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The Drill: Luverne's Connell making big step to the Gophers

Billi Connell is an outstanding fast-pitch softball player from Luverne, and her abilities will lead her to play for the Minnesota Gophers next season.

Luverne High School softball player Billi Connell motors around the bases in a recent regular season game.
Luverne High School softball player Billi Connell motors around the bases in a recent regular season game.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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LUVERNE -- Like many of the exceptional high school athletes in southwest Minnesota, Billi Connell used to wonder if she might be good enough to play for a Division II college after graduating from the prep ranks. She thought she had something to offer at the next level.

Little did she know then what she knows now. The Luverne High School girls fast-pitch softball player is not only Division II ready, she’s Division I ready, too.

Connell, a senior, will head to the University of Minnesota to continue her stellar softball career.

In a way, it almost seems like the perfect storm how the U of M discovered Connell. Here’s the way she tells it:

“How the Gophers got some good looks at me, I went to a few camps. I did relatively well, and I started talking to them from there. In the summer, my big break was they got to see me down in a tournament in Colorado. And I hit a few home runs in front of the coach.

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“It’s insane, I’m so excited. It’s unreal,” Connell continued. “Two years ago I would’ve never thought of the Gophers. I was really looking at good D-II programs that, honestly, I just saw myself at. It really just came to me in a blur. But when I did get the opportunity to maybe get scouted by some D-I schools, I really took advantage of it.”

There is an old, old maxim attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca, which has stood the test of time. It goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” The idea behind it is that gifted, focused people tend to make their own luck … which isn’t really about luck at all.

Connell, who also plays hockey for the Cardinals, has earned everything she has accumulated on the softball field. She’s an outstanding hitter, with home run power. She’s also an outstanding defensive player, and she can play virtually anywhere on the field and handle any kind of play. She says she loves softball for the competitive aspect of the game, its “intensity” and the speed of play.

Luverne Cardinals Billi Connell jumps onto home plate as the dugout cheers the run during a Monday afternoon Game against the Worthington Trojans.
Luverne's Billi Connell jumps onto home plate in a softball game against the Worthington Trojans.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

The Globe went to Luverne recently to interview Billi Connell for The Drill feature, and naturally we videotaped the encounter. You can see the video online at www.dglobe.com . Here’s a sample of the interview:

QUESTION: You can play a lot of positions in softball. What’s your favorite position?

ANSWER: “My favorite position is center-field, which I do not usually get to play. During school ball, I’m a shortstop. I love center-field because I like tracking the ball. I like the mindset of not letting the ball touch the ground.”

QUESTION: What are your best softball qualities?

ANSWER: “I think my best quality is my mindset in the batter’s box. I’m not going to take a swing and feel bad about it. I’m gonna get right back in there and look for the next pitch -- usually inside where I can get a ball I can pull. And I’m gonna be smart, I’m not going to swing at high balls. And I also think, in the field, I don’t like to make mistakes. I like to get the ball over as quickly as possible and field it cleanly. And I really pride myself in that. This year I’ve hit eight home runs (through May 18) and I can hit to the opposite field. I can pull the ball, I can hit it up the middle, I can hit hard ground balls, and I think as a hitter that also is a good thing to have.”

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QUESTION: OK, here’s our favorite question, tell us something unusual about yourself that most people don’t know.

ANSWER: “Something unique about me, I play softball and I actually hate the feel of dirt. Dirt is really not my favorite thing because it gets in my hair, it makes me feel dirty -- especially after doubleheaders. Sometimes when I dive, I’ll scratch myself and get it in my cuts. It’s such a hassle that, I guess, I have to deal with it for a few more years.”

Related Topics: THE DRILLSOFTBALL
Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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