Williams, Melone happy to be contributing, happier to be healthy
Desiree Williams and Kelly Melone only thought they knew how much they loved playing softball.
That was before the two Longhorn standouts found themselves battling injuries and working hard to get back on the field for the 2008 season.
Today, they know how much they love playing softball because they learned how much they missed it when they weren't physically able to play.
But playing they are in 2008, and playing quite well.
As the regular season moved to a May 1 finish, with the Big 12 Conference Championship slated to begin on May 9, Melone was hitting .295 and Williams had become the all-time home run leader in Texas Softball history.
Those statistics were but icing on the cake for two young women who each had a moment of doubt as to whether they ever would be able to play again for the Longhorns.
Kelly Melone, who as a senior at Anaheim Loara High School was honored with the U.S. Marine Corps Distinguished Athlete Award, was off to a great start in 2006 before dislocating her right shoulder sliding into first base against Nebraska. The freshman infielder had played in 32 games, starting 20.
"I've always given it all I've got every time I am on the field," Melone said. "This was the first time I'd ever been injured."
A promising first season at UT ended prematurely.
"It was very difficult," Melone began. "I was hoping it wasn't that bad of an injury and that I'd be able to get back, but I couldn't."
The health promotions and fitness major appeared in 38 games, starting 35, in her sophomore season before injuring her left shoulder in a collision at second base against Penn State in March 2007.
She came back in a month, but was ineffective, hitting below .200 for the season.
"It was basically the same injury, different shoulder," Melone said. "I had played all my life and then two straight years I get hurt."
Disappointed, of course, Melone found a silver lining.
"You know my whole life I always had been on the field and had never spent much time on the bench," she began. "The last two years, I spent the time on the bench and I had the opportunity to look at the game in a way I'd never done before. I realized that I could see things and talk to my teammates about what I saw, what might be a help to them.
"I realized how I could pick people up when they came to the bench. I realized I could still play an important role on our team."
Melone feared it was déjà vu all over again this March when she suffered a concussion against Maine that knocked her out of three games.
However, she bounced back, eclipsing her hit total for her freshman and sophomore years this season.
"Kelly is great technically and mechanically," said head coach Connie Clark. "She thinks at another level. She is the field general for our defense."
Melone maintained a good attitude through it all.
"I know everything happens for a reason," she said.
Perhaps this happened to Melone to enable her to have a different and better perspective on the game she loves.
Desiree Williams, arguably the best University of Texas softball player ever not named Cat Osterman, likewise, never had been injured before tearing her posterior cruciate ligament in her left knee against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in February 2007.
She was coming off a brilliant sophomore season when she played in all 64 games, leading the Longhorns in hitting (.333), home runs (12, a school single-season record), RBI (39), slugging percentage (.637) and on-base percentage (.468).
What more would the Tucson, Ariz., native do in her junior season?
Eight games into the season came the answer.
"I went to crouch down and I knew I wasn't OK," Williams said, recalling the day of the injury.
"I didn't know exactly what I did," she continued. "All of the fans were encouraging me, they were telling me that they knew I could do it.
"I couldn't. I couldn't move from side to side. I knew it was trouble."
The doctors confirmed such.
"The PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) is something different," Williams said. "Doctors normally deal with the MCL (medial collateral ligament) or ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), not the PCL. It's in the back of the knee."
To get back on the field, Williams knew she was going to have to work harder than she ever had.
"I had the goal of getting back to where I was," Williams said. "I always have to have a goal to shoot for."
Williams quickly made the decision that she would not be bitter about what happened.
"I always had a tendency to be hard on myself," she said. "I was critical of myself that I wasn't perfect. Well, I can't be perfect. No one can be perfect.
"I realized with this injury to appreciate what I had and what I did. I got to step back and look at the situation."
Williams admitted that she feared no longer feeling like a part of the team because much of her rehab was being done away from the team.
"But that (not feeling a part of the team) was never an issue, not for one moment," she said.
Williams acknowledged that the thought of not getting back passed through her mind early in her rehab.
"You feel defeated," she said. "You want to be able to do what you always could do and at that time, you can't."
In 2008, she is back to what she always had been able to do.
Williams is the all-time UT home run leader.
"Actually, I had no idea," Williams said of the homer mark. "It's really cool, though."
She also may be found in the record books atop the categories of walks and hit-by-pitches. She is tied for first in on-base percentage. She also is in the top five in slugging percentage and runs scored and in the top 10 in doubles and stolen bases.
"It will be cool to look back in like 40 years to see I have fallen to fifth or something in the record books," Williams said.
It may be at least that long before she has fallen -- if she has fallen -- because Williams has an additional season to compete since the NCAA granted her a medical redshirt for 2007.
Thus, she will rise in all categories before the 2009 season ends.
"It has been so important to have her back," Clark said. "She provides a spark."
As the team provided Williams a spark during her challenging time last year.
Asked what she learned about herself through the experience, Williams said, "I learned how important my team is to me.
"And I'm not talking about the games. I am talking about the people who are my teammates. I learned what they meant to me as people, and they mean a lot."