One word sums up Nevada softball sophomore pitcher Kendall Fritz: fearless.
It’s a trait that bounces around from teammates to coaches. Just ask Nevada softball pitching coach Brianne Durfee, who has seen Fritz perform in the silver and blue since she stepped foot on campus in 2019.
“I’m so impressed by her fearlessness and mental toughness in games,” Durfee said. “That’s what sticks out. She never gets rattled or antsy. It’s easy to tell she’s finding herself as a pitcher.”
Fritz’s unfrightened demeanor in the circle stands out on the surface, but explaining how she developed that intense mental state requires a background on her obstacle-filled journey.
A native of Frisco, Texas, Fritz was one of the premier talents in the country at just 14 years old. She dominated competition nearly two years her senior and stood out amongst her travel ball teams growing up. The national media quickly took notice, as FloSoftball placed her inside its premiere Hot 100 Rankings for the class of 2018.
Fritz verbally committed to the University of Arkansas before she ever pitched a single inning as a freshman at Wakeland High School. She had it all planned out. A bright future in Division I college softball was paved for her.
“I barely just turned 15 and everything was going so fast,” Fritz said. “I thought I had my future all laid out for me, and that was a mistake… Experiencing all that a young age put it into perspective.”
Everything was going to plan. Fritz flew out to Fayetteville, Ark. for an elite camp scrimmage at Bogle Field—the official softball field at the University of Arkansas. Scouts and coaches filled the stands in hopes of seeing future Razorbacks showcase their skill sets. Fritz stepped foot in the circle, ready to make quite the first impression.
That’s when she felt a pop in her knee, and shock took over.
“It just didn’t feel right,” she said. “I pitched again and I heard it pop, and that’s when I knew it was something serious. Your body knows when something is wrong, and I instantly shriveled up.”
Fritz suffered a torn ACL in front of her future college personnel. She missed her entire freshman year at Wakeland, and endured through a grueling six-month rehabilitation process.
As a high school freshman, Fritz already experienced a potential career-threatening injury. Looking back, she now sees it as a blessing in disguise.
“I hadn’t even had my wisdom teeth taken out and here I am getting major reconstructive surgery,” she said. “It was a lot for me to process. But that’s softball, it’s intense and I adapted to it.”
Fritz noted it forced her to develop a diligent work ethic and get back to a level even she thought was unattainable.
With a determined mindset, Fritz returned to the circle stronger than ever for Wakeland High. By the end of her high school career, she led her team to two Texas district championships, earning the District MVP award and being named First-Team All-District in the process. She totaled 491 strikeouts with a combined 1.45 ERA during her junior and senior years.
The eye-popping stats and accomplishments go on and on, but Fritz remembers the game she pitched free of any pain or hesitation most fondly. She said, it serves as a moment of clarity that fueled her to immediate success at Wakeland.
“Just getting that first pitch off was the relief I needed,” she said. “It’s something kind of hard to describe if you don’t go through an injury like that.”
Despite the injury, Arkansas still honored Fritz’s scholarship. Her golden opportunity she earned at 15 years old was still available. She also had several other Division I offers from Wisconsin, Auburn, Baylor and Iowa State on the table.
However, Fritz went a different route. She decommitted from Arkansas and joined Nevada in 2019. A combination of the injury and coaching departures gave her second thoughts about her commitment to the Razorbacks.
“Having torn my ACL on that field, I don’t think I could ever get over the process of getting over that,” she said. “It felt like home to me there, but then my coaches who recruited me were gone and it didn’t feel the same. They still really wanted me, but I wanted to move on at that point of my life.”
Fritz’s decision has paid dividends since her collegiate journey began with the Wolf Pack. The right-hander was third in the Mountain West with 124 strikeouts over a team-best 154 innings and 30 starts as a freshman.
She was well on her way to an even more impressive sophomore campaign last season, pitching an 8-inning complete game shutout over Oregon State with a career-high 12 strikeouts. Fritz followed it up with another complete game one-hit shutout against Hawai’i before Nevada softball’s season was cut short due to COVID-19.
Fritz had just 14 appearances in the shortened 2020 season, but her impact on the team was evident.
“She’s one of our biggest reasons we’ve been successful,” Durfee said. “She’s becoming a leader, getting people to follow her on the field. It’s gotten a lot better for her, there’s something special in her.”
Nevada softball is off to a 11-7 start to the 2021 season, and Fritz is helping lead the charge of a potent Wolf Pack pitching staff. Fritz and Durfee teamed up last season to utilize her arsenal. Together, they have found the recipe to polish Fritz’s four-pitch mix of riseball, curve, changeup and screwball.
Each pitch comes with its own unique spin and break out of the zone, it translates to empty swings from opposing batters. Fritz leads the team with 54 strikeouts on the year and is up to 250 in her storied Wolf Pack career.
“I’ve been able to manipulate its spin over the years, and it’s been successful for me,” Fritz said. “I just pitch to my strengths and weaknesses. Those were the things coach (Durfee) has taught me and her guidance has helped.”
Fritz will continue to lead the Wolf Pack into conference play with her sights set on success. The obstacles she endured at a young age helped unleash her intense competitiveness. Durfee grows more impressed by her physical and mental stature each outing.
“Any time you have to deal with an injury like that it gives you a better understanding of the game and what you have to lose,” Durfee said. “All of that makes her that much better in every aspect.”
Fritz could’ve easily taken the safer route and stayed at Arkansas, but the change of scenery at Nevada has pushed her potential to new heights. The Wolf Pack is set up for success with Fritz in the circle.
“Everything happens for a reason and I’m glad I trusted my gut,” Fritz said. “It made me appreciate the game and want to learn that much more. Nevada has really provided that for me.”
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @IsaiahBurrows_.