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Heath listens to voice calling her back to Seward

By Jake Knabel on Jan. 18, 2018 in Softball

Independently, each of the Heath sisters, all talented softball players, migrated away from hometown Seward. Kallie, the oldest, stayed close to home and attended the University of Nebraska. The middle sister Kasey landed at Texas A&M University. Finally, in the fall of 2016, youngest sister Kenna enrolled at the University of Sioux Falls, where she was a member of the softball team.

Todd LaVelle, who is entering his fifth season leading the Concordia softball program, had coached each of the Heath sisters for traveling softball teams during his long run as a high school coach and teacher. LaVelle recruited both Kasey and Kenna to Concordia, but they decided they wanted to experience college in new surroundings.

A friend of Kenna's parents, John and Janice Heath, LaVelle always left the door open should any of the Heaths decide to reconsider.

Said Todd of Kenna, “She’s an outstanding player. She had one of the highest batting averages on the team at Sioux Falls, playing at a very high level. Her high school coach thought she was a borderline Division I athlete, but that’s only half of it. What impresses me the most is just who she is. She’s an outstanding individual with high character and is a great Christian. That’s why we thought this would be a great place for her.”

It took three college semesters before it became a reality, but the time has come. Kenna is a Concordia Bulldog. Said Kenna, “If I am being completely honest, Concordia wasn’t in my plans I had for myself at all.”

So what changed? Something didn’t feel quite right about her initial college choice. It wasn’t due to a lack of friends. Kenna already misses the friendships she developed in Sioux Falls. She just couldn’t ignore the voice inside her head. Kenna returned to Sioux Falls for her sophomore year. While it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact moment when her mind was made up, she began another semester this past fall with uncertainty in her future.

In the back of Kenna’s mind, she knew Concordia would always be there for her. “I’ve known Coach (LaVelle) for a very long time,” Kenna said. “As soon as my sisters started playing travel softball, he was their coach. I played for him one summer.

“I remember I really liked how aggressive he was as a coach and how passionate he was. He wasn’t afraid of anyone. He wanted us to play the best we could and he was always really straight up with us. I liked that a lot.”

With open arms, LaVelle welcomed Kenna as a member of the Bulldogs. She’s just starting to get comfortable in a new environment that includes new professors and new teammates. Thankfully, she has the skills to cope. She proved during her freshman season at Sioux Falls that she can play college softball. She hit .346 and stole 10 bases over 51 games in her only season with the Cougars. Plus, the exercise science major (pre-physical therapy) has smarts.

Still, there were reservations about how much she could grow as a collegian in her hometown and how her teammates would react to her joining the team in the middle of a school year.

“I wasn’t so sure about it at first but now that I have been back it’s been nice to be closer to family and be able to spend more time with them,” Kenna said. “I still miss friends up there a ton. I was just a little nervous about joining a new team at semester and changing schools in the middle of the year. I was the new kid without being a freshman with other new kids surrounding me, but it’s been really good so far.”

While mulling over her decision to leave Sioux Falls, Kenna had several conversations with her parents, John and Janice, and with sisters Kallie and Kasey. Judging by the divergent paths taken by each sister, it’s quite clear there was never any pressure placed upon any of them to go to any certain place. As it turns out, the right place for Kenna is Concordia. Her family, in addition to Coach LaVelle, was going to be proud of her all the same.

But this feels different now. This feels like home. Her father has often served as public address announcer for Bulldog softball games over the past few seasons. Wouldn’t that be something for Kenna to stride to the plate and have her own father proudly bellow out her name?

“They just want what’s best for me, whatever makes me happy,” Kenna said of her parents. “They would come to all my games even if I was playing across the world. They’re so great and are so supportive of me no matter what. I think they’re excited. They’ll put less miles on the car this year.”

Kenna is the next in a long line of recent Seward Bluejays to find out that a whole new world is waiting for them right in their own backyard at Concordia. Finally, one of the Heaths is staying home. Said LaVelle, “They were very up front with me that they wanted to leave home. They’ve always known that they had a place here at Concordia and could play for me if anything didn’t work out.”

Less than two weeks into her life at Concordia, Kenna says things are working out just fine.

Says Kenna, “God really showed me that I needed to do something different and I am working on trusting Him and His plan for me. After my first week-and-a-half or so, I’m feeling pretty good about it.”