May 26, 2006

Corners felt right at home with Maroons at Stagg

After taking their team to the playoffs once again last month, two fourth-year infielders prepare to leave a program that has meant so much more than lining a base hit and making the big plays. Four years with the thrill and excitement of teamwork have contributed greatly to the two students’ overall athletic experiences.

It’s the last of the ninth, and fourth-year third-baseman Kayti Fuhr fires over to her classmate and best friend Rachel Cohen at first for the final out of the game. With another win in the books, they hand signal to each other as they do after every out.

For Fuhr, who has ended each of her four seasons with Chicago among the best in all offensive categories, playing softball has been more than just a game.

“When I came here on my recruiting visit during my senior year of high school I honestly didn’t want to come here, but my visit was so much fun and the girls were so welcoming that I fell in love with the team and that made me decide to come,” Fuhr said.

The Taylor Ridge, Illinois native immediately proved she was up to the task of taking on a starting role in her rookie season, compiling the second-best average on the team at .305 and leading the Maroons with 15 RBI.

“I guess my plan for myself was just to work as hard as possible and make sure I secured a starting spot.” Fuhr said.

Feeling right at home at the hot corner, she totaled 75 assists and 37 putouts, committing only four errors to end a strong defensive performance that strengthened her claim to the position. Fuhr shined on all fronts of the game, and with her team in the playoffs, earned a spot on the All-Midwest regional squad.

“We knew she was a good hitter coming in, and we knew she was a solid defensive player,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. “But her tenacity was unmatched. After seeing her ability get a runner out at second on a bunt, we knew she exceeded our expectations. I don’t think we expected her to be that good defensively.”

With a high bar set for her the following season, Fuhr bumped it up a notch in 2004, reaching a .331 average with 13 ribbies. Once again, she ranked second in offense, and once again her squad made it to the regionals. After their 1–0 victory over Alma in the semifinals, what being on this team was all about became clear to the third baseman.

“The second we got that third out and won the game, that was an amazing feeling,” Fuhr said. “Jumping around, screaming, hugging, that is the best feeling in the world. I got it again this year in our game against Coe.”

While she has relied on support from her teammates and has built strong friendships through softball, Fuhr attributes most of her success to great coaches at the elementary and collegiate level. Across her entire career, she ranks fifth on the all-time list with 118 hits and 10th in runs scored with 69.

“Coach and Kelly have been a huge part of my life these past four years,” Fuhr said. “But I had some amazing coaches when I was little and that is really what made me the player I am. Learning the right fundamentals when you are young is vital. If you come to college without them, it is pretty much impossible to fix them.”

For the Barrington, Illinois native across the diamond, it has been an equally fulfilling journey on the field. While her bat wasn’t always as hot as Fuhr’s, Cohen quickly earned a name for herself as an alert first baseman who had a knack at coming through in the clutch.

“I just try to go up there and hit the ball every time,” Cohen said. “I am always a lot better though when people are on base. I guess I like the pressure.”

Despite slumping slightly in 2004 when she batted .190 on the season, Cohen hit solidly in her other three years and has compiled a career .243 average. Exhibiting the best glovework of her career across the past two campaigns, she committed an astonishingly low three errors at first.

The first-baseman rebounded from her slow second-year to join Fuhr in 2005 atop the offensive charts. Having built up their confidence and finally achieving the hard balance between school work and athletics, both Cohen and Fuhr compiled their best numbers in 2005. Fuhr led the team with a .331 average, and Cohen came in right behind her, batting .306 and leading the Maroons with 20 RBI. The two good friends were in position to lead a young squad to yet another successful season in the box and on the field.

“We call each other the hot corners,” Cohen said.

Fitting her all-around top-notch play, Cohen ended the 2006 regular season on an extra high note. After drilling a homer to left-center to give Chicago a 1–0 lead over Illinois Wesleyan in the front-end of the Chicago’s final doubleheader on May 3, the first baseman saved the game for the Maroons when she nailed Titan second-year second baseman Ashley Deck at the plate.

“I’d say it was my best game of the year,” Cohen said. “The team has become a part of my family and I would have never survived U of C without them. I couldn’t imagine not being a part of a team, or my life without softball.”

“I knew we had a great group of freshman when I began,” Cohen said. “We took over the infield by storm, and we had some big plans for our four years here. Although they didn’t exactly pan out the way we hoped, we made a good run playing in regionals three out of four years and Kayti, Kate [Rhodes] and I still call each other the Dynasty, and I wouldn’t trade my years here.”

With an exciting softball career in the books, Cohen and Fuhr, like most athletes at this DIII school, are already on a path to successful career. Fuhr will gradutate with a degree in biology, while Cohen will take her econ/public policy A.B. to JP Morgan Chase this summer in Chicago.