It's been a busy year for Kelly Korras, but the former Glendale Community College softball pitcher and new Westridge softball coach won't get much of a summer break.
That's fine by Korras, as she'll spend a chunk of her summer training for and pursuing her dream of playing softball at the international level after she was selected to the South African national softball team for the upcoming International Softball Federation's 13th Women's World Fastpitch Championship, which kicks off July 13 in Canada.
"It definitely was a dream of mine growing up [to compete internationally]," Korras said of playing for South Africa, where she was born and lived until she was 5, but hadn't visited until June of 2011. "Unfortunately, softball isn't in the Olympics anymore, but it's definitely a dream come true. I have thought about it since I was 5 and started playing softball."
It's the first time in Glendale college Coach Dave "Hawk" Wilder's 13 years with the Vaqueros that he's had one of his former players compete on an international stage.
"I believe she's the only one who has gone on to compete [for a national team], that's incredible," Wilder said of the 24-year old Korras, who was named the Western State Conference's Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore in 2008 with GCC in a season where she posted a tidy 1.26 earned-run average. "She's what you call a gamer, no matter what happened to her that day or what's going on she was always tough. I'd take 100 of her to battle every day because nothing bothered her. The tougher it got, the tougher she got and I love players like that."
It wasn't exactly a straight road that led Korras, a Northridge resident, to the South African national team.
Korras first made an impact on the field at Chaminade High where she helped the Eagles win a CIF championship in her senior year in 2006. After GCC, she transferred to Chaminade University of Honolulu and posted a 3.80 ERA in her senior season.
After graduating from college last summer Korras assumed her playing days were over and began to pursue her master's degree in sports management at the University of San Francisco's satellite campus in Orange.
Korras also interviewed and was hired to take over Westridge's softball program fresh out of college by the school's athletic director, Melanie Horn.
"It certainly was her knowledge of the game," said Horn of why Korras stuck out and got the job. "She didn't have a lot of experience coaching, but she had the drive, the knowledge and you could tell she's highly motivated."
Korras' drive helped guide the Tigers to the postseason — ending a five-year hiatus — with a 7-9 record (7-5 in Prep League) a year after they finished with a 4-12, 3-9 record under another first-year coach.
"I would say she did a phenomenal job in her first year," Horn said. "Any year you bring a coach in, it takes a year for them to hit their stride, but I thought Kelly and her staff did a tremendous job of turning things around."
It seemed Korras' days on the field were done with her new-found talent running things from the dugout until she returned to South Africa to accompany her sister Amber Korras, who was trying out for the junior national team.
Amber made the junior national team, and little did Kelly know she also had a future with the squad, as the South African coaches were impressed with Kelly's play that she displayed as she worked out with her sister.
"One of the [South Africa] coaches saw me pitching and asked me to send a video of myself pitching and hitting to him," Korras said.
Korras did just that and in May she received an email from the South African coach offering her a position on the team for the Women's World Fastpitch Championship, which will be held at the Pepsi Softball Center in Yukon, Canada from July 13-22.
"It was really a surprise," Korras said. "I was so caught up in coaching I didn't think about it until I got the email. … I am actually going into a whole new situation. I don't know any of the girls there. I am going in blind."
The news also came as a shock to Horn.
"I couldn't even believe it," she said. "I wasn't even aware she was still playing much, but to have that level of an honor and have South Africa choose her to be on the team just speaks to what a phenomenal player she is."
Tournament action kicks off July 13 with South Africa taking the field at 1 p.m. against Argentina. South Africa is one of 16 teams in the tournament divided into pools of eight and is guaranteed seven games of pool play with the top-four teams from each section advancing to elimination play, which runs July 20-22. South Africa, in its pool, will play Venezuela (July 14 at 11 a.m.), China (July 15 at 4:30 p.m.), the United States (July 16 at 2 p.m.), Netherlands (July 17 at 4 p.m.) Puerto Rico (July 18 at 11 a.m.) and Czech Republic (July 19 at 11:30 a.m.).
All 66 games of the tournament will be available to be viewed live or on demand for free of charge at http://www.sportscanada.tv.
South Africa is in a tough pool with the defending and 12-time champion United States squad, China, Czech Republic, Argentina, Netherlands, Puerto Rico and Venezuela all battling for the top four spots.
"The main goal is to make it to the elimination round, which will be tough because we have U.S. and China in our pool," said Korras, adding she will mostly be pitching and playing some outfield this summer. "The USA game is going to be our toughest for sure. Those girls have played for so many years in NCAA Division I and while playing Division II [at Chaminade] I always wondered what it would be like in Division I."