By Justin Chartrand
Offense wins games, but pitching wins championships. Lauren Cumbess does both for UK softball.
Cumbess, a senior pitcher and first baseman, leads the Cats by attitude and effort as UK pushes toward their goal of playing in the College World Series.
UK kicked off its pursuit of the College World Series on the right foot as the Cats started the season going 12-0, including a win over the the University of Oklahoma, the defending national champion.
UK’s start (now 16-2) marked the best in school history, and a critical component to the Cats’ success has been Cumbess, both at the plate and on the mound, hitting .273 with 10 runs batted in as well as a 4-0 record with a 2.00 earned run average. But her teammates called her leadership her most important trait.
“She really tries to show everybody the way with her work ethic and the way she competes,” said Griffin Joiner, UK’s preseason Second-Team All-SEC catcher.
“She has been one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Joiner said.
Cumbess began her softball career when she was 9 years old. Her love for the game was sparked by her family, especially her father.
“My whole family has always been there for me … but my dad’s been my coach so he’s really been there through everything,” she said. “He’s been my coach my whole life, and he still comes to all my games now.”
Cumbess moved to Norman Township, Ill., with her father after her sophomore year in high school in hopes of reaching her goal of playing softball at the collegiate level.
UK head coach Rachel Lawson saw Cumbess play that same year and followed her throughout her prep career.
“We saw Lauren play in high school and she did an exceptional job,” Lawson said. “At first, we recruited her as a pitcher and then through her junior and senior year we realized what an awesome hitter she was. Lauren has been an incredible recruit for us.”
Cumbess was drawn to UK for a plethora of reasons, but one of the biggest was the coaches.
“I remember seeing the coaches at some of my games and meeting up with them and I felt like we automatically connected in some way,” she said.
Cumbess visited UK and fell in love with team and the campus.
“Everyone on the team just seemed really cool and it seemed like an atmosphere I wanted to be a part of,” Cumbess said.
She batted over .550 in high school, tallying up 14 homers and tossing 290 strikeouts while holding a 0.45 earned run average.
Despite Cumbess’ incredible softball skills, Lawson saw something more.
“Lauren is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. She is a happy story for college athletics,” Lawson said.
“Her body composition is completely different because of all the work she has done in the weight room. Academically, she has been a complete success story, a 100 percent turn around.”
Her attitude regarding the game is something all the players take notice of too.
“I think she is a role model to a lot of people here,” freshman pitcher Shannon Smith said.
“She has such a great work ethic and can always keep that positive attitude all the time no matter what is going on.”