Chelsea Hall defies the prevailing attitude that academically gifted students find it difficult to excel on a sports team.
When she walked across the stage at Claflin University’s Commencement on May 13 to receive her bachelor’s degree, she did so as the most decorated softball player in Lady Panther softball history.
Academically, she holds memberships in Chi Alpha Sigma National College Athlete Honor Society and is a three-time member of the Claflin University athletics Timothy J. Autry All-Academic Team.
While her academics were solid, graduating with honors, on the field is where she really stood out. She was an integral key to Claflin winning the school’s first-ever Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Softball Championship this season. For her efforts, she was named to the SIAC All-Tournament Team.
Heading into Lady Panthers’ first-ever appearance at the NCAA Division II Softball Tournament the weekend of May 12-13, Hall boasted a batting average of .418 and a slugging percentage of .816 to go along with 62 runs, 66 hits, nine home runs and 46 RBIs. And for good measure, she was 50-of-51 in stolen bases.
Hall on Tuesday was named to the 2017 Fastpitch News NCAA Division II Offensive All-American Second Team. FPN is an organization dedicated to covering women’s fastpitch softball. The national honor was
Hall’s third, as she was named earlier to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division II All-Region Team in the South Region and the 2017 Division II Conference Commissioners Association Division 2 Softball All-South Region Second Team.
And that’s just this season.
She finished her career with a batting average of .363 and a slugging percentage of .712. She accumulated 236 runs, 204 hits, including 41 home runs, 155 RBIs and 209 stolen bases in 212 attempts.
She is the NCAA active career leader in runs scored with 236 and stolen bases with 209. And in 2017, she led the nation in runs per game (1.32) and triples (13). Additionally, she ranks second in stolen bases, eighth in slugging percentage, 15th in total bases and 49th in batting average in the nation.
It all started in 2014, her freshman campaign. Hall finished the season ranked second in the nation in stolen bases, just 2/100th of a point behind the leader, and fourth in runs per game. She was named the SIAC Freshman of the Year. Her accolades continued from that point.
Hall’s former coach knew that she was a special athlete coming into Claflin and was not surprised at her accomplishments.
“Chelsea is a different type of athlete, one who has the heart and love for the game like no other, which is something you can’t teach or that can be bought,” said Matisse Lee, assistant athletic director and Hall’s head coach for her first three seasons at Claflin. “So yes, I knew from the start that she would come in and make an immediate impact.”
“In her freshman year, here intentions were to sit back and allow the upper class to lead the way, but her style of play and determination quickly put her up front with the upperclassmen. She is a natural-born, hard-working leader and I am extremely proud of her and her success,” Lee said.
Hall stepped into a role often reserved for a veteran -- leadoff batter.
From that spot, she is expected to get on base. But it’s what happens once she gets there that sets her apart from the pack. Her quickness around the bases is just short of amazing. On any given play, she can turn what for most players would be a single into a triple.
"Speed has always been a part of my game,” Hall said. “I am an extremely competitive person, so I won't hesitate to use any type of advantage, including my speed, over an opponent. Honestly, early on I think my coaches realized that I had speed before I did.
“I just ran as hard as I could whenever they told me to. I didn't realize I was actually pretty good at it until later in life. I would do anything I needed to in order to help my team, especially when they are supportive as my fellow Lady Panthers.”
Hall’s sophomore campaign was her best one -- until now. In 2015 she earned two Division II national statistical awards -- stolen bases and runs per game -- and was ranked sixth in slugging percentage and in walks. Also that year, she was named to the Daktronics All-Region Softball Team in the South Region.
In addition to being intelligent and successful, Hall displays modesty. When asked about her accomplishments during her sophomore campaign, she gave a lot of credit to her teammates.
“Truthfully, I didn't even realize how well I did, so I always get surprised when I hear someone reading my stats,” Hall said. “Looking back, I will say it was just a product of all the hard work my teammates and I put in before the season. No one would believe how hard my teammates pushed and motivated me to do better. We all loved every aspect of the game and with a love like that you have no choice but to excel and that's exactly what we all did.”
While Hall fell off slightly -- if you want to call finishing seventh in the nation in stolen bases a fall-off -- in her junior campaign (2016), she did not let it deter her bigger ambitions.
She reflected, “My junior year was horrible! I shake my head every time I think about it. I was really down on myself for quite some time afterwards and I was determined to redeem myself and make up for it. There was no way I would go out my senior year on a bad note.”
Going into her senior campaign, Hall knew it would take extra hard work to get her back on track.
“In my free time during the offseason, I would work on all aspects of the game,” she said. “My teammates motivated me with their success and I had hopes of being successful along with them this season.”
In addition, Hall had another motivation: She was on pace to eclipse the 200-stolen-base mark and increase her position in the NCAA record books. Knowing that, Hall kept her eyes on that prize and on the Benedict series.
Benedict is Claflin’s intrastate, in-conference rival and what better way to accomplish the biggest feat of a career than against your rival.
"To be honest, Benedict is just the team you want to break every record on, being that they are our rivals,” Hall said. “Our relationship with that team was pretty tense during my freshman and sophomore years, so it made me happy that I could do something to not only benefit myself and my team, but also put a smile on the faces of all my former teammates who were also there cheering for me and the team.
“Also, hearing my family yelling for me in the stands was pretty special too,” Hall said. “It's always a great occasion when I make my parents and family happy, because I definitely wouldn't be here without their love and support."
The one thing Hall did not expect was that she would have to deal with a coaching change. When Lee moved to the administrative side, her assistant coach, James “Marty” Kinard, was named the interim head coach.
Kinard had been keeping up with Hall’s road to 200. He was familiar with Hall and her accomplishments so he was able to assist her in reaching the biggest milestone of her career.
Kinard spoke about his conversation with Hall going into her final season as a Lady Panther.
“I just told Chelsea it’s your senior year, so let’s do this one last time,” Kinard said. “We talked a lot about her sophomore year and how she was relaxed. We also discussed cutting down on her strikeouts (she went from 40 as a junior to just 19 as a senior) and how she needed to be that spark plug at the top of the lineup to get us going.
“Since her freshman year, we always joked around about how she can’t steal first and we needed her on [base] to make things happen. Chelsea has been a big part of the success this year. Replacing her and the mark she has left on the program here at Claflin is going to be hard, and she will definitely go down as one of the best to ever put on the Claflin jersey.”
So what’s next for Hall? She has a couple of adventures planned, but first she will be looking to stay on the softball diamond. If trying out for a professional softball team doesn’t work out, she will begin her career with the parks and recreation organization as well as applying for an internship with the Atlanta Braves.
One thing is for certain, whatever Hall decides to do, it will be done with “speed.”