Brooke Gates is naturally quiet, taking a "go-with-the-flow" approach during her first three seasons on the University of Toledo softball team.
Yes, that is Gates "smiling, dancing, laughing, cheering," Rockets coach Tarrah Beyster said.
The Sylvania Southview High School graduate not only is the team's second-leading hitter but also is among its most respected leaders.
"I wanted to make sure we could make the best of this year," Gates said. "I'm definitely more vocal. As a freshman, sophomore and even as a junior, I just kind of sat back and let other people take charge. But this year, I've kind of stepped up and done it myself."
She's stepped up between the lines, too. Gates is hitting .324 with 12 doubles and 17 runs scored. At various points this season she played center field, shortstop, and second base while shuffling up and down the order. She batted first, second, and third before settling into her current role at the bottom of the lineup. As she spoke with a reporter last week, one of her teammates loudly called her the "best No. 9 hitter in the MAC."
Gates, a communications major, said she is approaching her final season with added purpose.
After a strong freshman year -- she led the team with 6 home runs and 15 RBIs -- Gates was not content with the arc of her career. She batted .167 in 49 starts last season.
"We had a really big talk about what she wanted to see happen her senior year, and she wanted to end it strong," Beyster said. "I could see she had that fire and desire in her eyes to make a name for herself and catapult the program into a better place."
Beyster said Gates became a dedicated "student of the game." Gates spent her off-season in the batting cages, focusing on plate discipline and her opposite-field stroke, then put the changes into action this spring.
Her batting average ranks among the league's top 25.
One of four Rockets seniors, Gates, who plans to study criminal justice in graduate school at UT, will miss her graduation ceremony this weekend as the Rockets travel to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. But she has no complaints.
Toledo has only four regular-season games remaining before a potential trip to the MAC Tournament in Akron.
"I just want to enjoy every minute of this," Gates said. "The games are limited, and I just want to go out with a bang."
Contact David Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.