Katie Keller strives to help others, stay humble with softball success

The senior catcher has proven herself to be a strong leader on and off of the field during her time as a Huskie

Senior+catcher+Katie+Keller+is+the+team+captain+of+the+NIU+softball+team+for+the+2022+season.

Courtesy Katie Keller

Senior catcher Katie Keller is the team captain of the NIU softball team for the 2022 season.

By Jordan Radloff

Earning prestigious awards, records and titles can be a very rewarding experience for collegiate athletes. For senior catcher and team captain, Katie Keller, every milestone or acknowledgment earned comes with an opportunity to motivate herself and her teammates to be successful on and off of the field while still staying humble.

The Geneva, Illinois, native chose to come to NIU based on the school’s proximity to her hometown and the welcoming team culture. Now in her fourth season as a Huskie, Keller has established herself as a prominent softball player in the Mid-American Conference and the broader NCAA ever since she joined the team.

In her first season, she became the first MAC softball athlete ever named to the Schutt Sports NFCA Division I Freshman Top 25 list.

“I don’t even think I realized what that really meant until I was done with that season,” Keller said. “No part of me was attempting to get on a list. That was just a testament to how I played and how my team backed me up. Just playing to have fun and playing to try to win.”

The hardest part of this sport is reacting to failure. That’s kind of the golden ticket to being a good hitter. Being able to react to failure in a positive way that actually helps you set yourself up for success in the future.”

— Katie Keller, senior catcher

After breaking the NCAA softball single-season doubles record during her freshman year, Keller was personally congratulated by the former record holder and Hall of Famer, Jill Justin-Coffel, who was also an NIU Huskie.

Along with numerous national and regional team honors and recently being named the MAC softball player of the week in two consecutive weeks, Keller’s long list of accolades are just byproducts of the winning mentality and culture shared by her mentors and coaches. 

“Regardless of what record she’s about to break or what’s going on, her focus is always how to produce some RBI’s and how to help this team win,” head softball coach Christina Sutcliffe said. “She’s always focused on everybody else and not herself. We preach power of the pack here.”

Keller says the greatest honor she has received so far is the MAC’s 2021 Nan Harvey Woman of the Year Award. The criteria for the award involves the recipient’s teamwork, leadership and academic skills, which are the characteristics Keller strives to focus on the most in her life.

“It’s a testament to your character as a person,” Keller said. “That was something that spoke volumes to who I am as a person, and that’s where I’m striving to always be at.”

On the field, Keller’s leadership qualities and ability to be a rock for her team at the catcher position inspires her peers to stay focused in tough situations.

“As a pitcher, we get frustrated pretty easily,” sophomore pitcher Claire Norred said. “Your catcher just being there, and knowing that they have your back… they’re kind of the person that keeps you sane when you’re on the mound and make sure that your head’s still in the game. She’s really our lead by example person.”

Norred regards Keller’s ability to communicate as an important skill she has learned from the upperclassman in their time playing together.

NIU softball head coach Christina Sutcliffe praises Katie Keller’s work ethic and ability to lead others to success. (Courtesy Katie Keller)

Despite the lengthy list of achievements, Keller says she has had to learn a lot over the years about how to bounce back in the batter’s box to come out of a slump. She recalls feeling uncertainties during her first collegiate season in her ability to compete at a Division I level.

“The hardest part of this sport is reacting to failure,” Keller said. “That’s kind of the golden ticket to being a good hitter. Being able to react to failure in a positive way that actually helps you set yourself up for success in the future.”

Off of the softball diamond, Keller uses her dedicated mindset to excel in the classroom through rigorous coursework and schedules. She is pursuing an undergraduate bachelor’s degree with a biological sciences major and a minor in chemistry, and she currently holds a 4.0 GPA.

“What she’s doing off the field, that’s equally as impressive,” Sutcliffe said. “She’s gonna graduate here with three semesters of undergraduate medical research on cancer in the knee joints. When you have a student athlete excelling as much as they are, but also giving the extra in the classroom, it speaks volumes for her discipline, and her ability to multitask, and her strive for excellence.”

The promising athlete has a bright future ahead of her as she nears the end of her collegiate softball career with one more year of playing eligibility available to her. She hopes to go into a career in the medical field in orthopedic surgery while also staying connected to the sport that has given her many opportunities for success.

Her dedication to both academic and athletic proficiency culminated in her earning College Sports Information Directors of America’s Academic All-American and Academic All-District recognitions in 2021. 

“Coach (Sutcliffe) stresses academics like no other,” Keller said. “She really wants us to succeed after we leave the field.”

Keller cites former University of Oklahoma softball players, pitcher Keilani Ricketts and infielder Lauren Chamberlain, as inspirations for her in paving the way for more women to continue to grow through the sport.

“With success, you can take that one of two ways,” Keller said. “I think you can succeed and you can continue to only care about yourself and be selfish, and that’s the opposite of what I want to do. I want to be able to rub off on all of my teammates and help them become the best people that they can be. Having success, learning how to constantly stay humble and continuously using what you’ve done to help other people… it’s not just helping yourself.”