Transfer Student Becomes Westminster’s First Softball All-American
Burney had a .984 fielding percentage last year while playing first base. PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTMINSTER ATHLETICS.
BY KAELY FITTERLING
She transferred to Westminster from Jefferson Community College in Hillsboro, Missouri, in the fall of 2015. She said that after playing softball at the collegiate level for two years, she wanted to focus on her academics and the health of her mother, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes while Burney was in high school.
Late in the recruiting process, Burney decided to play softball at Westminster. She ended up breaking two Westminster softball records, tying one and receiving a total of 11 honors, including two that had not previously been awarded to a Westminster softball player.
Burney was born in Mobile, Alabama, and then moved to Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. While in high school, she participated in softball, track and weight lifting. She was enrolled in the A+ Scholarship Program, which offers free tuition to any community college, and after visiting multiple colleges, she decided to attend Jefferson.
At Jefferson Community College, Burney was named to the dean’s list all four semesters, achieving at least a 3.25 GPA each semester while taking 12 or more credit hours. She joined the honors program and Student Leaders and was placed on the National Junior College Athletic Association Second Team All-Region for the 2014 season.
However, during her second and final year at community college, Burney suffered an injury that limited her playing time significantly.
“It was hard for me to bounce back and find the mentality to keep going,” she said. “It was difficult to be recruited, and I didn’t know if I was going to continue to play, which was another demotivator.”
Burney may have had her doubts, but Westminster Head Softball Coach Joe Henderson saw her play at the N.J.C.A.A. National tournament at Battle High School and said that he knew she would be a great addition to the Blue Jay team.
After being recruited, Burney faced personal challenges throughout her first year at Westminster. She said that her status as a transfer student made it difficult for her to make friends and take a leadership role on the team.
“It was like transitioning from high school to college all over again,” she said.
In addition, Burney was recovering from a recurring injury and was unable to display her skills to her coaches and teammates. She said that she even considered quitting the team.
Although she could not play much during the offseason, Burney knew she had to work twice as hard when the season arrived. Both Henderson and teammate Kim Morrison, ’18, described her as diligent and dedicated.
“Erica is always putting in the work to make herself and the team better,” Morrison said.
Although she could not play much during the offseason, Burney knew she had to work twice as hard when the season arrived.
During the 2016 season, Burney did not start playing in the field until halfway through the season, but she did not get discouraged.
“There was no pressure because I was already at the bottom,” she said. “Everything could only go up from there.”
Burney did just that. She tied Westminster’s single-season doubles record and broke the team’s single-season and career home runs and RBIs records.
The St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference twice named her the conference’s athlete of the week, and she was selected to the All-Conference First, All-Tournament and All-Region teams at the end of the season. She was also named Westminster Newcomer of the Year and became the first Westminster softball player to be the S.L.I.A.C. Player of the Year as well as a member of the All-American Third Team.
With one first baseman on each of three Division-III All-American teams, Burney was one of just three players at her position to be an All-American last year. More than 350 teams participate in Division-III softball. Plus, among thousands of players in the division, Burney’s .540 batting averaged ranked fourth last year.
In June, Burney traveled to Virginia to receive her All-American award.
“It was a very rewarding experience and I was honored to receive the awards and have my team and school supporting me,” she said.
Burney was one of just three first basemen in Division-III softball to earn All-American recognition in 2016.
Although Burney made it look easy on the softball field, she was stressed with life back home, particularly with the health of her mother, Lucretia, who has been in and out of the hospital since her diagnosis.
She was in the hospital on Feb. 10 of this year, the same weekend that the softball team took a trip to Memphis for a tournament. On the way to the tournament, Henderson decided to stop and visit Burney’s mother in St. Louis.
Henderson said that he puts players’ “emotional well-being over the sport.” He said he knew that Burney was worried about her mother and decided it would not to hurt anything to visit.
Morrison said: “It was a nice gesture. We were happy to be there for her as a team.”
Burney’s mother was released from the hospital and still made it out to support the team at their games. According to Henderson, she is one of their biggest supporters.
As for her daughter, Erica, bringing family and softball together was a boon. “I don’t like to get a lot of attention, but it was nice to know the team was able to just go with the flow and support my family and me,” Burney said.
Burney was named team captain for 2017 and said that she is looking forward to what the season has in store.