Hanging around the field during a college softball game, you may hear a lot of cheers and chants and instruction from both coaches and players. But at a Kutztown University softball game, the voice of soft-spoken senior Taylor Knappenberger is one that may get lost in the shuffle.
That is not a knock, however, on the communication or leadership that the Schnecksville native brings to the diamond. There are vocal leaders and there are those who lead by example. Knappenberger is the latter.
But with last week’s news around the country with colleges canceling spring sports seasons, including the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, Knappenberger knew she had to step up and say something as the lone senior on her team.
A team that was in the midst of a 13-game spring break trip in Florida when all of the sports world stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Being the only senior was definitely a hard role to step into,” said Knappenberger. “I lead more by example than vocally. Throughout the week, I tried to step up and tell everyone to not think about what was going on with conferences canceling and all of that and to try and focus on our games and taking it one game at a time since we didn’t know when it would be our last.”
The Golden Bears last game came the following day, Saturday, March 14. Knappenberger and her teammates were able to play until literally the final out was made, which happened to be a Kutztown 7-4 victory over PSAC opponent Edinboro University. KU went 11-2 on the trip and finished the shortened season 15-7 overall.
“When I first found out it honestly felt like my heart was ripped out of me and I just saw the devastation on all of my teammates faces knowing that our season was canceled,” Knappenberger said. “You could feel the emotions on the bus on the way to the field. It was dead silent.
“Teams were dropping out left and right because of the news. We played each game like it was going to be our last game of the season. Every time that I went back out to third base, I would look at the scoreboard, because I knew it kept getting closer and closer to possibly the end of my career at Kutztown. You could also see it in everyone’s eyes, not only the players but also the coaches and the parents.”
The final doubleheader of the 2020 campaign against the Fighting Scots was a unique situation in many ways. The two teams, whom actually squared off in the opening game of the PSAC Tournament last season, were not originally supposed to meet on the trip. But with many teams wanting to take off early, Kutztown head coach Judy Lawes knew her team wanted to keep playing as long as they possibly could. So she made it happen.
“I asked the tournament director about how many teams were still down here,” said Lawes. “The Edinboro coach (Dan Gierlak) asked his kids and they definitely wanted to play. It was a great scene. They brought bag pipes. You had the increased competitiveness of a conference opponent.
“There were no other fields that had games going on so we were kind of like the showcase. They were able to celebrate their senior day like we did the day prior. So it was a win-win for us both.”
That is the beauty of college sports. Two teams came together for the common good.
Senior day is a celebration that all student-athletes look forward to after four years of hard work and dedication to their crafts. For many other spring seniors, the hoopla was either greatly diminished for taken away completely. But for Knappenberger, albeit small, she was still able to be recognized by her teammates and coaching staff in front of family that just so happened to make the trip to Florida that week.
“It definitely wasn’t the senior day that I expected to have but it still meant a lot to me,” said Knappenberger. “My family hasn’t been to a Florida trip and to have them there this year meant a lot to me. I couldn’t thank them enough for all the time and support they have put in for me to be where I am today.”
Since announcing the cancellation of spring sports, the NCAA has approved adding an extra year of eligibility for seniors who missed their spring seasons. That can at least give some solace in knowing that student-athletes have the option to play the sports that they love for one more year.
Knappenberger may want to take advantage of that route.
“I have thought about the new ruling that the NCAA announced,” Knappenberger said. “I have thought about staying for that extra year because I don’t want my career to end like this. I have worked so hard to get where I am at and to have that all taken away from me in a matter of a second.
“It’s definitely a decision that I still need to make but I am leaning towards staying that extra year.”
Whether she puts on a Maroon and Gold uniform for one more run, or decides to focus on life after school, Kutztown University and KU softball will have a special place in her heart.
“In my four years at Kutztown, there were a lot of highs, but also some lows,” said Knappenberger. “Coming in as a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that the softball program was one of the best [in the PSAC]. After having a successful season my freshman year, injuries hurt my sophomore year. But going through this softball program I have played with a lot of great players like Savannah Nierintz.”
“All of these players taught me to be the player and person that I am today.”
Knappenberger has been a regular in the lineup all four years. She has started in 148 of 149 games played in her career, totaling 109 hits, 45 RBI and 51 runs, while hitting nearly .300 for her career (.297). She has a .931 fielding percentage through four years and ranked eighth in the PSAC this season with 35 assists. Knappenberger is a sport management major and would be welcomed back with open arms by Lawes, who sits eight wins shy of 1,000 in her career.
“Taylor is a four-year starter so she has familiarity with the program,” said Lawes. “It would be a great addition to get her back. She’s a leader by example and is always was on time and committed to the program. She’s talented across the board and it means a lot to have a type of player like her. She is well-liked by teammates.”
This article originally appeared on the Kutztown University website.