In sports, some awards not only recognize the achievements of athletes on the field, but their accomplishments off of it as well.
In 1991, the NCAA created the Woman of the Year award, which recognizes graduating female college athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves in academics, athletics, service and leadership throughout their collegiate careers.
On July 14, Coastal Carolina softball infielder Kassidy Smith was named one of a record 605 college athletes nominated by NCAA member schools for the 2020 NCAA Woman of the Year award.
“It is an absolute honor to be selected by Coastal’s athletic department and everyone that I have come to know over the past four years that they are willing to allow me to represent not only our school but the softball program as well,” Smith said. “I could not be more excited.”
Her mother agrees.
“I was so proud of her because we always knew that she took her softball very, very seriously but I always wanted her to know that what she accomplishes off the field is just as important as what she accomplishes on it,” Amy Karriker Smith said.
Coastal Carolina softball head coach Kelley Green also praised her player.
“We have known since the recruiting process that Kass was special and it is a great feeling that someone from our program is getting this recognition,” she said. “It just speaks to the kind of person that Kass is. I am really happy and proud for her.”
Green added that Smith was “more mature than your typical 17, 18-year old” and could tell that she “had a big heart”.
“She is a very driven individual,” said Green. “She made goals and she had her career planned out. And each year, we saw her grow even more and develop into an even better person.”
Smith came to Coastal in 2017 and from the start she proved to be a top talent on the Chanticleer softball team. In her freshman year, she started 54 out of the 55 games she appeared in, recorded a slugging percentage of .534 and racked up 11 home runs and 31 RBIs.
Throughout her career, Smith tallied 38 home runs, good enough for fourth all-time in the CCU record books, and 100 RBIs. Smith was named to the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Championship All-Tournament team and was twice named the Sun Belt Player of the Week over her time at CCU. She also posted a .564 career slugging percentage and a .441 career on-base percentage, while playing solid in the field with a .992 career fielding percentage.
Those numbers could be a lot higher if the season had not ended so abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the shortened season, Smith and her parents view the nomination as a positive moment during a dark time.
“When the season was canceled, it was not a great time,” Smith said. “The team was devastated. However, this definitely helps me realize that there are still some good things than come out of 2020, on top of all the good things that came out of my career at Coastal.”
Smith isn’t just hitting home runs on the diamond. She is also going yard in the classroom and in the community. She held a 3.662-grade point average in biology, garnering Coastal Carolina University Dean's List honors four times and earning NFCA Academic All-American recognition in 2017-18. Smith graduated cum laude with her bachelor's degree in biology and a double minor in chemistry and psychology in May 2020. She was also co-president of the Honors Student Council, an Honors Research Fellow, and a Kenneth E. Swain Scholar award recipient.
On top of all of that, she has also played a huge role in giving back to the community, a quality that her mother says that she always had.
“Whenever she was playing for the Collinsville Extreme, the travel ball team here in our hometown, there were a lot of times they did community events or things like food drives and she got a taste of that early,” her mother said. “She always wants to make the world better.”
She has been a constant in the community, having worked with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Miracle League, while also volunteering her time for causes such as Caring for Kindergarteners, The Shepherd's Table and many others.
During her time at Coastal, Smith was a part of Coastal’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). One of the biggest issues that the organization has tackled during Smith’s time there has been breaking the stigma of mental health among student-athletes.
“Mental health is extremely important for student-athletes. It is important for everyone but when it comes to student-athletes, we go through so much mental and physical exhaustion with our sport, our schooling and our social life and keep it all in a very delicate balance,” said Smith, who served as president of Coastal SAAC in her senior year. “It is really important for people to know that it is OK to have those problems and it is OK to reach out for help.”
“Having a way to find that help that they’re going to need is huge and I am really proud of what SAAC and Kassidy have been able to do and bring light to certain issues and help provide an outlet to kids who need it,” said Jason Smith, Kassidy’s father who is also a baseball coach back in her hometown of Collinsville, Illinois.
Conference offices will select up to two nominees each from their pool of member school nominees. All nominees who compete in a sport not sponsored by their school's primary conference, as well as associate conference nominees and independent nominees, will be considered by a selection committee. Then, the Woman of the Year selection committee, made up of representatives from the NCAA membership, will choose the Top 30 honorees — 10 from each division.
From the Top 30, the Woman of the Year selection committee will determine the top three honorees in each division and announce nine finalists.
When asked what being named the 2020 NCAA Woman of the Year would mean to her, Smith said it would be “absolutely unbelievable”.
“Just to be nominated is an honor alone, but if I were to actually win the award, it would mean the absolute world to me,” Smith said. “I would be honored to be a part of an elite group of female athletes that have been honored with winning this award.”
“It would be amazing to see her get this award because she has worked so hard for it,” her mother said. “She started playing softball when she was four and then transitioned to select when she was nine. She was a two-sport athlete in high school. To see all this hard work both on and off the field, it floors us. I honestly have no other words.”
In the meantime, Smith is preparing to give back to the game of softball as a coach in her hometown. She will be the head coach of the Extreme Softball U10 team. Her assistant coach? Her father, Jason.
“It’s a speechless moment, to be honest,” Jason Smith said. “From being her coach when she was five and six years old to now being able to see her take the reins and I am going to be there help her and watch her grow into a head coach is going to be awesome.”
“It’s definitely going to be an exciting time working with the younger kids and helping them develop, not just as athletes but as people,” Kassidy Smith said. “Having my dad help out is going be an added bonus. It should be an exciting season.”
The NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics then will choose the 2020 NCAA Woman of the Year, who will be named this fall.