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Softball pitcher finds 'the best of both worlds' at Calvin
By Lynn Bolt Rosendale
Kara Van Kooten
Kara Van Kooten

While she was growing up, Kara Van Kooten played a lot of parking-lot softball. Not that there weren’t any grass fields around; they were all just frozen solid until some time in May.

Softball is definitely a summer game in Anchorage, Alaska, where Van Kooten is from. “The first things to defrost are parking lots, so we start there,” she said. “We play a lot of games in the summer because it stays light so long.”

Since her school, Grace Christian High School, didn’t have a team, she played only Little League softball. “I didn’t play a lot as a junior or senior, though, so I didn’t know what to expect coming to Calvin.

“I came in on a really good year for pitchers,” she said. “The team needed them, and Rachelle [Heyboer] and I came in at the same time.”

In her first two years, Van Kooten came on in relief for the Knights but became a starter last year.

In league play this spring, Van Kooten compiled a 1.97 ERA, struck out 31 batters and walked just one. She was 7-1 with a pair of shutout victories. Overall, she was 11-8 with a 1.85 ERA and led the team in innings pitched.

“I came to Calvin because of the strength of its academic program,” said Van Kooten, “but being on the softball team has been a great experience for me. I have enjoyed being around people who have their focus on academics and career goals but also have a great passion for the sport of softball. It’s been the best of both worlds.”

Twice named to the All-MIAA second team and twice named pitcher of the week, Van Kooten is glad for the opportunity to have contributed at Calvin.

“My personal goals were to be solid and consistent because I had a defense behind me that played that way,” she said.

A highlight for Van Kooten this year was beating Alma 2-1 in a conference match-up.

“That was a huge win for us,” she said.

Unfortunately, the Knights were not able to match that feat in the conference tournament, falling 3-2 to Alma in the championship game. The Knights finished second in the MIAA and 25-13 overall, posting the most wins in a season since 1997.

“What was really fun about this team was the cohesiveness,” said Van Kooten. “We had 17 players — many of them new to the team — who dove into this game, encouraging each other to play each at bat.”

Van Kooten graduated this spring and plans to attend Washington University in St. Louis to further her education in exercise science.

She does plan to continue to spend time in Alaska, even though her parents have moved to Grand Rapids. Her father, Gerry Van Kooten, is a professor of geology at Calvin. “He followed me here,” she said with a smile.

“I love the mountains,” she said. “It’s a really hard place to leave. I always want to be going back there because it will always be a part of me.”