A difficult decision made less than a year ago eventually led Lakeview High School senior Kassidy Soulliere down a path to Tuesday afternoon.

There, with teammates, classmates, friends and family surrounding her, Soulliere signed a National Letter of Intent to join the Central Community College-Columbus softball program.

Just a year earlier, she was only weeks removed from wrapping up her third year of Lady Vikes volleyball. Yet it was a love for the dirt, the rubber and the game in between the chalk lines that led Soulliere out of the gym and back to diamond.

"It was really hard going into high school and having to pick between the two because I loved them both so much," Soulliere recalled Tuesday afternoon. "But after my junior year, I realized my heart was somewhere else."

So too was perhaps the best of her abilities. Though she was one of the top Lakeview options at the service line, was second on the team with 200 assists and was just five away from 100 digs, all in her junior year, Soulliere's impact on the softball program was even more noticeable.

Of the team's 15 wins, she pitched the team to 13 of those and just missed out on 100 strikeouts.

In the lineup, her power in the No. 3 spot gave the Lady Vikes opportunities to score early in games and every time the order came back around. Soulliere drove in 14 runs with 14 hits and smashed four doubles.

"As soon as she left (the first team workout), my assistant coach and I thought, 'Yep, we want her to play for us,' " Lakeview coach Erica Zywiec said about being introduced to Soulliere's talents for the first time.

"She helped a lot, having a little more speed on the mound than we have had in the past. When we got our other girls in, there was a distinct difference between our two pitchers."

Soulliere was a fairly serious softball player through most of her childhood. As a youngster, she worked on her pitching form with Jack Gutierrez, a softball coach for the Amateur Softball Assocation team in town, the Columbus Bullets.

Gutierrez, also the Athletic Director and softball coach at CCC, saw some potential in his future signee nearly a decade ago, but had to wait his turn.

Soulliere remained on the diamond through her eighth-grade year then made the switch to the court in fall 2015.

A little more than two years later, she sent an email to Zywiec informing her of her planned switch.

It may have been natural, but it certainly wasn't easy.

"It was really hard to step away (from volleyball). There were a lot of nights with tears shed over the decision. But once I made the decision, I knew it was for the best," Soulliere said.

"I knew right away (at the first softball practice) I had made the right decision."

Soulliere made an appearance toeing the rubber in the very first game of the season, tossing 2 and 1/3 innings and striking out a hitter.

Two days later, she was back in the circle for one of three games in a tournament.

She picked up her first win five days after while tossing in both games of a doubleheader. Soulliere struck out 16 Central City hitters while walking just four and going 2 for 3 in both games, driving in a total of four runs.

If there was any question the new girl could find her way late in her career, she put those concerns to bed quickly.

"It was more mental improvement," Zywiec said. "She would get down on herself easy in the beginning and just didn't have quite the mental toughness that comes with being an older pitcher. By the end of the season, it was a lot better.

"I think she'll do a really great job in college, especially since she was really only working with two pitches this year."

With some of her potential revealed, but much more still likely to be discovered, Soulliere didn't have to look far for a future home. Gutierrez and Soulliere's mother Jennifer have been acquainted in the workplace for quite some time at CCC.

"She's got a lot of good softball still ahead of her," Gutierrez said. "She's still got a ceiling to reach once we get her into that grind of being in competition. She's going to be a good one for us.

Gutierrez could tell from age 10 the potential Soulliere had simply because of how hard she was throwing. Once he gets a chance to work with her on the physical and mental aspects of the game, adding another pitch or two and making softball an every day kind of activity, he expects rapid growth.

In the three years she was away, Soulliere barely touched a softball, let alone played in any games. She made her unofficial return for a summer team prior to her senior year then found herself suddenly having success months later.

It might all seem like a dream. Even Soulliere herself admits such a future was unthinkable until just recently.

Regardless of how she's arrived, the journey she took to get there, the decisions along the way, right or wrong, she's here now, and ready to write the next chapter.

"With my mom working on the campus, I've grown up around that campus. I've always wanted to play up there, but I always thought I wanted to play volleyball," Soulliere said. "I knew I wanted to keep playing.

"Falling back in love with it and making all new friends, I wanted to continue that."

Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for the Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sports@columbustelegram.com

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