Hempfield's Montgomery signs on with UConn

| Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Alaina Montgomery has known where she wanted to go to college for awhile now. This week, she made it official.

Montgomery, a senior at Hempfield Area High School, will sign a letter of intent to play softball at the University of Connecticut on Thursday, the first day of the collegiate early signing period.

She had made a verbal commitment to the school during the summer before her junior year.

“It's a nice campus,” Montgomery said of UConn. “I'm looking forward to being in a new environment and meeting new people.

“I'll be playing for a good coach in coach (Karen) Mullins.”

Mullins has been the head coach at UConn for 29 seasons, amassing a record of 823-561-5. The Huskies are coming off a 2013 season in which they finished 26-27.

Prior to choosing UConn, Montgomery was also receiving interest from Albany, Lehigh, Dartmouth and Minnesota.

Montgomery was an all-section performer in Section 1-AAAA the past two seasons. She played predominantly in the outfield in 2012 and 2013, but also served as the Spartans' catcher for the final five games last season.

Hempfield coach Bob Kalp may use Montgomery behind the plate again this season, but she could wind up back in the outfield as well.

“Where she'll do the team the most good is where she'll play,” Kalp said of Montgomery. “We have a whole new crop of kids coming in this year.”

Kalp's 2013 squad that reached the WPIAL semifinals was largely made up of seniors.

As a result, Hempfield's infield will have a decidedly different look when the team hits the field in the spring.

“We're going to have a lot of young kids playing,” Kalp said. “Are we playoff-caliber? I don't know, but we'll be OK.

“That's what makes it fun to coach.”

Montgomery is looking forward to seeing what kind of team she'll be a part of in her final year with the Spartans.

“We should be a pretty good team,” Montgomery said. “We have some good freshmen pitchers coming up from what I've heard.”

No matter what position she plays, Montgomery will be a key player for the Spartans this season.

She's been the team's offensive catalyst from the leadoff spot in the batting order the past two years.

Montgomery batted .390 as a sophomore and .275 as a junior. Kalp's faith in her as a leadoff hitter hinges on the fact she doesn't strike out very much and has a knack for getting on base.

“She draws her share of walks,” Kalp said. “She has good speed.

“She gives us opportunities to steal and score on a base hit.”

Kalp sees Montgomery is an outfielder at the collegiate level.

“I think she fits better as an outfielder,” Kalp said. “She has the arm, but she's not very big.

“They have bigger catchers at that level.”

Montgomery credits Kalp with helping her to become a more effective player during her high school career.

“He told me to be motivated to play and to be dedicated in practice to get better every day,” Montgomery said of the advice she's gotten from her coach.

As a senior, Montgomery will take on more of a leadership role for the Spartans, and her coach knows she's ready for that responsibility.

“She's feisty,” Kalp said. “She's a tough kid, and she's strong and athletic.

“She's a real competitor.”

As for her off-the-field pursuits at UConn, Montgomery has not yet decided on a major.

Kevin Ritchart is a freelance writer.

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