Her new home: Waterford South

Clermont, Fla.

Kelli Connors spent an afternoon earlier this week on a softball field near the shores of Lake Minnehaha.

Think about that.


Not possible.

This was a maximum ha ha.

Because, well, while the rest of you are freezing your assets off back home, Kelli Connors lives here now.

In sunny Florida.

Where it was a gentle 77 degrees Wednesday, the sun so soothing, acting as though it had no other purpose but to create a Corona commercial.

And there was Connors, the former state Gatorade Player of the Year and whiz kid at Waterford High, playing for the Division II Florida Southern Mocs. They played two, the Mocs and Francis Marion College did, mostly because they could. It's 77 and sunny here a lot.

"It's Florida," Connors was saying between games, a freshman sounding like a senior, comfortable like in the living room recliner. "I love it here. I admit I was kind of nervous coming here because I've always played on teams with really good chemistry. It's the same as it's always been. I just love the place."

It wasn't long ago that Connors, part of permanent lore and legend in her high school gym, her name on a banner trumpeting the Gatorade honor, had no intention of seeing Florida Southern. Or knowing it existed. Turns out she owes her dad, Don, a high five.

"My dad and I drove down here on a school hunt," Connors said. "My grandmother lives in Cape Coral (more than 100 miles from FSC's Lakeland campus). We drove to her house and looked at a bunch of schools along the way.

"Florida Southern was like the last of the schools," she said. "My dad said, 'Let's just look at this last one. I hear it's really pretty.' I was like, 'OK, fine.'"

Connors reenacted the eye roll she gave her dad that day, accompanied by a sigh that could have blown up a rear tire.

"I said, 'After we visit this place, I'm going to the beach for a week,'" Connors said. "Honestly, as soon as I stepped out the car, I said, 'Daddy, I want to go to here.' We'd seen a million schools and a million campuses. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to live here."

And why not? Turns out Florida Southern has the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world. Nine buildings. It was also home to Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce and golfers Lee Janzen and Rocco Mediate.

The family contacted coach Chris Bellotto, the only coach in the 31-year history of the program. And the rest, as they say, is current events.

Connors would have played in all 12 games thus far for the Mocs, were it not for a concussion sustained last week in practice. She's feeling better. She's 0-3 with a 3.32 earned run average as a pitcher. She's also played third base and first base.

Not bad for a freshman.

Especially not bad for a freshman who was certainly a Division I prospect.

But then why risk sitting behind older players in Division I shivering in the northeast when there's sun, Frank Lloyd Wright, a chance to play right way, sun, a program that's won a national Division II title and sun here in Florida?

"I had my dream schools. UCLA was my lifetime obsession," Connors said. "But I always had myself in check. I knew I wanted to come to school and play. I didn't want to go anywhere out of my league."

Connors, who has become a full-time Moc, will always bleed the blue of Lancer Nation. She wasn't just the centerpiece of two state championship teams, but trustworthy enough to babysit coach Liz Sutman's children. You've heard of Waterford South? She's brought Waterford south.

"The thing I'll always remember about our teams was high spirits," Connors said. "I'm always kind of in a good mood. I always try to be happy. Our high school team was always happy. Now we were a winning team so it was easy to be in a good mood. But we always made it a point to stay positive.

"It's the same way here," she said. "I haven't been homesick. I was terrified I'd be homesick. But I'm surrounded by amazing people."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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