By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Olivia Gott knew she was following a path leading her in the wrong direction. Midway through her second year at the University of Virginia, Gott was failing three classes, and her softball career wasn’t taking off, either.
“When I went home for winter break,” Gott recalled, “I was like, ‘Something’s got to give: whether that’s giving up a little of my social life, or staying committed and making sure my priorities are right.’ ”
Back with her family in Weston, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale, Gott read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, a book by Carol S. Dweck. She returned to UVA in January 2017 with a new sense of purpose.
“Everything changed for me after that fall semester,” said Gott, an English major who made the honor roll last spring. “I stayed on top of my academics, and softball was not far behind.”
Coming off a freshman season in which she hit only .097, Gott raised her average to .247 and hit seven home runs in 2017. She started 37 games — 19 at designated player, 18 at catcher — and helped UVA, in its first season under head coach Joanna Hardin, qualify for the ACC tournament for the first time since 2013.
The Cavaliers (22-32) finished with their most wins since 2012. Still, Gott said, that was only a starting point for the team, which has only two seniors this season: Allison Davis and Danni Ingraham.
“We’re not where we were,” Gott said, “but we’re not where we want to be, either, that’s for sure.”
Gott wasn’t satisfied with her own performance, either. Near the end of the spring semester, she said, “I told my parents, ‘Look, if I come home, I’m not going to stay committed to this team.’ So I stayed in Charlottesville all summer.”
She took a job at a local clothing store, Lily Rain, and worked out regularly in UVA’s indoor batting cage at the Cage.
“I hit almost every day,” Gott said, “and it’s something that I take really seriously, because I know that if you hit the ball consistently, they can’t take you out of the lineup.”
UVA opens ACC play this weekend at The Park. Virginia (8-14) is scheduled to host Georgia Tech (11-7) at 6 p.m. Friday and in a Saturday doubleheader that starts at noon.
Gott is hitting .333 this season, and she’s second on the team, behind Davis (eight), with four home runs.
“She’s awesome,” Hardin said of Gott, who’s again splitting time between catcher and DP. “Liv wants to learn, she wants to get better. I think she really wants this program to build and to grow, and she wants to be a leader. And what’s great about her is, she’s open to feedback. She’s asking the right questions, which is a huge piece of leadership, I think.”
The Wahoos’ head coach when Gott was a freshman was Blake Miller. He stepped down after the 2016 season. His successor was Hardin, who hired assistant coaches Kaleigh Rafter and Katie Repole and began overhauling the program.
“We love her,” Gott said of Hardin, who came to UVA from McNeese State. “At first, last year was a little overwhelming, because Coach Jo is so different from Coach Miller — in a good way, in my opinion. She’s much more organized. Everything’s strict, but in a good way, to help us be more unified.”
Rafter, a catcher on Canada’s national team, has helped Gott learn the finer points of that position. Repole has worked with Gott on her hitting.
“With all of them together, it’s so much information,” Gott said, “but it’s all to make us better.”
Hardin has enjoyed watching Gott grow into a team leader.
“When we first got here, Liv was a little bit timid, a little bit unsure, a little bit on her heels,” Hardin said. “She didn’t really push herself in the weight room, didn’t really push herself [in general]. She kind of stayed in her comfort zone. I think where she’s really grown is, she’s going outside of that comfort zone. She’s being organized. She’s trying to put herself in a position to be really successful, so I think that that’s a huge piece of that: planning out your days and planning your life, planning to be successful.”
Gott’s older sister, Madison, also plays college softball. She’s a senior shortstop at Columbia, and the sisters were reunited briefly last weekend. At a tournament in Washington, D.C., Columbia defeated Virginia 11-8 in nine innings.
For Gott, who was born and raised in South Florida, college represented an opportunity to expand her horizons.
“I made it clear during the recruiting process that I did not want to stay in Florida to go to school,” she said, “I wanted to experience a different part of the country, whether that’s [changing] seasons or culture or people, the community.”
Charlottesville has provided all of that. “I absolutely love it here,” he said, “and I don’t know that I want to go back to Florida after college.”
Academics are important to Gott, who may pursue a career in sports law or sports psychology, but so is softball.
“It’s right up there,” she said. “So I’m taking everything seriously. When I wake up in the morning, for lifts in the fall, it’s time to be great. This team needs me, and that may mean I have to lead at something that maybe I don’t really like. Like my teammates always make fun of how I hate running, but if that is what’s going to make this team great, then I need to lead. And something that I always tell myself is, if you’re courageous enough to lead, [teammates are] going to follow.
“We always talk about how leadership is lonely. It takes a lot for somebody to step up and be like, ‘Follow me. I’ve got you. I’ve got your back, and we’re going to get through this.’ ”
She’s helping lay the foundation, Gott believes, for a championship program at UVA.
“We may not win ACCs while I’m here,” she said, “but I know that when they do win ACCs, I was part of that. So that’s important to me.”
Hardin said: “I think she really loves this program. She loves UVA, and she wants to see UVA softball relevant, so that’s really exciting.”