No one is debating how hard Kaiti Mathey works. But the Thomson native's ability to also work smart is a big reason she was named an NJCAA All-American in both academics and softball.
After the sparkplug helped Sauk Valley Community College to its best showing at the national tournament, Mathey became the first Skyhawk elected to the NJCAA's Division-II third team.
Tuesday afternoon, Sauk athletic director Russ Damhoff confirmed Mathey was also an Academic All-American, her 3.76 grade-point average placing her in the exemplary category.
Mathey already has a head start on her course work at St. Francis in Peoria, where she'll study nursing, as she's currently taking a pharmacology course.
In that same vein, she managed her resources well at Sauk, conquering her more demanding courses – like chemistry, biology and sociology – in the fall, then knocking out humanities and the like in the spring.
"I always schedule my harder classes in the fall," said Mathey, a 2011 West Carroll High School graduate. "You have to be able to get your grades to be able to play, and that's a great motivation to do well."
Accommodating a busy spring came in particularly handy this spring. The seemingly eternal winter caused postponements and cancellations in the early going and, once the weather improved, a glut of games was unleashed.
"That's what makes her achievements even more impressive – this spring was as messed up as it's ever been," Damhoff said. "It was so hard for the softball players and other athletes to work around rescheduled games and practices.
"Now she's an All-American and an Academic All-American at the same time…how many times do you see that?"
Sauk coach Bob Lowe marvels at how "studious" Mathey was with academics, and the sort of triage she exhibited will serve her well in her career. Mathey is inspired to work in the neonatal field after her cousin was delivered about 3 months early and weighed just 2 pounds.
"The nurses there really want to help your baby, and they become your family for a little while," Mathey said. "You have to be able to let people you're caring for know that you know what you're talking about and that they're in the best possible hands. And learning how to comfort people, that's something you really get working on the floor."
She's already begun that process, too, having completed her CNA at Clinton Community College 4 years ago. Now she's worked at a nursing home a little more than a year, and has learned to cherish everyday life like her residents do.
"They definitely teach you how happy they are to be alive," Mathey said. "You ask them how they're doing, and they say, 'I'm still here. It can't get much better than that.' It makes you grateful to be alive."
On the diamond, Mathey's .500 batting average was tied for 21st in the nation. She received the Arrowhead Athletic Conference Academic Excellence Award, and was an all-conference first-team infielder.
Lowe can't help but smile when he thinks about the transformation Mathey went through. She transferred from Iowa in 2011, and he says she struggled a bit initially. By the end of her first year, she was at the top of the lineup. And garnering national honors has a nice way of setting the table for future Sauk teams.
"You know that proven kids have come through here, and hopefully we can build on stuff like that," Lowe said. "Kaiti's laying the ground work, and we'll keep building on it."