Fagan girls to transfer to SEC schools
Softball stars reflect on their stormy exit from UF
Published: Friday, June 22, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 22, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.
DUNNELLON — As elite softball players, sisters Kasey and Sami Fagan have competed against the highest level of competition for as long as they can remember.
They routinely faced the best players and best teams from all corners of the country. There is, however, one opponent neither of them ever had to contend with before.
They never had to play against each other.
That's going to change when the Dunnellon natives resume their college softball careers in the spring of 2014. After their verbal commitments this week, it's a safe bet that the date will be circled each time Kasey's Arkansas Razorbacks face off against Sami's Missouri Tigers in Southeastern Conference play.
It's also a safe bet that the date will be circled whenever Arkansas or Missouri faces Florida. The Fagan sisters spoke publicly Friday for the first time since being kicked out of the UF softball program along with starting shortstop Cheyenne Coyle suddenly and under a cloud of controversy on May 18.
The turn of events left the Fagans unexpectedly scrambling for a new college home during a time of year when most major programs have already issued all their available scholarships.
“A lot of the schools that were interested in us didn't have any money available,” Kasey said. “That was probably one of the most difficult things. The schools that showed interest in us, we were just lucky that they wanted us and they were willing to give us the scholarships to go play there.”
Kasey and Sami visited Baylor together, while each also had individual options. Kasey weighed an offer from Florida Gulf Coast, where high school classmate Tori Williams currently plays, while Sami considered both Oregon and South Florida.
When the dust settled, the longtime teammates chose separate locations within the SEC, meaning they'll both have to sit out a year according to NCAA transfer rules. It also means they'll have to contend with each other as opponents for the first time.
“That's going to be really weird,” Sami said. “I was thinking about her maybe pitching against me in an SEC game. That would be pretty cool, I think, to have that rivalry there. But it's going to be hard, too. Kasey's a great hitter and a great third baseman.”
Off to Arkansas
For Kasey, who just completed her sophomore season at Florida, the move to Arkansas represents a fresh start of sorts. Though Kasey was always the undisputed star of their youth teams — as well as the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a high school senior — she struggled at times during her two seasons in Gainesville. She batted .253 overall and was moved as a sophomore from her natural position of third base into the outfield.
“I wasn't happy with the numbers I was putting up,” Kasey said. “I think a lot of that had to do with my mental game. I'm still working on that. I'm not a very confident person. I'm going to work on that and I think that this year off of softball, not playing games, is going to make me even better that in that department.”
By contrast, Kasey's batting numbers as a Dunnellon High School senior included a robust .574 batting average with eight home runs, 61 RBIs, a .989 slugging average and 53 runs scored.
Those numbers, prolific as they are, were quite possibly outshined by her stats in the pitching circle, where she went 26-1 with a 0.57 ERA and 239 strikeouts. Kasey also pitched the Tigers to back-to-back state championships, beating current Florida ace Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales) for the title as a junior, then outdueling Naples star Jackie Traina — who just finished pitching Alabama to the 2012 national championship — to win it all as a senior.
Her earlier success against those two elite SEC pitchers has Kasey reevaluating her decision to stop pitching after high school. After a couple years off, she's resumed working out in the circle and plans to have that skill set ready and available by the time she suits up in Fayetteville.
“It's going to take a while to get back up to the level that I was at, but I'm already throwing harder because I'm stronger,” Kasey said. “We'll see how it goes. If the coaches think I'm good enough, we'll see what happens.”
Kasey, who is majoring in sports management, said she chose Arkansas for a variety of reasons, starting with the fact that her travel coach, Coy Adkins, is an assistant coach there. She also had a positive impression of Arkansas head coach Mike Larabee as an opponent, and that impression was boosted by her meeting with him.
“When I met him he was just so positive and I really, really liked him,” Kasey said. “I knew I could play for someone like that.”
A Tiger again
Missouri wasn't on the list of schools Sami contacted when she unexpectedly became available last month. Because the Fagan sisters were fully released from Florida, they would only need to sit out a season if they tranfered within the SEC, and Sami wasn't sure she wanted to do that.
But her impression of both the school and her future coach caused her to reconsider.
“They contacted me and I decided to give them a chance because I had heard great things about Coach (Ehren) Earleywine,” she said. “I took a visit there and just got that feeling that this was a place I wanted to be. I liked the campus. It sort of reminded me of Dunnellon. It's a country place. I really liked the coaches. Everything just seemed perfect.”
Like Kasey, Sami will bring a multitude of tools with her to her next destination. She starred at both catcher and shortstop in high school, moved to third base at UF, and possesses both the blazing speed and more than enough arm to thrive at any outfield position. As a freshman, Sami was UF's leading hitter in the regular season with a .378 average after batting an eye-popping .629 and compiling a state-record 63-game hitting streak during her Dunnellon career, which culminated in a Gatorade Florida Player of the Year award as a senior for the Tigers.
Sami, who has not yet declared a major, said she is willing to play any position at Missouri. And after initial reservations about having to sit out for a year in order to stay in the SEC, Sami now believes the time off could benefit her as a player. A slap hitter who often relies on her speed to beat out infield grounders, Sami hopes all the extra practice over the next year in Columbia, Mo., will allow her expand her offensive arsenal even further.
Earleywine “told me that this year he could really help develop my swing more so I can swing away more often,” Sami said. “I think this year off will be a blessing.”
A shocking end
That Kasey and Sami Fagan would be at the center of any type of controversy at UF or anywhere else was a surprise to the people they grew up around in Dunnellon.
In high school, both Kasey and Sami were not only well-documented athletic superstars, but they were also stars in the classroom and community. Kasey graduated DHS as salutatorian, while Sami finished third in her class. The prestigious Gatorade awards they both won list both character and community involvement as criteria along with athletic accomplishments.
“I was surprised that there was any drama at all surrounding those girls,” noted Frank Beasley, Dunnellon High School's football coach, who was also athletic director during Kasey and Sami's years there. “It was obviously very shocking to us. They were great kids; they still are great kids. They were model student-athletes. They're the hardest working athletes I've ever seen, plus they were perfect in the classroom.”
But drama is exactly what happened, although the details leading up to their sudden release from the program haven't been disclosed by either UF, the Fagan sisters or Coyle. Kevin Fagan, Kasey and Sami's father, told the Star-Banner on May 18 that it was “an altercation on the team” that led to a divided clubhouse and his two daughters and Coyle being released.
On Friday at Dunnellon High School, neither Kasey nor Sami shed any light on the events that led to their dismissal. They instead spoke in generalities about the rampant speculation on social media messages boards, where they were accused of such things as bullying and intolerance.
Speaking carefully and making it clear she does not want to get into a war of words with her former college, Kasey defended her character and that of her sister.
“The bottom line is that all those rumors are just rumors,” Kasey said. “We were never given a reason why we were released from the team. We were just told we were released. So I can't tell you why, because we don't know. All the other stuff that happened, a lot of it is rumors. It's hurtful that people would say that kind of stuff, but people will think what they're going to think.
“That people would assume things about us that aren't true, that part of it hurt.”
Kasey said she and her sister received a big emotional boost from the support they received both from their community and from the many college coaches around the country who reached out to them to express interest in their services.
“It really, really meant a lot coming from college coaches, because their programs are on the line if these rumors (about us) are true,” Kasey said. “They're still calling us because they know; they know what kind of people the Fagans are.”
Andy Marks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.