Scottsdale to Success

Youth Comes Full Circle for Senior Duo

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) - Senior Willow Kalinen is no stranger to success. Always one to push her teammates, she finds her strength in the success of others.

After growing up in Scottsdale, Ariz., Kalinen started her collegiate softball career at New Mexico. She prospered on the field earning Mountain West Conference First Team accolades as a freshman. 

"It was a good chance for me to become the best person I can possibly be," Kalinen said of her decision to become a Knight.  "Coming here, I knew that they had the resources available to help me continue to grow." 

Moving to UCF was hard for her because she was so far from her family, but she found a new family - the UCF Softball team. 

"I didn't want to leave that sense of family by coming to Florida," Kalinen said. "But if you're with the right team and the right coaching staff and surround yourself with the right people, you have a family over here as well."

Head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie has seen Kalinen grow as a player, from playing more of a short game - the way she learned the game - to developing into a true triple-threat. 

"She's definitely set up to where she feels as confident to hit away as she does to slap," Gillispie said. "In some cases, she's more confident to hit from the left side, which is a bonus to have another strong lefty hitter."    

That confidence has also become evident in her leadership.

Kalinen, along with the rest of the senior class - Manami Calixto, Linnea Goodman and Brittany Solis - have led by example, which is something Coach Gillispie has noticed being impactful for the development for the team.

"Every one of them is a good student," Gillispie said. "They work hard in the community and when they get on the field, they're all business. 

"I think (Kalinen) really works on trying to give all of herself to her teammates. Whenever they need something, she's always going to take care of them in those situations."

Seeing her teammates succeed is where Kalinen finds power and motivation.

"I try to have them be bigger than themselves; they don't have to be just a freshman," Kalinen said. "They can lead on the field and pull out wins for us as well. It doesn't matter how many years you've been in college - you can step up." 

Kalinen joined the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and is involved trying to get student-athletes more engaged with the community. As one of the committee member heads for SAAC, she gained beneficial leadership experience by helping to manage Relay for Life and Pack to Attack. These two events combined to raise over $1,500 more than the previous year.

"I've seen so many of our girls get involved in the community and it's really cool to see that difference," Kalinen said. "Now, we want to get involved and have a face in the community."

The Scottsdale, Ariz., native is set to graduate with a bachelor's degree in Exercise Science in May and plans on continuing her education at UCF.

"I also want to start volunteering with hospitals downtown," Kalinen said. "I would like to work with kids with diabetes and help prescribe exercise for them. Exercise has been such a big part of my life and that's something that I don't want to leave."

Next Up
Following its bye weekend, UCF plays its final home series against UConn, starting with a 5:30 p.m. contest on Friday. The Knights will recognize their four seniors, Manami CalixtoLinnea GoodmanWillow Kalinen and Brittany Solis, following their final game at the UCF Softball Complex on Aril 30 at noon.

For more information about individual game tickets that start at $7, click here.
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