Alanna Hadley's plan was a return to the University of Georgia.
She had just finished a junior season that saw the Bulldogs reach the Final Four of the Women's College World Series and had enrolled again at UGA. But just before school started, her grandfather died and he was buried the day classes began in Athens.
Instead of going back to school, the Dacula grad came home.
"I had a hard time with (my grandfather's death) and I decided to take a break," Hadley said.
She spent the next year away from school, training 15 to 20 young pitchers to stay active. Unsure of her return to softball as a player, she didn't practice at all for more than a year.
But as the summer of 2011 began, the desire to play came back. Through her previous coach at Gulf Coast Community College (Fla.), where she pitched two seasons before transferring to UGA, she found out that Valdosta State needed pitching.
Over the course of only a couple of months, she signed and enrolled at VSU for her final college season.
"After the year off, I really missed it and realized I only had one chance to play my last year of college ball," Hadley said. "I just missed college and missed competing. I love to compete. I felt like I would regret it if I didn't play my last year."
The fall wasn't exactly smooth as Hadley did a lot of catching back up. She practiced as much as she could, whether it was on her own or just tossing batting practice for her teammates.
"When I came out for the first practice, I hadn't picked up a ball in well over a year," Hadley said. "I was starting from scratch. It definitely took some time. It took me all fall."
It didn't take the Blazers long this spring to tell that the old Hadley was back.
The right-hander has been dominant this season for VSU, which moved up to No. 1 this week in the National Fastpitches Coaches Association poll. She's the biggest reason the team is 27-2 and a perfect 12-0 in Gulf South Conference play.
Hadley was named the Louisville Slugger National Pitcher of the Week on Wednesday, a day after earning her third Gulf South Pitcher of the Week honor this season. She went 3-0 with two saves last week, sporting a 0.66 ERA in 21 innings.
"In the fall, I worked out a lot and got back in shape, so I feel a lot stronger now," Hadley said. "And I'm playing with a great group of girls."
Hadley's season ERA of 0.72 ranks third nationally in Division II and her 14-1 record tops the conference. She has 13 complete games and 74 strikeouts in 97 innings. Her seven shutouts ranked eighth nationally in D-II.
The awards are starting to pile up this season, with more surely to follow in the postseason. But Hadley said she's not worried about any of those accolades.
She returned to college to win.
"When I came in, I knew Valdosta had previously been second two years ago for a national championship, I knew I was coming in with a good group of girls and I thought I could help them," Hadley said. "Coming in, the only thing on my mind was a ring and a national championship. I'm trying to keep my mind on that goal."
Buford grad Ashley Razey powered the Georgia softball team to a series win at Ole Miss last weekend, hitting three home runs in the series. She closed the weekend with a pair of two-run homers in a 9-0 victory. ... Grayson's Shannon Bear hit two home runs Wednesday as Georgia Tech defeated Kennesaw State 9-1. She now has five home runs on the season.
Beauchamp, N. Georgia players have big week
Brookwood grad Jacob Beauchamp was named Peach Belt Conference freshman of the week on Tuesday, and his North Georgia teammates Kenny Bellavance of Parkview and Jordan Erisman of Brookwood also are coming off big weeks.
Beauchamp pitched nine scoreless innings in two North Georgia wins last week, improving his record to 3-0 and his ERA to a team-best 3.00.
Bellavance, junior centerfielder, went 7-for-14 with two doubles, a triple, five RBIs, five runs scored and a walk in the series with Georgia Southwestern. He has a team-best .355 batting average, including .383 in conference play.
Erisman, a senior infielder, went 7-for-12 in the Georgia Southwestern series, upping his average to .333. He had two doubles, two RBIs and two walks in the series.
Gwinnett trio standing out at Darton
Dacula grads Steven Williams and Tripp Calhoun and North Gwinnett grad Michael Aker, all three freshmen, are major contributors for the Darton College baseball team, ranked 12th nationally in the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Calhoun, the team's starting catcher, is hitting .347 with 17 RBIs and 18 runs scored. He is tied for the team lead in doubles (six).
Both Aker and Williams are pitchers. Aker hasn't allowed a run in six relief appearances and has a save, while Williams has four relief appearances. Williams had his best outing recently with three strikeouts in three scoreless relief innings.
More honors for Allen
Hebron Christian grad Nicole Allen, a gymnast at Ball State, was named this week to the All-Mid-American Conference second team.
Allen placed seventh in the all-around at the recent MAC Championships with a score of 38.750 and was fourth in the vault (9.850) and fifth on the floor (9.850) at the conference meet.
Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.