Kelsey Gross returned for a fifth year in hopes of achieving her first OVC title in 2021. HASSAN TAYLOR | THE ALL STATE

A fifth-year senior from Collierville, Tenn., Kelsey Gross is a Swiss Army Knife for the APSU softball team.

From the circle to the batter’s box and even first base, Gross’ game on the field is anything but what her last name might dictate.

A foot injury kept her from appearing in the abbreviated 2020 season. But Gross, like five other seniors from last year’s team, returned in 2021 with championship aspirations.

“I felt like we had unfinished business,” she said. “Obviously, my scenario was a little different after having foot surgery in December of 2019. That allowed me to use a redshirt to fully recover and come back, but when I found out that some of my best friends were coming back it was like ‘Let’s do this, we are all in.’”

Recruited to serve mainly as a pitcher by former APSU head coach Shane Showalter, Gross had an impressive freshman campaign during her first year in Clarksville. She led the team in wins (9) and ranked second in innings pitched (106.2) and starts (20).

When Kassie Stanfill took over as the program’s 10th head coach following the 2018 season, her role drastically increased. While Gross had already asserted her role as a dominant pitcher, she began to make a name for herself as a batter as well.

In her first two years at APSU, Gross never posted over five hits in a season, nor did she sport an overall winning record from the circle. Both changed the following season.

Gross appeared in 55 games for the Governors in her first two years and had nine hits on 34 at-bats. As a junior, she appeared in all 55 games for Coach Stanfill, recording 47 hits, four home runs and a .315 batting average, good for third on the team.

After appearing in more of a relief role the year prior, in which she posted a program-record five saves, Gross served as a valuable starter in a talented pitching rotation that featured likely future APSU Hall of Fame member, Morgan Rackel.

Rackel and Gross were a one-two punch from the circle for APSU in 2019. While Rackel served as the team’s ace with 21 wins in 30 games, Gross recorded eight wins and had just a single loss on the season. 

“There already was a name for Austin Peay softball, but we wanted to keep it going and go on the hunt for an OVC championship,” she said. “That was our main goal of coming back this year and doing it together.”

Gross currently ranks top-five in numerous categories both on the offensive end and from the circle. She leads the team in doubles (four), ranks third in batting average (.306) and hits (19), fourth in slugging percentage (.484) and also sits second among pitchers in ERA (3.79), innings pitched (34.2) and wins (four).

Now a part of five different squads across her career at APSU, Gross says that this year’s team is unlike any other that she has been a part of.

“[With] Team 36, it’s the family atmosphere,” she said. “We are a unit; we all rely on each other. One through nine are good hitters. Even if one person isn’t on their game, we have other people that we can rely on. As a pitching staff, we tell ourselves all the time that we do not have an ace, we have a staff. 

“If one person is not hot that day, another person from the battery is coming in and has their back and that is just the atmosphere that we have created within one another, just that we have each other’s backs and are a family.”

For Stanfill, Gross is not only a seasoned veteran led by skill, but also a contender unlike any other she has coached.

“Kelsey is a fierce competitor,” Stanfill said. “Nobody can ever take that away from her. We know that she is going to go, she is going to compete and that she is going to give it 110%, no matter what she is doing from the circle, first [base] or in the batter’s box. She has really just come in this year and said, ‘This is my last hoorah, I am going to give it my all [and] I am going to compete.’ She brings her competitive edge every day.”

In her final season, Gross helps to do her part in leading the Govs to their first OVC Championship. In the process, she continues to show that her performance from any of her numerous field positions is far from gross.