Softball star to be inducted into Cal U's Hall of Fame.
The 2019 Hall of Fame inductees will be recognized at California University’s signature fundraiser, the Bow Ties & Pearls Ball, set for June 29 in the Cal U Convocation Center. The event is open to the public; proceeds benefit scholarships for Cal U students and legacy projects on campus. More information is available at calu.edu/bowtiesball.
Kristin Heslop made the Cal U softball team as a walk-on but ultimately walked away as an All-American and a Hall of Fame inductee.
An eventual four-year starter and three-time all-conference shortstop and outfielder for the softball team from 1999-2002, Heslop was not recruited after graduating from Northern Garrett High School in 1997. Along with softball she excelled for the Huskies in volleyball, soccer and basketball.
“Growing up where I did, I was not recruited anywhere, but I knew how good Cal U was and heard it was not far from where I lived,” said Heslop, a native of McHenry, Md. “That summer I toured the school and wanted to play with them, so I met coach (Rick Bertagnolli). He told me about tryouts, and I showed up.”
Immediately effective, Heslop batted .349 her freshman season with a team-high nine home runs and seven doubles. She was second in RBI with 42. She helped Cal U win an unprecedented 11th straight PSAC-West title and fourth straight PSAC tournament and NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional championships.
The 1999 team also stretched the program’s unprecedented divisional win streak to 88 games. Cal U finished fifth at the NCAA tourney after winning the national title each of the previous two seasons.
“After making the team it was intimidating because you are out there in the field with so many proven players but once I was there for a while you get over it and realized hey I can play with these girls,” Heslop said.
During her sophomore season Heslop batted .407 with 10 home runs and 67 RBI, which remains a school record nearly 20 years later. The Vulcans finished 44-15 overall and won a fifth straight PSAC crown while Heslop earned all-conference honors as a utility player.
In 2001 Heslop was selected as an all-conference outfielder after batting .403 with nine home runs and 39 RBI. Cal won a 13th straight PSAC-West title by winning 19 of 20 divisional games and placed third at both the conference and regional tournaments.
As a senior Heslop hit 10 home runs with 36 RBI and helped the Vulcans win another PSAC-West title, place second at the conference tournament and finish sixth in the final National Fastpitch Coaches Association top 25 poll for NCAA Division II. She was named the 2002 PSAC-West Athlete of the Year and was a second-team NFCA All-American.
All told, Cal U softball compiled a 149-49 cumulative overall record and 71-9 divisional record during Heslop’s four seasons. This included the team winning four PSAC-West titles with four NCAA post-season appearances, two PSAC championships and one NCAA regional crown.
Seventeen years later her 184 career RBI total is still a school record, and ranks sixth in the PSAC while her 38 home runs rank third, and 10th in the PSAC. Other career totals which are still in the school record book include a .653 slugging percentage (4th), 193 gamed played (5th), 13 triples (5th), 77 extra-base hits (5th), 68 walks (5th), 160 runs scored (5th), 593 at-bats (6th), 221 hits (6th), 30 stolen bases (6th), and a .373 batting average (10th).
Though her individual accomplishments are still well documented, Heslop takes more pride in the program’s consistent success.
“Winning was really exciting, we had high expectations and felt we owed it to the alumni to keep it going,” she said. “We were proud of the divisional win streak because that meant something to all of us to keep that tradition. We pushed hard to keep it for the teams before us.”
Switching to the outfield from her natural shortstop position in 2001 emphasized Heslop’s team-oriented approach.
“We had a need for outfielders my junior season so I filled the need,” said Heslop succinctly. “We had many great players who earned many individual honors but it was always about the team and winning games.”
Also, an Academic All-District selection, Heslop earned her bachelor’s degree in natural science from Cal U in 2002. In 2003 she was one of 50 players invited to a tryout for the U.S. Olympic softball team.
Now she looks back fondly at her Cal U days and the camaraderie with her fellow Vulcans.
“I enjoyed every second I was there,” she said. “Being a college athlete, you spent so much time with your teammates that you naturally hung out with them off the field as well and I guess you could say we were sort of our own little sorority.”
From Cal U she went on to serve as an assistant softball coach for two seasons at Mercer University (Macon, GA.). While coaching Heslop earned her master’s degree in education.
Heslop resides in Oregon, Wis., with her children, 9-year-old Jake and 11-year-old Samantha. She earned her teacher certification from Edgewood College. For the past six years Heslop has taught mathematics while also serving as the head softball coach at Stoughton High School.
While at Cal Heslop found she enjoyed many of the mathematics courses she took and praised the influence of retired chemistry teacher Dr. Gabriel Fusco. She also found the similarities between teaching and coaching intriguing.
“At Cal I really had no intention of teaching and wanted to work with the NSA doing something such as code breaking,” she recalled. “But raising a family and the college coaching schedule did not blend well. I always loved math, so this has worked out well.”
Bertagnolli said he’s been fortunate with walk-ons over the years but for one to play at such a high caliber as Heslop is a rarity.
“She’s a complete overall athlete, just very strong with speed, versatility who could play any of the outfield or infield positions,” Bertagnolli said. “She was also an excellent student who has and will succeed in anything she does and that’s why Kristin ‘Sloppy’ Heslop is in the Hall of Fame.
She’s just the total package.”
Heslop is the 19th softball player to be inducted into Cal U’s Athletic Hall of Fame and finds the honor both exciting and humbling.
“Knowing some of the great athletes and people that are part of this and to be joining this is really special,” Heslop said. “To have been able to play for such a great program and help it continue to succeed was and is a great feeling.”