Sports

UCF lands pitching gift in Holliday

Klahowya senior Kazandra Holliday signed a letter of intent Tuesday to play softball next season at the University of Central Florida. - Wesley Remmer/staff photo
Klahowya senior Kazandra Holliday signed a letter of intent Tuesday to play softball next season at the University of Central Florida.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photo

Ron Whiteley remembers the day when Kazandra Holliday's rise to stardom effectively began.

At the time the coach of a local Diamond Dusters U14 fastpitch team, Whiteley needed one of his players to shoulder the burden of the sport's most demanding position, pitcher. With the season about to begin, he had nobody.

Until Holliday, who on Tuesday signed a letter of intent to play fastpitch at the University of Central Florida, raised her hand to volunteer.

"We didn't have a pitcher and we got all the kids together and said, 'We need somebody to pitch,'" Whiteley remembered while standing in the auditorium at Klahowya shortly after Holliday inked her name to UCF in front of about 100 spectators. "Kaz stuck her hand up and said, 'I'll give it a try.' Ever since that day she's worked hard."

The hard work has paid off; Holliday leaves Klahowya as the school's all-time leader in strikeouts and can now call herself a Division I fastpitch player. She'll even vie for the No. 1 pitching position when the 2010 season begins next spring.

"I've always wanted to play Division I," Holliday said of UCF, which finished the season fifth in Conference USA with a 26-28 record. "I really wanted to get to the highest level I could, to get better."

Not only does Holliday continue to get better, but she has emerged as one of the area's most dominant pitchers. With six pitches in her repertoire — including a fastball, changeup, riseball and screw-riseball — Holliday combines hard work with fundamentals to keep hitters off balance.

"That kid has put in more practice time than any athlete I've ever seen," said Whiteley, now Holliday's pitching coach. "To accomplish what she's done in four years, to learn the pitches and be fundamentally sound, it takes an incredible amount of work."

Whiteley said he's seen high school pitchers who have six-pitch repertoires, but very few who are as fundamentally sound as Holliday.

"A lot of them will say they have six good pitches, but they'll only have two or three that they've mastered," he said. "Kaz has got all six mastered. She can throw any one of them fundamentally correct at any one time."

Holliday said she's already received an incoming-freshman conditioning workout from UCF and she is simply excited to take the next step in her fastpitch career.

"I was really excited. I was like, 'I can't believe I'm holding it. This is my dream here,'" she said of receiving her letter of intent in the mail. "It was really nerve-wracking."

UCF, located in Orlando, Fla., is the nation's fifth-largest Division I school with an enrollment of about 50,000. The softball team came into existence in 2002 and Holliday said the school has a strong forensic science program, of which she is interested.

Renee Luers-Gillispie is UCF's softball coach, a coach Holliday called "strict, but fun at the same time."

For the past two weeks, the two have talked on a daily basis.

"I talk to her non-stop," Holliday said. "The players totally adore her."

This summer, Holliday will continue to play for the Tacoma-based Washington Phoenix, a traveling team that competes annually in tournaments in California, Oregon, Nevada and Colorado, among others. She is a member of the Phoenix's 18A Gold team.

Next spring, Holliday hopes to vie for the No. 1 pitching position when the 2010 season kicks off.

"She (Coach Luers-Gillispie) said right now they don't have a No. 1 pitcher, so everything is up for grabs," Holliday said. "I'm going to work hard and hopefully get that spot."

"She's going to have to continue working hard," Whiteley said. "It's just going to take a lot of hard work. At that level, it's a major part of her life. I think she'll tackle that straight on."

Holliday's father, Tom, grew up six miles from the UCF campus and said he has family in the area, which was a factor in the family's decision to choose UCF.

Meika Bumalough, Holliday's Lady Eagle teammate, signed earlier this season to play college ball at Sterling College in Kansas.

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