerge in awe, and less than two years after returning to the sport, Landers took part in one of the most prestigious softball programs in the country.
“They came to look at me and the next day asked me to come and visit there and I signed up a week later,” Landers said of the courtship between the two parties. “I just fell in love. The campus, the coaches, everything. It was just beautiful.
It wasn’t just that Landers made the switch from baseball to softball, but in the eighth, ninth and tenth years she also completely remade herself as a player. Once a right-hander and powerful first baseman, Landers emerged a few years later after learning how to strike with the left hand to maximize his elite speed as a slapper, bunter, and base machine, while also developing arguably the best. glove and the widest range of any center fielder in the state.
Needless to say, the transformation went wonderfully.
“As long as I’ve been there – and I coached baseball at Winfield for a few years as an assistant as well – Kiersten Landers is by far the toughest I think I’ve ever seen,” softball coach of St. Albans Christian dit Watts. “She is one of the best athletes I have ever seen play and I have seen her play a number of sports. But she could put one over the fence on any court or she could put it on the line and by the time you put your glove on the ball she was probably halfway between the first and the top. second goal.
“Really, we were just hoping she made it appear or [former Herbert Hoover pitcher] Delani [Buckner] fooled her, ”added Hoover coach Missy Smith. “You couldn’t play on her or she would hit him and hit him, and you couldn’t run into her or she would hit you.” “
“If the ball hit the infield a second time, it was behind the first base,” confirmed Winfield softball coach Steve Hensley. “Just incredible speed. And she also had really good power and good right-handed pop. She was dangerous on either side of the plate, and to me that’s as important a thing to her as anyone else.
So when Landers came to Tallahassee to start her career at Florida State, she did so with a sports career full of trophies, accolades and success behind her. But reality checked her almost instantly during field exercises during her second fall practice.
“Our coach was hitting the holes and it was the first of the day, the first of the fall, really,” Landers said. “He hit a ball against the wall and I jumped to catch it and when I landed my leg was level and my body went straight and it burst. I knew as soon as I did that he was ripped… but I caught the ball.
Landers ‘fears were confirmed by the diagnosis of a torn left ACL, forcing her to sit on the bench during the 2019 season. Facing her first major injury, Landers took on a medical red shirt and s’ is focused on his rehabilitation. While this is admittedly a difficult situation, it is one that Landers now considers has contributed to her continued success.
“It was bad, but now I’m quite grateful for it,” she said. “Being able to sit down and watch it all and learn before going on the pitch, I feel like that has helped me. I feel like I got a lot better at it and it was a extra year to train and get faster and stronger.
She hit the ground sprinting at the start of the 2020 season, totaling three hits in each of FSU’s first two games, including a hit against the No.1 Alabama in the team’s second game. the year. She was named ACC Player of the Week after her debut and was ready for a monster year … then came the COVID-19 pandemic, ending the spring sports season after just 24 games.
Although the season was cut short, Landers led the Seminoles in batting average at .358 and tied for the team’s lead in interceptions with eight.
She entered the 2021 season with the rare distinction of being a third year student. This season, like the previous two, has come with a myriad of obstacles to overcome, especially more injury issues and a prolonged and unusual collapse that has seen her come off the bench in places – as she did on Friday. .
“It was a little tough, harder than last year, but I’m just trying to stay out there and have good hitters for my team,” said Landers, who has a .265 batting average. with 13 interceptions in 41 games. . “Hitting is almost completely mental, especially at this level. Having confidence in yourself and knowing that you are good enough to do the job is a big part of typing.
But the things that hampered her – the sagging and injuries that included a sprained ankle, quadriceps contusion, and another less serious knee injury – all melted away in her triumphant sprint to first base on Friday, and the state of West Virginia celebrated with her as social media exploded.
It’s something Landers has felt throughout Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and it’s something she doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s a good feeling. I love West Virginia and how close our state is and how much they support their athletes once they leave the state to go play, ”Landers said. “I like knowing that most of the state is behind me.”
For the sport of softball, times like nationally televised Friday have taken a long time. A Super Regional game between Washington and Oklahoma on Saturday became the first varsity softball game to air on ABC. In recent years, audience records have dropped as the sport gains momentum on the national scene.
In West Virginia, softball has long been the best-kept secret of preparation sports as it continues to produce college athletes at all levels and schools. Jayme Bailey, who punched behind Landers in the No.2 hole at Hurricane and whom Landers still claims to be his best friend, cleaned up for Virginia Tech, who fell in a Super Regional streak at UCLA last week. All three of these games have aired on the ESPN family of networks.
While Marshall’s softball program has been successful in recruiting in the state, the University of West Virginia continues to be program-free. But performances and exposure like Landers and Bailey’s continue to highlight the level of play in Mountain State.
“I think it helps, people see you can come out of West Virginia and go to a good softball school,” Landers said. “With the athletes we have now and the travel ball and the girls hitting the big schools, I really feel like softball is on the rise and I hope it keeps on going. . “
Landers has come a long way in recent years, away from West Virginia, but never out of the consciousness of the people here when it comes to zonal softball.
On Friday she rose to the height of the most important event of her sporting life and now says she is living a dream. It is a dream that, thanks to his exploits, the growth of the game and the sport’s ever higher bar at youth level and levels of preparation here, is increasingly becoming a reality for the state’s athletes.
“I’ve always wanted to compete in the World Series like any softball player a kid dreams of,” she said. “I still dream about it all the time. I’m just happy it’s finally happening.