When softball celebrates Senior Day on Saturday before its doubleheader against Penn, only one player will take the field for the Light Blue—senior starting pitcher and captain Tessa Kroll.
But unlike many of her teammates, when she arrived in Morningside Heights, her first stop wasn’t the diamond, but the classroom. Kroll walked on the softball team days after her arrival, but soon became the sole member of her class after five of her peers moved on over the last three years.
“There were a lot of different reasons [they left the team],” Kroll said. “For some people, it was just that [they] realized that they loved doing something else much better. And when you’re at a school like this, you need to be doing something that you love.”
Though Kroll’s love for softball is shown by consistent participation, her major—biomedical engineering—has made it difficult for her to carry out those duties in full. Currently, her class schedule only allows her to only attend two practices a week.
But despite her busy schedule, Kroll still manages to be an important member of the team, something players and coaches have both noticed. In particular, sophomore shortstop Maddie Gott was amazed by the offseason work Kroll was putting in during the fall, working out five days a week while most of the team was in the gym for only three.
“As a student-athlete at Columbia in the BME program, the fact that she used her extra time to get better and stronger says a lot about her work ethic and her attitude about softball,” Gott said. “Just bettering herself because she wanted to better her team, I think that says a lot.”
Her unwavering dedication to the sport undoubtedly played a large role in Kroll’s rise from a walk-on to one of the team’s leaders in just four years.
During her first two seasons with the team, she played primarily in a relief role for the Light Blue when she was not watching from the dugout. During her first season, Kroll made only 10 appearances in the team’s 48 games, starting from the mound only three times. That number barely increased her sophomore season, when she saw action in only 14 games out of the 44-game slate.
“When I came in as a walk-on, I didn’t really get a lot of opportunities to play,” she said of her early days on the team. “It was mostly just sitting on the bench, charting pitches, and eating sunflower seeds, which as someone who loves the sport is not necessarily a bad thing. I got to watch good softball for two years.”
That all changed her junior year.
With the arrival of then-new head coach Jennifer Teague, Kroll went from starting only eight games her first two seasons combined to starting all 21 games, becoming one of the Lion’s main starters.
Although Kroll enjoyed the increased playing time, the switch from a reliever to a starter gave her trouble initially, forcing her to adapt on the fly.
This season, she finds herself in a similar position, going from a rotational pitcher to the team’s primary starter due to injuries. With only four games left, the senior leads the Lions’ pitching staff in appearances and starts at 24 and 20 games, respectively.
Not only has the walk-on led the Lions from the mound this spring, but she has also been a role model in the locker room and off the field as one of the team’s captains—yet another role she has had to grow into this season.
“Last year, she was just a role player, and she did well and worked hard,” Teague said. “But this year, she took on more of a leadership role as one of our captains. She does a good job of mentoring the young players and stepping up when we need her to step up.”
After cementing such a strong leadership role on the team, Kroll finds it hard to see a future without softball, which she’ll have to face when she steps off the field on Saturday.
“It’s been too much a part of my life since I was a little kid,” she said. “It’d be weird to just drop it entirely. Our coach has actually approached me a couple of times jokingly about coaching a little bit, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, coach [Emily Friedman]!’ But I think it’s because she can’t throw BP [batting practice].”
Regardless of whether she returns to Columbia Softball Stadium as a fan or coach in the future, Teague sees Kroll's dedication as an asset that will continue to serve her.
“I think it shows her love for the game and... Columbia softball,” Teague said. “It’s a true testament to her commitment level, and I think her commitment level is going to help her along the way in life as well.