Written By Scott Carter, Gatorzone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – To say Kelsey Bruder is a go-getter is sort of like saying Tim Tebow is popular in Denver.
Let’s take her schedule the past few months. Bruder capped her senior season by helping the Gators advance to the Women’s College World Series. A few days later she was making her professional softball debut.
Once the summer was over, Bruder began working a 40-hour-a-week internship to complete her Health, Education and Behavior degree. She graduated in December, spent a couple of weeks at home in California with her family, and flew to Indianapolis on Thursday.
She is at the NCAA Convention to receive the most prestigious award any UF student-athlete has won since Tebow two years ago: an NCAA Top VIII Award, which recognizes eight student-athletes from around the country for their success on the fields, in the classroom and in the community.
In other words, Bruder is the cream of the crop.
“When you draw closure to a story, sometimes the stories are a little bit far-fetched,’’ said Gators softball coach Tim Walton, who is in Indianapolis to attend Friday night’s ceremony. “This kid has probably come as far as a person as any kid I have ever coached. She is very competitive, which allows her to be in position to get this kind of award because she doesn’t let her grades or anything in the classroom suffer.
“This is a big deal. I’m really blessed to be a part of this ceremony and fortunate that I got a chance to coach someone like this. She is a one of a kind.”
The 2011 SEC Player of the Year, Bruder was a two-time All-American and Academic All-American for the Gators and played a integral role in four consecutive trips to the CWS for UF.
But this award is more than Bruder being a good player in the heart of the Gators’ lineup. Bruder carried a 3.70 GPA in her major and was heavily involved in the Gainesville community after transferring to UF in the Spring 2008 semester following one semester at UC-Santa Barbara.
Walton knew of the Bruder name – her father and grandmother are prominent softball coaches in her native California – but he didn’t know Bruder’s enterprising nature until receiving an unsolicited email from her more than four years ago.
“She sent me a long email that she really had the desire to come to the University of Florida and take her softball career to another level,’’ Walton said. “It was really tough for her because you were coming into a team loaded with great talent and she comes in without really an identity or a role and kind of struggled her freshman year.”
Bruder kept leaping whatever hurdles were in her way to develop into one of the most decorated players in the program’s history.
“I did feel a little comfort in knowing that half the team was also from California,’’ Bruder said of her arrival at UF. “They loved it and I heard great things. Coach fired me up about the sport and made me want to get better from the first time I talked to him. The atmosphere and the support you get from the community, there is really nothing like being a Gator.”
She is humbled to become only the sixth UF student-athlete to ever win a Top VIII honor from the NCAA, joining Tebow (2009), tennis player Stephanie Nickitas (1999), Danny Wuerffel (1996), diver Megan Neyer (1986) and swimmer Tracy Caulkins (1985).
“At first I thought it was some kind of mistake to be in the likes of people like Tracy and Tim,’’ Bruder said. “Those are incredible athletes. Again, it’s not just something I achieved personally. I’m surrounded by the best teammates and the best coaching staff. It’s an absolute tremendous honor, not just for me, but for the University that I come from.
“I think it just adds to the reputation of our program and we hope to build on that for years to come.”
To be eligible for a 2011 Top VIII Award, nominees had to be a varsity letter-winner, maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA and complete their playing eligibility during the 2010-11 academic year.
Bruder will be joined by Texas football player Sam Acho, New Haven track-and-field athlete Shannon Gagne, Alabama gymnast Kayla Hoffman, Oklahoma basketball player Danielle Robinson, Amherst College swimmer Kendra Stern, Miami swimmer Brittany Viola and Ole Miss track-and-field athlete Lee Ellis Moore as honorees Friday.
Let’s get back to Bruder’s recent schedule. While completing her internship last fall, the Corona, Calif., native made a trip to Kentucky to participate in a softball clinic at Murray State University. She also interviewed for a job as an assistant coach.
Bruder landed the position and after Friday’s ceremony in Indianapolis, the 22-year-old will head to Murray State to start work as one of the youngest assistant college softball coaches in the country.
“We are really fortunate to have Kelsey joining our program,” Murray State coach Jay Pyron said. “She brings a lot to the table. She first of all is incredibly knowledgeable about the game and is a good teacher of skills. She is an incredible competitor as well who will bring valuable experience to our players about what it takes to be the best and how to win.”
Walton made sure Pyron knew what kind of assistant he was getting when they talked during the interview process.
“She is as organized and detailed as any young person I have met,’’ Walton said. “She is so game savvy. She would talk to me about the game and scouting reports and what she noticed on pitchers and their tendencies. She could really do anything she wants to when she puts her mind to it.”
Once her season with the USSSA Florida Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch ended last summer, Bruder began to miss softball. That is when she realized she was not ready to break away from the game. When the Murray State opportunity came along, Bruder jumped at it.
What else did you expect?
“I’m not wasting any time,’’ she said. “I am so excited. I am very eager to start my coaching career this early.”