Kylee Hanson is learning from a living legend, coach Joan Joyce

The former is Conference USA’s Preseason Pitcher of the Year, while the latter has been referred to as the best softball player in history.

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Kylee Hanson is learning from a living legend, coach Joan Joyce

Kylee Hanson (left), Joan Joyce (right) and the FAU softball team are looking to win their second straight conference championship in 2017. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

Kylee Hanson (left), Joan Joyce (right) and the FAU softball team are looking to win their second straight conference championship in 2017. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

Kylee Hanson (left), Joan Joyce (right) and the FAU softball team are looking to win their second straight conference championship in 2017. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

Kylee Hanson (left), Joan Joyce (right) and the FAU softball team are looking to win their second straight conference championship in 2017. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

Brendan Feeney, Sports Editor

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unior pitcher Kylee Hanson and softball head coach Joan Joyce are on two opposite ends of a very similar journey.

Joyce is in her 21st season as head coach of the Florida Atlantic softball team, following a storied career in which she’s been referred to as the Babe Ruth of softball — she threw 150 no-hitters and 50 perfect games.

She lost 42 games in her career and posted a career ERA of .09. Joyce also struck out Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Hank Aaron.

Meanwhile, her star pitcher’s career is just taking off and already gaining national attention.

Hanson earned ESPNW’s National Softball Player of the Week after the first weekend of the season. Prior to that, Conference USA coaches voted Hanson as Conference Pitcher of the Year in the preseason.

The junior is also just one of two pitchers in the country to have at least eight wins and three saves this season — University of Texas at Arlington freshman Samantha Clakley is the only other.

“She’s worked that hard and deserves that recognition,” Joyce said. “She’s pitched extremely well so far [this season]. I think that probably halfway through last year, when we really worked hard on being able to throw the riseball low, helped her out a lot … but she works all the pitches, she’s gotten a little bit stronger, throwing it harder and she’s actually dominating hitters.”

The riseball — Hanson’s go-to pitch — is a pitch that can be disguised as two separate pitches.

“I have a low rise and a high rise,” Hanson said. “My low one I want to keep between the belt and the chest, and then the high one from the chest to the head. It’s just changing [the batters’] eye level, trying to get them to swing and miss or get a pop up … I like my riseball a lot, I get a few swings and misses on it.”

Hanson’s riseball has gotten more than just a few swings and misses. As of March 24, she sits 10th in the nation in strikeouts and third in ERA, at a mark of 0.76.

This year, Kylee Hanson has enjoyed one of her best seasons at FAU based on stats, going 9-3 with a 0.98 ERA and three saves. Ryan Lynch | Multimedia Editor

This year, Kylee Hanson has enjoyed one of her best seasons at FAU based on stats, going 9-3 with a 0.98 ERA and three saves. Ryan Lynch | Multimedia Editor

“Catching her is awesome and she always seems to be spot on, so it’s really a pleasure,” sophomore catcher Alex Miller said. “High school, never caught for anyone like that. Travel ball, never. So I was really fortunate when I came in as a freshman and was able to catch her right away and learn the game from her and learn what pitches we should call when.”

However, Hanson’s biggest advantage sits in the same dugout — coach Joyce.

“It’s a very lucky feeling,” Hanson said. “I don’t take it for granted, that’s for sure. You learn a lot and you trust her 100 percent, everything that comes out of her mouth you don’t doubt.”

Joyce and the Hanson family were connected far before Kylee thought about her college career. In fact, they were connected years before she was even born.

Hanson’s father grew up in Connecticut and used to watch Joyce pitch for her professional team, the Connecticut Falcons. Joyce believes this helped her reel in her future ace.

“We had a little bit of an advantage [in recruiting Hanson] because her dad is from Connecticut, and when he lived in Connecticut and I was playing, he lived right up behind the field that we played in, in the pro league. He would hop the fence and come down and watch me pitch all the time, so he knew of me.”

That led to a unique recruiting visit, according to Hanson.

“I remember [the first time I met Joyce] because my dad was there and he used to watch her play when he was super young. So he talked a lot, which was really good because it was my college visit and I was a little nervous. He talked a lot and she told a ton of stories and they were really funny and really laughable, it was really comfortable … it was super cool meeting a legend.”

Hanson wasn’t the only one impacted by the visit: Joyce saw something special in her future pitcher.

“[Hanson] was a good pitcher already in high school, but she was a competitor and she battled with people and that’s what I liked,” Joyce remembers. “In fact, [assistant coach] Heather Gelbard took her on a campus tour and said to me, ’That kid is exactly what you’re looking for every single time in a pitcher.’ … She’s going to battle, she’s not going to give up.”

