Lilli Piper made it clear from the beginning: she wanted to play college basketball. That’s why when now-Ohio State head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly recruited her to play softball at Miami (Ohio), where she was coaching at the time, Piper wasn’t interested.
Kovach Schoenly backed off, as did many other softball coaches, when Piper instead began to pursue a collegiate career playing basketball. Even though she scaled back her of recruiting Piper, Kovach Schoenly was still recruiting the other girls on Piper’s travel team, so she continued to watch her play.
“I had told her when I heard she was going to play basketball … ‘If you ever decide you want to play [softball], come find me because I would love to have you on my team,’” Kovach Schoenly said.
After just one season playing both basketball and softball for Akron, Piper took Kovach Schoenly up on her offer.
The now-junior shortstop Piper not only transferred schools, but she gave up basketball at Akron to pursue only softball at Ohio State.
“She was willing to leave a pretty cushy thing at Akron, you know, you’re on a full ride and you get all of these things as a basketball player,” Kovach Schoenly said.
Piper wasn’t exactly having a bad year at Akron, either. She played in 20 softball games — starting in 11 — for the Zips. She slashed .313/.327/.417 with a home run and two stolen bases.
She also held her own in basketball, the sport she decided to leave. She appeared in 29 games, averaging 3.2 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game, and even had a 24-point, nine-rebound effort against Buffalo in the MAC semifinals.
Despite the success as a two-sport athlete, Piper said playing softball full-time just began to feel like the right option. Her parents didn’t have any objections to the decision, either.
“Both my parents voted for softball when I was growing up, so they really pushed that and I kind of went against it and I guess I had to find my own path back to softball,” Piper said.
Attending Akron made a lot of sense for Piper at the beginning. It was close to home — Pipher is from Norton, Ohio — and she had been around the university a lot with her aunt, Kay Piper, who played both softball and volleyball there from 1982 to 1985.
“Knowing that I played there and I think also she’d been around Akron U a lot because I used to take her to some of the games and stuff. I think she felt comfortable going there,” Kay Piper said.
Kay’s number, 23, is one of only two retired numbers in program history, but Piper was still able to wear it for the year that she played at Akron. Seeing her wear that number was an “immense sense of pride,” Kay said.
Although Piper’s decision to transfer to Ohio State was a risk, she was not leaving all comfort behind in Akron.
A few of the people who played on Piper’s travel team were already playing at Ohio State, so Piper did not feel as though she was “jumping into a situation blind.”
Piper quickly found her groove at Ohio State and has continued to thrive since she arrived. She sits among the Buckeyes’ leaders in nearly every offensive category through nine games this season with a .389/.421/.778 slash line and three homers, 12 RBIs, 10 runs scored and two stolen bases. In 2017, her first year with the Buckeyes, she led the team in all the categories, except stolen bases, where she was second, and was a second-team All-American.
“Last year she came here and she made a name for herself. In one year to be All-American is so hard,” Kovach Schoenly said.
Piper went into this season with a renewed confidence though, after she recently tried out for the USA Women’s National Team during Christmas break. She took part in the open tryout and was picked to go to the invitational tryout.
“I just feel like I can’t be beat,” Piper said, “I’ve seen the best.”
Piper is looking to continue to do what she said she does best this season: have fun and enjoy herself.
“I just like to have a lot of fun,” Piper said. “At the end of the day this is just a game and yeah we take it, I mean this is our jobs at the end of the day but we might as well make it fun while we’re doing it.”