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New London - Kelly Grills was the backup second baseman last year behind Jamie Kim, who was in the midst of setting the Coast Guard Academy softball team's career record for games played.
Yet Grills, a Stonington High School graduate who is now a junior at the academy, never wavered in the effort she gave.
"She could have been passive in practice," Coast Guard coach Donna Koczajowski said Wednesday of Grills. "But she was always trying to win a position. Kelly's always had an extremely positive outlook. It's hard to check your ego at the door, per se."
Grills, despite having played in just seven games last season - going 1-for-6 with three runs scored and an RBI - was recently named one of the softball team's two captains for the 2013 season along with repeat pick Stacia Sarwinski.
The captains were voted on by the Bears' returning players following their series of fall practice sessions.
Koczajowski delivered the news to Grills, whom she anticipates being the team's starting second baseman this season. Grills was a Class M all-state selection at shortstop for Stonington, graduating in 2010, before making the switch to second base at Coast Guard.
"She tried to be kind of cool," Koczajowski said of Grills' reaction to her captaincy. "But Kelly's an emotional person. I could tell she was really psyched. ... Kelly's a good, solid kid. She also holds a leadership position in the corps (guidon, or leader of underclassmen, for Bravo company). She's emerging as a leader."
Coast Guard finished 28-19 last season with its third straight New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference tournament title and fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance.
Last year's captains were Sarwinski and seniors Kim and All-America pitcher Hayley Feindel.
"It's a real honor, especially for someone who hasn't really played in two years," Grills said of being named captain. "That shows they think I'm not only ready as a leader, but they think I have the right attitude for the team.
"My goal was always to have as much impact from the bench as I could. If I could have a good attitude, help them do their jobs on the field, then I was doing my job. It's more of a team effort than anyplace else I've ever experienced."
Koczajowski said Grills has improved by approaching practice the right way. She said Grills has consistently been one of the team's best bunters and is a strong contact hitter, as well as possessing an excellent defensive backhand.
The coach said she believes the team is on a mission to prove that it can remain in contention in the NEWMAC without Feindel, who last week had her No. 16 retired by the school, the first athlete in Coast Guard Academy history to have that distinction.
"I'm excited to have a chance to get in the lineup," Grills said. "I'm excited to be out there. It's a whole different team; it's a totally different game we're playing. Don't count us out yet."
Overall, Grills has excelled at a place, the Coast Guard Academy, that she never envisioned herself in the first place. It wasn't until receiving her acceptance letter from the academy that she realized it was an opportunity she couldn't let pass her by.
"I love it so much more than I ever thought," Grills said. "I never thought I'd like it this much. I have zero regrets. You don't make better friends than you make at a military academy. You don't just get to be in an organization like this. I love it."