Rose Roach committed to Auburn’s college softball team before she ever stepped on the field for Kaneland High School.
Flash forward four-plus years and Roach said the decision worked out very well, given that players in the Class of 2021 had their recruiting journeys impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roach was able to keep her focus on the field with her college plans solidified, and it showed, as she had a .488 batting average with 13 extra-base hits and 32 steals. For her achievements, Roach was named the Daily Chronicle 2021 Softball Player of the Year for the second time.
“I definitely know a lot of people who struggled with the recruiting process because of COVID and stuff like that,” Roach said. “College coaches weren’t really able to come and watch us. I was definitely fortunate I had my commitment out of the way so I didn’t really have to worry about that. I just got to play.”
Roach committed as a freshman to play at Auburn, which went 27-24 this year and went two-and-out in the NCAA regionals. Roach said she wasn’t sure what the coaching staff has planned for her when she arrives on campus or how she will be used.
“I’m super nervous but super excited at the same time,” Roach said. I’m going to be playing with some of the same girls I play with right now, so I won’t see completely new faces. I’m really excited to get out there and work hard and see where it gets me. I have no clue where they want to play me but hopefully I’ll see the field.”
Kaneland coach Mike Kuefler said she is going to be an immediate asset for the Tigers.
“You know what, she’s going to be just fine,” Kuefler said. “She’s not going to have any problems adjusting to that level. We have practices, and she sends over text messages asking if she can go back over to the field and work some more with her dad. The kid prepares herself well. I think Rose will be just fine.
At Kaneland, she was the leadoff hitter and shortstop all four seasons, even though the 2020 campaign was wiped out because of the pandemic. After great power numbers her first two seasons – she hit 17 combined home runs as a freshman and sophomore – she hit two this year.
Both Roach and Kuefler said the decline in power numbers was due to fewer games this year in a shortened season. Roach said she went through a little bit of an early-season slump, so she focused more on hitting line drives.
She said that she really doesn’t think of herself as a power hitter.
“I usually don’t hit a lot of home runs, so to hit so many home runs my freshman and sophomore years was kind of a shocker,” Roach said. “I’m more of a line-drive base-hit hitter.”
She also brings a lot of speed to the table. A track standout in middle school, she’s always been a problem on the bases for opposing teams, and this year was no different.
But it’s about more than speed. Kuefler said her awareness is second to none.
“She has the ability to read situations quicker than anybody else on the field, including stuff we as coaches don’t see,” Kuefler said. “By the time we see it, it’s too late. She’s a treat to watch, and I had the best seat in the house at third base watching her run the bases. The first steal is the only signal I give her. After that she’s on her own, and she’s done great.”
The Knights finished the season 20-6, losing to Sterling, 5-0, in a 3A sectional championship. The Warriors went on to take third place at the state tournament.
“I think we had a pretty good run,” Roach said. “We absolutely lost when we didn’t want to, but we had a strong season. Probably could have gone further but it was a good season.”
As Roach leaves after four years with the program, Kuefler called her one of the best shortstops in the state and one of the best players ever to wear a Kaneland uniform.
“There’s a lot of players who have contributed to our program getting better and better every year, but Rose may be the leader of that pack,” Kuefler said. “She’s elevated her play just by what she does in the offseason. She elevates us during the season. ... And she’s done that for four years. She’s had a huge impact on our program with what she’s been able to do offensively and defensively the last four years, and the other kids seem to follow that.”