Kennedy Vis leads by example.
She can go 4 for 4 at the plate, strike out eight batters and shake off a liner to the wrist like it was nothing.
The senior is the latest in a long line of players to achieve success for the Central High School softball team.
“I was a swing player my freshman year, meaning I was on junior varsity but I did suit up for varsity. I got a couple innings in, but freshman year for Central is about learning how the team works, how to play with the team, and all of that,” Vis said. “I really learned how the team works, how to be a part of the team, and how to play the game better.”
In that first season, Vis witnessed the likes of Aislyn Sharp, now a starting infielder for Colorado Mesa, taking control of the team. The Warriors finished 22-7 and lost to Legend, the eventual state champions, in the final four at the state tournament.
Once Vis joined the varsity full time, she made an immediate impact and helped propel Central to strong seasons as a sophomore and junior.
In those seasons, Vis hit a combined .323 with 28 RBI, six doubles, six home runs, and her OPS was north of .900. Once Mya Murdock and Myah Arrieta — the de facto leaders of those teams who now play for Colorado Northwestern Community College and CMU, respectively — Vis assumed stepped into their shoes.
This season, Vis is 10-2 for the Warriors (19-4, 8-0 5A/4A Southwestern League) and has a 1.80 ERA. Vis is also posting her best season in the batters’ box, hitting .457 with a pair of doubles, six triples and five home runs, and her OPS has is 1.365. Generally, an OPS of 1.000 is considered excellent.
Head coach Aaron Berk has been involved with Central softball since 2013, so he has seen plenty of players succeed in the program.
In his eyes, Vis is shades of Melissa Gellerman and Mikayla Duffy. Gellerman played for the Warriors through 2016, then played for Black Hills State University and the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Duffy graduated in 2010 and spent four seasons at the Division I level with the University of Northern Colorado.
“Both of them are like Kennedy — big, strong pitchers,” Berk said. “Mikayla was determined to be a great hitter more than a great pitcher, and Melissa wanted to be a better pitcher than a hitter. Kennedy wants both.
“Kennedy has grown so much since she first came into the program. Every year she’s stronger, throwing faster and hitting harder.”
Like Arrieta, Murdock, Duffy and Gellerman, Berk points to Vis’ success as an indicator of how strong the Central program is.
Vis fit in seamlessly and with how she’s training the next generation, he has little reason to believe the next girl up won’t do the same when she’s gone.
In the past 10 years, the Warriors have won 15-plus games in all but two seasons. In the COVID-stricken 2020 season, they were 15-4.
“This is why we talk about reloading, not rebuilding, when it comes to our program,” Berk said.
THE TEAM MOM
Vis’ impact isn’t restricted to the diamond.
In practice, she sets the same example for the team that her predecessors did. She works hard to improve her game and will teach other players how to be better.
Vis wants the team to succeed, and she tells the young players that can’t happen if they don’t succeed.
Berk likens Vis, who has four younger siblings, to being the team mom.
“Yeah, I definitely stay on top of the kids,” Vis said while laughing. “I want them all to succeed, and I know that comes with hard work and good grades. So, I make sure they’re getting good grades and going to class.”
The message seems to be getting across.
Freshman Emma Diaz has been impressed by Vis’ leadership all season.
“She’s a great leader. How she pitches and hits is like, ‘Wow, I want to be like her,’ ” Diaz said. “In our game against Horizon, she was pitching and a liner hit her in the wrist, then chest and face mask. She was smoked by that thing. After a few minutes, she got up laughing and started pitching again.”
Vis shrugged off that line drive like it was no big deal. What stung most that day was the 7-1 loss to Horizon, she said at the time.
That’s because what matters most to the CMU-commit is the team wins, no matter how it’s done.
In her final go-around at Central, Vis wants the Warriors to go as deep into the state tournament as they can.
Last season, the Warriors lost in the final four again. In 2019, they failed to make a run and lost to Ralston Valley in the losers’ bracket of the regional tournament.
“Playing the Denver teams is difficult. You learn how to compete and how to play softball well. They’re very competitive games and that’s what makes them so fun,” Vis said. “My goal is to play the best I can, and I want us to make it as far as we possibly can as a team. That’s always the goal.”
Central gets that opportunity Saturday in the 5A regional tournament. The Warriors, the seventh seed overall, host the 26th seed Loveland in the first game. If they win, they’ll face either Lakewood or Arapahoe. All games will be at Columbine Park and begin at 10 a.m.
Elsewhere in 5A, Fruita Monument plays Chatfield in Aurora at the Aurora Sports Complex at 10 a.m.
Palisade, meanwhile, plays at Riverdale Ridge in Thornton in Class 4A.