To say that co-captains Shelbi Olson and Kasey Lange have merely had an impact on the Harvard softball program would be an understatement. In fact, the duo has propelled the Crimson both offensively and defensively for much of their careers.
Olson is the scrappy hitter and fielder who does whatever it takes to get on base and cover ground in the outfield. Lange is the muscle who drives in runners and the glove who patrols the hot corner at third base.
However, this duo came to Cambridge from two unalike backgrounds. Lange came to Harvard from the softball powerhouse of California while Olson arrived from Kansas, a state known more for college basketball than high school softball.
“The first time I saw Kasey play, I immediately knew that she was a great hitter,” Harvard coach Jenny Allard said. “Kasey gets up there and she swings. A lot of hitters get in their own way [by] thinking, guessing. Kasey gets up there, she sees the ball, and she swings the bat.”
For Olson, the recruitment process came as slightly more of a surprise.
“As a recruit, you kind of just send a lot of information out to a lot of different places hoping coaches somewhere will like you and get back to you,” Olson said. “Harvard kind of fell [into] my lap.”
Just as the pair had dissimilar roots, so too did they begin their Harvrad careers differently. Lange’s freshman year was one of the greatest offensive seasons by any Crimson hitter in program history and arguably the best ever by a first-year. Unanimously named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Lange posted a .449 average and blasted 11 home runs in addition to setting program records with 65 RBIs and 20 doubles.
“Probably her freshman year she was one of the top two hitters in the league,” Allard said.
Olson’s freshman year was somewhat less notable. She posted a respectable .301 average, below what is typically expected of a leadoff hitter. Both Allard and Olson knew that she had more potential.
“I came in feeling a little out of place because softball is huge out in California and Florida and in all the warm places, but I wasn’t from a big softball hub,” Olson said. “I trained really hard in high school. I was physically ready for college softball, but I didn’t know how good I was when I got here.”
For both players, sophomore year was more of the same. Lange came back to Earth offensively, but still crushed six home runs and had 40 RBIs while cranking out a .372 batting average. Olson hit at a near .300 clip once again as the Crimson dominated the Ivy League for a second straight title and won two games in the NCAA tournament, eventually falling to Washington in the regional final.
Last season, however, appeared to be more of a rebuilding year at first. None of the pitchers from the 2012 campaign returned to the team’s roster, and the leading hitter from that season, then-senior Jane Alexander, had graduated. Olson, only a junior, was named captain.
The 2013 season witnessed Olson become a constant presence on the base paths. Her batting average jumped 70 points up to .371 to lead the team. Olson’s improvement allowed Lange to do what she does best—drive runners in.
Early in the season, Lange struggled at times to find the consistent superstar-level output that was expected of her. But once Ivy League play rolled around, she began to tee off. In 20 conference games, Lange hit nine home runs, giving her 13 on the season and a Harvard-record 30 for her career. Four of Lange’s homers were two-run shots with Olson on base.
The 2013 Ivy League season ended in disappointment for the Crimson as a group, however. Harvard was alive entering the last weekend of the season, but for the first time since Olson and Lange arrived in Cambridge, the team did not make it to the Ivy League Championship Series.
But the bond between the two also extends off the field. Both are pre-med and have shared numerous classes throughout the years.
Their final season with the Crimson has been up and down offensively. While Lange and Olson have produced at the plate, occupying the top two spots on the team in batting average, their numbers are not at the sensational levels of the past few seasons.
Yet, with the majority of league play to go, the pair’s goal—a third Ivy League championship—remains very much within reach.
“We won my freshman and sophomore year, but fell short last year,” Olson said. “So we are hungry for another title.”
—Staff writer Jacob W. Lynch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.