[dropcap]P [/dropcap]awing at the dirt with the spikes of her cleat and scanning the field over thick stripes of eye black, SF State’s standout shortstop enters the batter’s box in similar fashion before each at-bat. Her posture screams confidence but still maintains the torturous touch of calmness that unsettles pitchers and edges defenders onto their toes in anticipation. Even the white and purple helmet perched on her head seems in sync with the protruding blonde ponytail that whips around her shoulders as she takes off for first base.
Simply put, it’s not hard to pick out Courtney Gravel for the prolific senior standout that she is.
“Her demeanor is calm and focused and she doesn’t let anything or any situation get to her.” said SF State’s head coach Christina Byrne. “I’ve received so many compliments from opposing coaches about her and the way that she plays.”
A quick flash of Gravel’s bright green eyes can say more than she cares to, exhibiting resolve, disappointment and frustration all within the course of a single afternoon on the softball field. According to Coach Byrne, however, her all-conference shortstop’s quiet demeanor does not prevent her from helping her teammates perform well on the field.
“Courtney is reliable, competitive, and leads by example,” Byrne said. “She is quiet and unassuming in stature but she plays big. It has been an extreme pleasure coaching someone like Courtney and after four years with her, I wish I could have another four.”
The statistics on Gravel show her to be devastating at the plate and consistently so. She’s never batted under .300 in a season and has started nearly every game as the Gators’ shortstop since her 2012 freshman season. Her 167 career hits are just two shy of breaking into the top 10 for all-time hits at SF State, and with half a season left to play, she could possibly climb even higher on the list.
Gravel is no stranger to success, having competed for a Sutter High School squad that won three section championships during her four seasons there. She was also a three-time team MVP during that period.
Her stint as a Gator has been marginally less fruitful from a team standpoint, but according to Gravel, the drop-offs in wins at different points in her career have humbled her as a player and person.
While Gravel remains mellow in demeanor out on the field, her support in the stands can hardly contain their excitement. Her friends, girlfriend and parents greet her with cheers before each plate appearance and applaud even louder when she does something well.
“They’re always out there and it’s been like that since I could pick up a bat,” Gravel said of her parents. “Even when they don’t make it, my mom will tell me to call her right after the game and all that.”
Gravel said growing up she could not wait to escape Yuba City, a small town north of Sacramento that is a nearly three-hour drive away from SF State’s softball field. The distance does not deter her parents, who can often be seen occupying a spot in the steel bleachers behind home plate.
“I will always cherish the memories that we have made during all of our softball travels,” said Courtney’s mom Tina Gravel. “It all leads up to the end, senior day, which I am sure will be an emotional day for both of us. I could not be more proud of the person that Courtney is.”
Despite what has been a lackluster 5-17 start to her senior season, Gravel said she remains hungry for team and personal success as she closes out four remarkable years with the Gators.
“You kind of just look for little successes that aren’t necessarily wins and losses when your team isn’t doing well,” Gravel said. “It makes you appreciate the good games and the wins that much more.”