July 21, 2012
By Denise Gideon
Sometimes it takes a spark, a flipping of a switch, to allow a person to truly understand what is important to them. Erin Fosterlearned that lesson in her final season this year on the Western Carolina softball team.
Reeling from what Foster readily admits was a subpar junior campaign after transferring to Western Carolina from Walters State Community, she feared she wouldn't live up to her own lofty expectations. Foster was a standout junior college player, earning TJCAA Second Team All-American honors her sophomore year at Walters State.
"I was still mad about my junior year," Foster said. "All last summer I didn't touch a ball or bat, just worked out. I was really disappointed with myself. When I came back for my senior season, I felt the pressure to succeed, fearing my last year here would be a repeat of the previous season."
Foster knew the thrills of success and loved to win. However, the darkness of her own performance from the 2011 season hung over her like the thick fog that lingers in the mountains surrounding Cullowhee entering 2012. Unsure how to handle her fears and own self doubts Foster found herself at odds with first-year Head Coach Jim Clift.
Clift had spent two seasons, prior to taking over the Catamount softball program, as an assistant for Western Carolina softball. Clift noted he knew what Foster could do for the team and the success she could have if she was willing to go for it.
Foster, however, didn't see it. Taking out her frustrations in practice, she soon found herself suspended from the team for a week. It was both the longest and best week of Foster's career, giving her back the love of the game.
"After I got suspended from the team for a week, I had time to gather my thoughts and see what was important in my life," Foster admits. "It eventually just clicked for me. The very first practice back after my suspension I felt like a whole different person."
And it did click for Foster. Returning to the team with a renewed love for the game of softball and an understanding of what it took to be a leader on the team. Throughout the season, even when Foster was knocking in game-winning hits or earning conference accolades, it was always about the team. She never wanted the limelight shed on her, just the team.
"Once Erin realized the influence she had as a person, she not only led the team, she often carried it on her shoulders," Clift said. "The best part was, as a result, her teammates started to raise their games as a well. That is what a true leader does. They make the players around them better."
"During the season when I was getting these personal accolades, I didn't really think about it much because I don't like to be singled out," Foster said. "It was only after the season that I got to sit back and reflect about my senior year at Western Carolina and what I accomplished."
And Foster accomplished a lot. She ended the 2012 season, and her final year at Western Carolina, becoming the first player in Catamount softball history to garner a First Team NFCA Mid-East All-Region honor. She was a 2012 First Team All-Southern Conference selection ending the season ranked 19th in the nation in homeruns, with 18, which also tied for second in the Southern Conference record books for homeruns in a single season. Foster's 21 career homeruns tied her for second in the WCU record books.
She went from a .288 batting average as a junior to a blistering .363 her senior year. She more than tripled her runs scored, going from 17 to 46, as well as having 66 hits her senior year compared to 40 as a junior. The homeruns are still the most glaring, with just three her junior year, all being hit in the first month of the 2011 season.
"Erin Fostershowed us all what happens when a player gives herself to the team," Clift said. "She never worried about stats, only about what she could do to help the team. I truly believe it was her team first approach that allowed her to play at the level she did. The stats took care of themselves."
Foster was never one to leave anything on the field, and that was never more prevalent then her seventh inning heroics this season at Chattanooga. Trailing 2-1, in the final game of the three-game series, Western Carolina had the scenario it wanted when the speedy Amelia Griffinhit a bloop single to left field, with two outs, to bring up Foster.
A Hollywood movie couldn't script a better scenario, with Foster strolling to the plate. When Foster laced a homerun over the left field wall, she wasn't thinking about her 15th homerun of the season, she was just thinking she had given her team the lead over the Southern Conference leading Lady Mocs.
"That was one of the homeruns I still can't get over," Foster said. "It really shocked me."
Foster never took any one of her 18 homeruns this season for granted. "I realized something special was going on when I would get one or two a series," Foster recall. "There were times when I would go around the bases and think. "Wow I can't believe I just did that." Because a few times the homeruns came in the seventh inning and won us the game."
Foster has completed her eligibility at Western Carolina and leaves with fond memories and lessons that will last her a life time. She has set standards and building blocks for a program still in its infancy. Western Carolina started the softball program in 2006.
Traditions and records will be built up and smashed for years come. Foster has cemented a piece of herself in Western Carolina history, fostering the traits of what a true leader could and should be.
"I would have taken all 18 of my homeruns and split them up between other players if that would have helped us win more games this season," Foster says with a forlorn look in her eyes. "I would have much rather had the wins."
No truer words spoken from a player that came to understand what it takes to be a leader, a good teammate and to wear the purple and gold of Western Carolina.