Hanson’s competitive edge causes her and Joyce to butt heads every now and then.

“It’s just her and I going back and forth, we talk a lot of softball and sometimes we have some differences of opinion that we come together on eventually,” Hanson said. “It’s funny to hear both of our sides and I never think about her side. Like her side is nothing I would instantly think of, it’s so much more thought out than mine ever is. She just teaches me so much.”

Joyce has taught Hanson so much in fact that now she lets the pitcher fix her own mistakes.

“Right now I really don’t even have to put too much focus on her unless something is going wrong,” Joyce said. “I kind of let her just go ahead and do her thing, because I don’t want to put anything in her head. She knows what she has to do, she’s very knowledgeable about pitching.”

“If I see something, I have to say ‘Kylee, you’re hanging back too far or you’re getting over to your left side too much,’” Joyce continued. “I just have to say that and she knows how to take care of it … she is very, very, very knowledgeable.”

Racking up 18 professional softball all-star appearances during a 21-year professional playing career, Joyce has set a standard for her players to reach. Ryan Lynch | Multimedia Editor

Racking up 18 professional softball all-star appearances during a 21-year professional playing career, Joyce has set a standard for
her players to reach. Ryan Lynch | Multimedia Editor

Sophomore pitcher Tatum Buckley — who holds a record of 6-0 — says she sits in a fortunate position where she is able to learn from both Joyce and Hanson by talking to them and watching the two work together.

“Just sitting in [on] their bullpens and hearing what they talk about, how they throw to certain batters, how hard they work. It’s very helpful and they’re good people to look up to,” Buckley said.

According to Hanson, Joyce still tosses the ball sometimes with her vintage slingshot pitching motion.

“She tosses every now and then and it’s still incredible,” Hanson said. “You’re like, ‘When was the last time you threw to a batter? … It’s really good.”

“I was ridiculous,” Joyce said. “I was a one-pitch player and I talk about that all the time. You have to take it one pitch at a time. People set goals and stuff, I never set a goal in my life. I never sat and said this is gonna be my goal for the year, I never did that. It was one pitch at a time and whatever that produced at the end of the game is what it was. I spent my whole life doing that, just one pitch at a time, and obviously it turned out pretty good.”

Joyce’s athletic abilities are not limited to the softball field, as she holds multiple records in different sports.

She once scored 67 points in one Amateur Athletic Union national basketball tournament game.

Joyce also completed a Ladies Professional Golf Association 18-hole course with just 17 putts, the best ever for a professional man or woman. Both of those records still stand today.

Joyce played on the USA Women’s National Basketball Team and was a three-time Amateur Athletic Union All-American.

She simultaneously played and coached volleyball for a team that competed in four national tournaments. She is one of three Americans in the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Though radar guns were not used when Joyce pitched, estimates say she could throw a softball in her prime equivalent to a 120 mph baseball, in terms of reaction time.

“I think the best asset I have is being able to analyze a sport and teach it,” Joyce continued. “I just had a good head for playing the games too, understanding what needs to be done.”

“She tells a lot of funny stories about her day,” Hanson said. “Like when I’m worried about throwing to a catcher, she’ll just tell me ‘Don’t worry about the catcher.’ If I tell her the umpire keeps giving me brand new balls, which I hate brand new balls, she’ll say ‘I used to throw [new balls] over the backstop; if I didn’t want them I threw them over the backstop.’ She helps comfort me a lot.”

“My relationship with coach is very good,” Hanson said. “We are very similar so we butt heads a little bit here and there, but I respect her a ton. I’ve learned so much from her, I’ll remember everything she ever taught me for the rest of my life. She’s been really awesome.”

No matter how well Hanson pitches this year, Conference USA coaches won’t be able to sigh in relief after the season, as Hanson — and the rest of FAU’s pitching staff — will return for next year’s team. As far as her career after college goes, Joyce believes she has no limits.

“It’s hard to say how far she can go, I mean to make the Olympic team you have to be one of the top four pitchers in the country. Can Kylee be that? Certainly,” Joyce said. “She’s on track to be that good.”

Although the U.S. has a national team, softball has not been in the Olympics since 2008. But there has been speculation that it may return in 2020.

Hanson thinks there’s one level she may not ever reach: her coach’s.

“No one will ever be like her, especially nowadays. No one will ever come close to Joan Joyce.”

Brendan Feeney is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @feeney42.