When Kimi Presnell played softball at Sand Springs, the Sandites were always in the hunt for a state title.
The Sandites advanced to the state tournament all four years of her high school career and even made it to the finals her freshman year but never got to hoist the gold ball.
On May 31, she got to resolve some of that unfinished business.
The sophomore center-fielder played a crucial role in propelling Rogers State University to its first NCAA Division II national championship, and Presnell received an all-tournament nod for her performance.
“I was not expecting that,” she said. “It was such a great feeling to be able to make the all-tournament team as well as several of my teammates. It just proved that we worked hard to get where we were.”
The Hillcats had a great overall season but weren’t the favorites. They finished third in the MIAA standings and entered the World Series as the No. 5 seed.
People are also reading…
“There were highs and lows, but we all just kept a good mindset throughout,” Presnell said.
The Hillcats knew they needed to win the MIAA tournament to host a regional.
“Our mindset going into the conference tournament was to play free and not play tight, and that’s exactly what we did,” Presnell said. “And we continued to do that throughout the postseason, which was awesome.”
The Hillcats paid back a pair of regular-season losses to Washburn in the tournament finals series, winning 2-1 and 4-2 to earn their first MIAA title and the right to host the Central Regional.
In the second game of regionals, the Hillcats were upset 3-0 by Minnesota State, but after a loser’s bracket rout of Winona State, they got a wild rematch with the Mavericks.
The game went 15 innings before the Hillcats exploded to an 8-2 win. Presnell hit an RBI double in that game, and RSU won the “if necessary” game 4-0.
At Super Regionals, the Hillcats won 3-1 and 12-1 against Central Oklahoma and punched their way into the World Series in Denver.
Then it was Presnell’s time to shine.
Over the tournament’s first three games, she was 8-of-11 at the plate and had a perfect fielding percentage throughout the entire tournament.
In a 7-2 win over Southern Indiana, Presnell was 3-for-3 with a run and RBI. In a 10-2 win over Cal State Dominguez Hills, she was 3-of-4 with a run and four RBIs, and in a 9-3 win over UT-Tyler she was 2-of-4 with two runs and RBI.
In the best-of-three finals rematch with Cal State, the Hillcats won 6-5 and 6-1 to earn their first national title.
This year was extra special for Kimi because it was her first season seeing significant starting action. Her freshman year was canceled halfway through due to COVID, and last season she didn’t get a whole lot of opportunities at the plate.
“Last year I was always super timid at the plate. I didn’t have much confidence,” she said.
She decided that this year, she didn’t want her role to be limited to simply cheering for her teammates from the dugout.
Over an 18-game stretch from February through April, she hit only .150 compared to her season average of .280.
“Whenever I was in the slump, I kind of changed up my swing,” Presnell said. “I was just focusing on my mechanics.”
Prensell decided simply to approach the postseason with confidence and swing hard. She ended up hitting .355 over the postseason and was .314 in the NCAA tournament.
“The thing about Kimi is she’s hard to beat,” RSU coach Andrea Vaughan said in one postgame interview. “She’s a competitor. That’s why she’s in our lineup.”
So far, the college experience has been a lot different from her high school days.
“In high school, you don’t watch film or anything,” Presnell said. “In college you prepare, you watch film, you see what the pitcher’s pitching. It’s just a whole different game.”
Presnell has also transitioned from second base to center field.
“I actually love the outfield,” she said. “I feel it’s more my calling. I have way more time to react to the ball. If I took a ground ball right now, I don’t think I’d know what to do.”
In fact, the last time she took a ground ball it gave her a black eye, so she’s very much enjoying handling fly outs instead.
The biggest change has been thinking of Rogers State as home after being a Sandite for most of her life.
“It’s exactly where I’m supposed to be,” she said. “I’ve made the greatest friends. I have great coaches.”
Vaughan told all of her recruits from the very beginning seven years ago that Rogers State would soon be competing for national championships, and Presnell bought into the hype as a Sandite senior in 2019.
“Every game I went to, they won,” Presnell said. “She was very intimate in her coaching and it just drew me in right away. I had nothing but confidence in what she said.”
Presnell credits a lot of her success to her time at Sand Springs, a perennial softball powerhouse.
“Sand Springs definitely prepared me,” she said. “We were always a good team; we just had unfinished business. I feel like that definitely prepared me for college ball.”
“Coach (Shelli) Brown reached out to me during the World Series. She’s always supported me. She’s the reason why I went to Rogers State, because we played there in the festival every year. Coach Vaughan asked her about me and I ended up scheduling a visit and what do you know? I ended up winning a national championship.”
Presnell isn’t the only Sandite competing for national titles. Sydney Pennington, a 2017 graduate, is currently competing with the Oklahoma State Cowgirls at the Division I World Series in Oklahoma City.
“She actually reached out to me after winning the national tournament,” said Presnell. “I said, ‘well it’s your turn now. Go Pokes!’”