Unlikely paths converge on Hesston campus

Hesston College sophomore softball players

As the hot summer sun beat down on a 95 degree day in late June, 2009, Hesston College’s then newly appointed softball coach Andrew Sharp was uncomfortable. Having been on the job for all of three months, the squelching Aurora, Colo. weather was the least of his concerns.

In fact, the first-year coach was feeling a different kind of heat, the kind that comes from being seven weeks removed from the start of the academic year with only seven players on his active roster, and exactly zero of those being a pitcher.

True, Sharp had signed a player a month prior with some pitching experience, but he needed incoming freshman Kenzie Jones, Hyde Park, Utah, to be his catcher.

Feverishly scanning practice fields at the expansive Fireworks tournament, a major college softball recruiting camp held each summer in the outskirts of Denver, Sharp spotted the player he had come to see. Chandelle Dacosin, Kaneohe, Hawaii, was exactly the type of athlete Sharp needed – a competitive, versatile player who could immediately help Hesston College win softball games. All that remained was convincing her to leave Hawaii and travel more than 4,000 miles to join a program in the midst of rebuilding.

Fast forward two years.

It’s June, 2011. Dacosin is Hesston’s all-time leader in wins, strikeouts, complete games and innings pitched, while Jones, a two-year co-captain who started each of the Larks’ 83 games behind the plate the past two seasons, has just graduated from Hesston College as a National Junior College Athletic Association Academic All-American.

Two softball players’ lives, now linked as teammates and friends, took decidedly different paths than each would have guessed during their senior years of high school. Jones had planned to attend Utah State University, just 20 minutes from her doorstep, where she’d been offered a full academic scholarship. Dacosin was in the market for a school a little closer to home, comparatively speaking, than south-central Kansas.

“Chan and Kenzie each took a major leap of faith by coming to Hesston,” Sharp said. “They basically didn’t know anything about Hesston, nor did they know a single person on our campus. In the recruiting process I really tried to spell out an accurate picture of what they would likely experience here. It’s been very satisfying to see each of their stories unfold, realizing how much they enriched our campus and softball program.”

Part of a group of seven sophomores who collectively made an indelible mark on Hesston College Softball, Dacosin and Jones played vital roles for the Larks while engaging in a campus community that embraced their talents, on and off the field.

Jones, whose leadership capabilities became evident to those far outside the softball diamond, was involved in many areas of college life on the Hesston campus. Throughout her two years at Hesston, Jones served on the Campus Activities Board, volunteered at Schowalter Villa, a local retirement community, participated in the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and held a campus job as an academic tutor. During her sophomore year, she was employed by the college as a resident assistant.

“Kenzie came to Hesston with an obvious desire to serve others and grow as a student and a leader,” said Resident Director and assistant softball coach Katie Chaffinch. “As a resident assistant, she earned the respect of her peers and consistently took on challenges with grace and maturity. During her time here, Kenzie developed relationships with a wide variety of students and faculty and staff. She was a joy to work with.”

“Hesston has shaped my life in so many ways,” Jones said. “By being away from home, I was able to grow and mature. I have learned to be more accepting of people from different backgrounds, cultures and religions, and because of that I learned how to examine my own beliefs and ideas. It was a great  place to learn from others.”

While starring at third base and in the pitching circle for the Larks, Dacosin’s positive personality spilled over to the campus. She made a positive impression on teammates and dorm mates alike during the two years that she made a small college town in the middle of the US her second home.

Chandelle Dacosin in action for the Larks
Chandelle Dacosin in action for the Larks

“Chandelle added a burst of energy to our campus,” Sharp said. “She has such a magnetic personality about her. Chan’s an awesome teammate; it was sort of crazy how she ended up at Hesston but now it’s hard to imagine what the last two years would have been like without her.”

“My time at Hesston has made me a better person,” Dacosin said. “I became more independent and responsible and learned so many new things in life. I also really enjoyed meeting new people and being on the softball field with different girls from around the country with all different personalities. We all came together and became one family. I have no regrets about my experience at Hesston.”

One has to wonder how the Hesston softball program would have looked if Dacosin had decided on somewhere closer to the west coast? What if Jones had stayed in Utah? It would be an understatement to suggest that Sharp is grateful they both made Hesston College their home the past two years.

“As a coach, the first recruiting class will always have a special place in my heart,” Sharp said. “I couldn’t have had a better group to lead the program. They will be missed. In a way, this group has continued to inspire me even though they’re not on our campus anymore. At recruiting camps I attend throughout the summer, I ask myself ‘Can this kid be the next Chan? Will she be able to replace Kenzie?’”

In the recruiting world it’s often a random or perhaps seemingly random sequence of events that ends up making teammates out of perfect strangers. It this case, it was a perfect fit.