By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH, Ga. — When Lee Kicklighter talked about his Union Grove softball team early in the 2014 season after it just defeated Northgate, he paused in his post game analysis long enough to mention a budding star.
Her name was Skylar Mosel.
“You’ve got to keep an eye out for Skylar, because she’s going to be one heck of a player,” Kicklighter said at the time. “She already is.”
Fast forward to 2015 where this version of Union Grove softball is trying to find its way after losing seven seniors — four of which went on to play college softball — and Kicklighter’s feelings about his star shortstop have not changed. In fact, they’ve intensified.
“I’ll tell you a quote I said last year at our team banquet about Skylar that I think just explains her perfectly,” Kicklighter said. “I said, ‘You know you’re important to the team when you go out and make other players around you better, and make them want to get better.’ That’s what she does. She gets out there and gets the job done and just makes everyone around her want to improve.”
Mosel says that knowing the high level of confidence her coach has in her is what pushes her to want to improve.
“Hearing him say those things, it puts a lot more confidence in me,” she said. “Coach Kicklighter and I have a good bond, and we know each other real well. He knows me and has a lot of confidence in me, and I have a lot of confidence in him.”
Perhaps it was in that Northgate game last year where the trajectory of that coach-to-player confidence level reached its peak.
Toward the end of that game, Mosel made a leaping grab on a ball that came screaming off of a Northgate players bat for the third out. It was a clutch play as Union Grove was holding on to a one run lead and Northgate had two on while coming to the meat of their batting order.
Mosel’s snag got the Wolverines out of a potential jam, and it was such plays — along with the team-leading 11 homers she smashed last season — that helped Union Grove to a 27-10 record and a trip to the 2014 Class AAAAA Final Four in Columbus.
It was also one of the reasons why Mosel won first-team all county honors, and was a 2014 second-team All-Region 4-AAAAA selection in arguably the toughest softball region in the state, regardless of classification — one that has been dubbed “the region of death” by more than a few region coaches.
It was why Georgia State, among other schools, were already vying for her services even in her first year as a varsity starter. Mosel committed to the Panthers’ softball program at the end of her sophomore season, by the way, and the fact that the Panthers were coming after her so strong so early is, to Kicklighter, another confirmation of her special talent.
“I don’t know if it was really a surprise that (Georgia State) came after her like that, and that she committed as a sophomore,” Kicklighter said. “I think that’s the trend now. I talked with (Georgia State softball coach) Roger (Kincaid), and he said he has to start early recruiting because everyone else is. It’s just that competitive now. But I think Skylar’s going to bring a lot to that program, because she’s going to keep improving a lot. As good as she is, she hasn’t even come close to emptying out her potential. And I think her getting (the college choice) out of the way is good for the athlete and the family. Now she can just go play softball.”
And try to do what she can to help a young Union Grove bunch get back to Columbus.
“Last year was way different than this year,” she’s said. “Last year the whole team was basically best friends, and when they graduated a lot of things changed this year. Last year I felt more comfortable with the group of girls we had then. So it’s been a challenge. We have a lot of younger girls, and you can tell they’re nervous, but if we come together and bond more, we’ll be a better ball team.”
The challenge of being a junior leader on a team full of fresh faces in a program with championship expectations is daunting, but Kicklighter says there’s already hard evidence that Mosel has the stuff to make the most of a hard situation.
“I look at how she came into herself in that shortstop position,” Kicklighter said. “She’s been used to playing the outfield and being recruited as a center fielder on her travel ball teams and everywhere else, so when we asked her to come to the infield, you could tell she wasn’t comfortable at first. But it was a situation where she put herself aside and put her team first, and she took the coaching well and she’s excelled at it and really locked down that side of the infield for us.
“She’s one of the few athletes in my opinion who you can challenge to change their game, and they’ll just say ‘ok,’ and do it. So many athletes, if you make them mad, they won’t like you or they’ll change teams. But I’m huge on actions speaking louder than words, and Skylar’s actions do that.”
Mosel knows her actions are being watched. That’s why, though not likely to win an award for being the team’s silver-tongued orator, Mosel said she has no problem making sure her words, actions and demeanor are such that the younger players can take note and learn from her in tight situations.
“We lost our first game to East Coweta 6-0, and it didn’t really put me down too much, because it was our first game, and I knew it would be a little different,” she said. “The way I can help this team is to not get down when we start losing, because in softball, anything can change in a ball game. That’s why I love it. Not being cocky, but I know the young girls look up to upperclassmen, and when they see a senior or a junior down, they’ll get down. If they see us up, they’ll stay up.”
Case in point, Friday night’s 5-2 win over Mary Persons. It was a game where Kicklighter said his team “figured out some things about ourselves.” According to Mosel, one of those things she learned is that a championship caliber squad is not out of the question in 2015.
“We have all the talent in the world,” Mosel said. “If we come together and start playing as a team, we can make it back to Columbus. I feel like we can, anyway. Hopefully they will too.”