Baserunning was once the bane of Alex Powers’ existence as a softball player. For the Florida State first baseman, now a redshirt senior, the activity only led to successive ACL injuries during her first two years with the Seminoles.
The first injury—in her right knee—occurred just weeks into her freshman year in 2012 during a drill in fall practice, forcing Powers off the field for a full season and into an arduous recovery. The second—just 10 months later and in her left knee—also occurred on the base paths, pushing the Florida native into surgery and limiting her playing time during Florida State’s run to the 2014 Women’s College World Series (WCWS).
“During my recoveries, each day was a challenge,” Powers told Excelle Sports. “My goal was always just to do something that I couldn’t do the day before, in terms of the range of motion in my knees and my strength. I really had to grind those months out.”
[More from Excelle Sports: Auburn slugger Kasey Cooper says her best is yet to come this season]
But four seasons after her base-running misfortune began, Powers has turned her biggest undoing into one of her greatest strengths for the third-ranked Seminoles (6–0). The 2016 second-team All-American and ACC Player of the Year tallied 17 stolen bases in her second healthy season with Florida State, serving as one of the biggest base-stealing threats on a squad that ranked sixth in the nation with 2.38 swipes per game.
Moreover, the player who was once unable to take extra bases due to two bad knees accumulated 16 doubles in 2016, and this year, already has three extra-base hits through 16 at-bats.
“For a while, I would hit the ball and pretty much just run to first base,” Powers said. “Now, getting to base run is one of my favorite parts of the game because when it was taken away I realized I missed it and I realized I could take a lot of pride in something so small.”
According to Florida State head coach Lonni Alameda, Powers’ injuries have helped her take pride in more than just frustrating opposing defenses with her feet. Since returning at full strength to the sport in 2015, Powers has discovered that her actions on the field can not only affect the outcome of games, but also have a lasting impact on the program.
“Alex really encompasses the pride an athlete can have in legacy and wanting to lead this program with everything she’s learned,” Alameda told Excelle Sports. “She didn’t want the story to be that she was just playing again. She wanted it to be that she was the best at base running, the best at fielding, the best at hitting and the best at leading.”
Powers has proved that she is arguably all of those things for Florida State, picking up right where she left off during her All-American campaign one year ago. Today, she is the most-feared hitter in the Seminoles’ potent lineup, which includes nine starters from last year’s team that reached the WCWS semifinals. To boot, Powers currently leads Florida State with a .500 batting average from the third spot in the order.
[More from Excelle Sports: Why Katiyana Mauga might just break Lauren Chamberlain’s NCAA home run record]
But none of that success would have been possible without her ACL injuries and the example set by former Florida State–great Maddie O’Brien, Powers says. O’Brien, a first-team All-American who graduated in 2015 as one of the best offensive players in Seminoles history, served as the prototype of a left-handed hitter that Powers watched closely from the bench and has since emulated upon her return to the field.
“It was huge for me to watch Maddie O’Brien, especially as a left-handed hitter,” Powers said. “Last year, I took what I learned from [O’Brien] and really tried to implement that into the way I played and the way I approached my at-bats. This year, I’m trying to make it my own and pass it on to younger people who are on the team.”
Though her story at Florida State is still being written, Powers will likely go down as one of the finest softball players to ever don the garnet and gold. But for now, as an injury-free fifth-year player, she is just enjoying the ride and the opportunity to play the game she loves.
“My injuries have made me appreciate every aspect of the game,” she said. “They have helped me take a step back and appreciate moments more.
“And for me to be able to feel like I can contribute to this team after my recovery, I feel more enjoyment and fulfillment than I ever felt before.”