Powerful Kennedy Surges Into HR Chase

May 25, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

ANN ARBOR – Julia Kennedy isn’t worried about whether or not she finishes as the all-time home run leader in Michigan prep softball history. While it’s been a lot of fun chasing the top rung on the ladder, Kennedy has tried not to focus on hitting the long ball.

There’s no better example of that reality when, in a game earlier this season, Kennedy, a senior first baseman for Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard, took a look at the defense and noticed the first baseman and third basemen playing almost on the outfield grass – figuring she was going to pound the ball. She laid down a bunt instead.

“I try and be a leader,” Kennedy said. “The defense was playing me so far back. I just went up there thinking I needed to advance the runner. I wanted to show everybody that I could put the bunt down. I think people were shocked, even my coach.”

The runner did move up a base, but Kennedy found herself in a bit of hot water with her coach, Nicole Lenhoff.

“We were playing Cabrini, and we were down a run,” Lenhoff said. “I had been telling the girls that if you have the opportunity and they are playing deep, you have to lay the bunt down once in a while to keep them off guard.

“When she did it, I think I yelled at her. We had a talk later about the situation and her being a power hitter, and I told her not to do that in that situation again. But, that’s who she is. She is all about the team.”

Kennedy, 18, has already committed to playing college softball at Miami of Ohio. Heading into this weekend, she has 50 career home runs, putting her in a tight chase with Muskegon Mona Shores’ Taylor Dew, who reached 50 on May 16. Both girls have passed the co-record holders in Michigan career prep softball home runs heading into this season – Erika Underwood of Addison (2012-15) and Taylor Johnson from Belding (2007-10), who both hit 49. Underwood is currently playing for Central Michigan and is likely to play against Kennedy next season in Mid-American Conference play.

Kennedy said she’s always been a power hitter.

“Even when I was young, I could hit the ball pretty far,” she said.

It was when she started working with hitting coach Amanda Chidester, a former Cabrini star and college All-American, that she saw her power turn line drives and fly balls into fence-clearing home runs.

“It was insane how much better I became at hitting,” she said. “I made some adjustments in my swing and with my legs. I had no idea what I was doing. I became much more consistent in hitting. It took some time to put it all together.”

Kennedy hit seven home runs as a freshman, slugged 18 as a sophomore and had eight as a junior. She has 17 so far this season.

As a junior Kennedy played two sports in the spring, juggling soccer and softball. She’s focused on softball this year and that has made her a better player on the diamond, her coach said.

“She doesn’t like me saying so, but I think it has made her better,” Lenhoff said. “She’s more focused. There were times where she would be heading to a soccer game or coming from practice right to softball. She was just a little distracted. She’s always had the ability.”

Kennedy bats second in the Fighting Irish lineup, a move that Lenhoff made last year in an effort to get the slugger more at-bats and to help prevent the opposition from just pitching around her. With the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters coming up after her, it makes it more difficult for a team to intentionally walk Kennedy, Lenhoff said.

Kennedy is fine with taking a walk if it helps the team. But she also has more than 40 RBI and hits for a high average.

“I try not to think about the home runs or hitting a home run,” she said. “When I think about it, that’s when it seems I don’t hit as well. When I’m up to bat, I’m just thinking about advancing the runner or getting on base or just making contact.”

Julia is the daughter of David and Julianne Kennedy. Her father was a softball umpire when she was younger, and one of her brothers played baseball. She picked up his sport, mainly playing baseball at first.

“I didn’t play softball until I was like 10,” she said. “I learned to play by playing baseball.”

When she does make contact, and she knows the ball will be sailing over the outfield fence, Kennedy admits she gets a special feeling in her stomach.

“Oh, it is such an adrenaline rush,” she said. “The feeling when you hit that sweet spot with the bat is unbelievable. I just love it.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) All eyes are on a drive by Gabriel Richard’s Julia Kennedy this season. (Middle) Kennedy puts a charge into another swing this spring. (Photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard softball program.)

Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

May 7, 2024

Bill and Julia Turner have not only put in a lot of miles on the road, but they’ve also put a lot of miles in on the softball field.

Greater DetroitBefore Olivia Turner was hitting the cover off the ball and becoming Michigan’s career RBI leader for the Grass Lake softball team, Bill and Julia were taking her to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted to go to the field, and my dad would take me and my mom would shag balls in the outfield,” Olivia said. “They’ve spent countless hours, especially traveling around the country. They’ve been my biggest support system. They are awesome.”

Her Warriors teammates are grateful, too. Last week Turner became Michigan’s all-time leader in runs batted in, surpassing Taylor Light & Life Christian’s Kelly Kennedy, who held the record with 304 RBIs from 1991-94.

“It was crazy to think I beat a 30-year-old record,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I’m just super thankful.”

Having her name on the state record book for softball is nothing new to Turner. She barely missed the state mark for RBIs in a season last year when she had 102 and is the state’s all-time career doubles leader already.

Grass Lake head coach Roger Cook said Turner never talks about hitting home runs or driving in runs – just about being a teammate.

“I’m going to tell you, she’s one of the most modest people you’ll ever talk to,” Cook said. “She just talks team, team, team. She always has since I’ve known her. She has never said one thing about a home run or a base hit.”

Turner, who plays third base, has been around the Grass Lake program for a long time. When her sister Madeline was playing for the Warriors before heading off to play at Findlay University in Ohio, Olivia would tag along.

“I just wanted to be at the field, be around softball,” she said.

Turner first picked up the game when she was on an 8-and-under team.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records.She started as a pitcher, but quickly converted to infielder, where she has played with Grass Lake and various travel teams. She also plays volleyball and basketball for Grass Lake, but softball is her sport.

“We’re all one family,” she said. “I love that you get to play with girls that you may not be friends with at school. It shows you who you are. Softball gives you a lot of life lessons – dedication, teamwork, how to work with others.”

She loves to hit, too.

“Every at-bat, even if there is no one on base, I want to get on base,” she said. “I’m always going up to the plate doing it for my team, not for myself. The RBIs are pretty cool. My team gets on base for me. All of the girls are phenomenal.”

Cook said he sometimes gets worried that opponents will just pitch around Turner. But because of who is in the lineup in front of and behind her, he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“We have Rylee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown, then Olivia,” Cook said. “After Olivia we have (junior) Bree Salts, who has committed to Central Michigan. It’s hard to pitch around her. When we get to some of these big games, teams will have to throw to her.”

Last year’s Division 3 runner-up Ottawa Lake Whiteford has faced Grass Lake multiple times over the past couple of seasons, and coach Matt VanBrandt is plenty familiar with the damage Turner can do.

"You'd better have a plan when you are pitching to her,” VanBrandt said. “She’s a dangerous hitter. She’s someone you need to think about before the game starts.”

Turner hit .714 last season with 30 doubles and those 102 runs batted in. For her career, she’s belted 48 home runs and knocked in 309 runs after Saturday’s tournament. She’s never hit below .535 for a season and is nearing 100 career doubles.

Grass Lake currently is 22-1 and leading the Cascades Conference.

“It’s crazy to think I am actually a senior now,” Turner said. “Now that it is my senior year, I just want to work hard and play for my team. We’ve had great seniors the last couple of years. It’s crazy to think this is my last season.”

Turner will attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She chose Bradley because of its nursing program.

“Academics has always been first for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the campus. It’s not too big or too small. The staff there is great.”

Before taking her swing to college, Grass Lake wants to make a deep tournament run this season. And the more games the Warriors play, the more RBIs Turner is likely to add to her record.

“Olivia has one of the smoothest, most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “She’s one of the girls you want up there at bat with the game on the line. She can do it all. If you need a single, she’ll get you a single. If you need a walk-off, she can do that, too.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grass Lake’s Olivia Turner focuses on a pitch coming her way. (Middle) Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records. (Photos courtesy of Pictures by Marisa and the Grass Lake softball program.)