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The starting third baseman for the Albion College softball team this season desperately needed shoulder surgery, but she determined that her team needed her more.
So Samantha Kolling played injured, gritting her teeth and stiffening her resolve while toughing it out for all 34 games on the schedule. She hit a team-best .388 with 10 extra base hits, 26 RBIs, and a .450 on-base percentage.
All that -- plus superb play in the field and inspirational leadership -- while functioning with a serious shoulder injury, one that would require surgery days after the season ended.
"What we saw from Sam this season was her incredible dedication and commitment to our program," Albion coach Christina Finch said. "Her injury was significant, but she didn't allow it to affect her. She played through the pain, and was our most reliable and consistent hitter."
Kolling, a former all-state player at Anthony Wayne High School, had a tear of the labrum, the ring of cartilage inside the shoulder joint, of her throwing arm. Surgery would have ended her season, because the injury normally requires a six-to-nine-month recovery period.
Her practice time and throwing work were substantially limited, but Kolling never used the ailment as a crutch.
"She could have very easily said the pain was too much, stepped away and taken a year off, but that's not how she's made," Finch said. "The rest of the team saw her leadership and was inspired by it. Sam perfectly exemplifies the type of athlete we need to build up this program."
Kolling, who after her recent surgery faces six weeks in a sling followed by six months of rehabilitation in order to recover in time for the 2012 season, said that despite her limitations in the field, she never considered sitting out the recent season.
"I tried to fight it because I didn't want to lie down and say 'I'm hurt and I can't play.' I'm not that type of person," she said. "The injury impacted me more in the field, especially when it was cold, but I wanted to get through the season. I could not let my team down."
Kolling, who started playing softball at age 6 and is now 21, had a nine-game hitting streak this season while helping Albion go 17-17. She credited her Anthony Wayne coach, Mark Hamann, Perrysburg coach Gary Godwin, who worked with he in the summers, and hitting guru Leon Woods with playing critical roles in her development.
"They all were great teachers and great motivators who were always pushing me to do better," Kolling said. "They've never really stopped helping me."
An anthropology major with a minor in women's studies, Kolling said that after she receives her degree a year from now she is considering going to graduate school or returning to Ohio to start her own business. She will spend this summer rehabbing her shoulder and coaching young softball players.
"Not being able to be as active as I've always been is driving me crazy, but I know this surgery and all is what's best for me in the long run," Kolling said.
"I will be able to come back for my senior season and go twice as hard. Playing with this injury has had a definite positive side -- it made me dig deep inside myself and find something I didn't really know I had. I'll come out of this stronger in a lot of ways."
Kolling said that she is excited about entering her final college season at full strength, given her long association with the game.
"I have always had a love for softball and it's always been something I enjoyed doing," she said. "That's all it takes for me, the love of the game. Just being able to step on the field … that thrill is really something and that keeps me going."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.