The new year is starting off on a good note for Kendall Dawson, and if it’s anything like last year, 2013 is bound to be a great one.
Dawson returned home to Plant City in late December, after graduating from the University of Alabama, where she was a part of the Crimson Tide softball team, which won the first Women’s College World Series in school history and the first for the South Eastern Conference last summer.
It was the best way to end a great career.
“The experience I had while at Alabama was unlike anything I’ve ever had,” says Dawson, a former standout for Plant City High School. “These last four years have been a blur.”
Now, she is pursuing a dream she has had since beginning her college playing career — coaching. With the help of former PCHS assistant coach Christina Dovale, Dawson recently began a graduate assistant coaching position with St. Leo University, a private, non-profit, Roman Catholic liberal arts university 35 miles north of Tampa.
Dawson will serve as the bench coach for Lions, a Division II member of the Sunshine State Conference, and assist head coach John Conway in infield and catcher development, as well as help out with the bullpen.
She also will be the team’s academic liaison, in addition to recruiting and travel coordinator, duties she says she is learning “on the fly.”
“I can relate to the whole recruiting process having gone through it just a few years ago,” she says. “I still remember things that were said to me on visits, so I know that those things stick with you and what you tell recruits and the experience they have with you can make or break their decision.”
Dawson began her duties with St. Leo this month. The team began spring practice Tuesday, and Dawson soon will be certified to recruit on and off campus.
With school being out for Christmas break, Dawson recently had to show a recruit around by herself.
“It was a little nerve-racking,” she said. “But I’m enjoying it.”
Through Dovale and Conway, Dawson was able to enroll in a master’s program and begin her grad assistantship during the spring semester. Dawson is pursuing a master’s degree in sports fitness, after earning her bachelor’s degree in kenisiology and exercise science from Alabama.
“Education comes first for me,” she says. “I would love to be able to continue to coach and see where that goes, but you have to have a fall-back if that doesn’t work out.”
Dawson, a senior catcher for the Alabama championship team, not only finished her career being named to the All-SEC Second Team and the SEC All-Defensive Team but also was a key contributor in bringing home the school’s first national championship in softball.
She drove in the winning run against California in the semifinals of the WCWS and hit an RBI single in Game 1 of the championship series against Oklahoma. She also scored a run against the Sooners in the title-clinching Game 3 of the series.
Winning a national championship meant a great deal to Dawson and her team, after the Crimson Tide advanced to the WCWS three out of the four years Dawson was at Alabama.
“Each time, we suffered heart-breaking losses,” she remembers. “Every year, we had the potential and talent to win it all but always came up short. It meant so much to finally be able to do it.”
Dawson finished her career with Alabama as a two-time SEC All-Defensive team honoree and a Second Team All-SEC selection as a senior. She also excelled in the classroom, earning her a place on the SEC Academic Honor Roll as a junior and senior.
Starting in 201 games, she finished her playing career with a .988 fielding percentage, committing only 18 errors in 1,507 chances and throwing out a Crimson Tide record 44-of-80 base runners.
She also got plenty of national exposure, playing on ESPN more than 20 times last season.
Dawson returned home on Christmas Eve.
With the rigors that come with playing a Division I sport and keeping up with academic studies, she rarely had a chance to come home.
She was able to make it down only once — last fall to see her younger brother, Sawyer, play linebacker for the PCHS varsity football team. Sawyer also plays baseball, while Kendall’s older sister, Mackenzie, played softball for Eckerd College and hopes to volunteer as a pitching coach at PCHS.
Now at home full-time and commuting to St. Leo, Dawson says it has been an adjustment being away from Tuscaloosa, her home for the last four years.
“It’s a strange feeling,” she says. “Sometimes, I feel like I’m still on vacation from school, but I love being home, because I missed my family and friends.”
When she isn’t handling duties at St. Leo, Dawson teaches lessons and clinics locally and in Lakeland.
“There aren’t many catching coaches in the area, so there is a need for it,” she says.
Before taking on her first practice as a college coach, Dawson made the trip to Miami Monday with several of her former teammates to watch her alma mater stomp Notre Dame for the BCS National Championship.
Last year was a big one for Alabama — the softball, football, gymnastics and women’s golf programs all won national titles.
“We like to consider ourselves ‘Title Town,’” Dawson says.
Contact Matt Mauney at firstname.lastname@example.org.