Kent State softball coach Karen Linder rarely has to look far when recruiting players to join the Golden Flashes.
One of the first places she heads is to nearby Tallmadge High School. Tallmadge's strong softball program has produced several KSU players over the years, including catcher Ashley Furhurst and utility player Tammy Stires.
"Tallmadge has been my pipeline since I coached at Ashland," Linder said. "In 11 years there and 14 here, I think I've always had a Tallmadge kid on the roster. In the 1980s, when they had such a dominating program, I developed a good relationship with them."
This season, the Golden Flashes feature two former Blue Devil standouts in senior Leah Archual and freshman Lauren Grimes. Former teammates at Tallmadge, Archual and Grimes now make up two-thirds of the Flashes' outfield.
"Tallmadge is well known for its Little League baseball and softball programs," Linder said. "They really do a good job of teaching the kids, instilling work ethic and getting them to understand the meaning of commitment."
With so many strong fast-pitch high school programs in the Akron area, Linder has been extremely successful over the years in securing the talent in Kent State's backyard.
Somewhat rare for a Division I program, this season's KSU team has six regulars in the starting lineup who
are from area high school programs.
There's also outfielder Beth Cinadr (a transfer from Purdue) who is from Hudson, second baseman Heather Duhon of Ellet, first baseman/catcher Amy Hair of Massillon, third baseman/shortstop Jess Carmichael of Dalton and outfielder Lauren Brocklehurst of Medina.
Of the 25 players on KSU's roster, only four are from out of state.
"Many players in the state, and especially in the Northeast Ohio area, are familiar with the Kent State program growing up," Linder said. "Even many kids we don't recruit come to us as walk-ons and often develop into good players."
One such player is Duhon, a senior and a three-year starter at second base.
"Initially, she was not a kid we recruited," Linder said. "But she sought us out, and we're lucky she did. Heather's been so beneficial for us, especially in the 2008 [NCAA] regionals when she came up with two clutch hits."
Kent State (13-14) begins its Mid-American Conference schedule today with a doubleheader at Northern Illinois and has games Saturday and Sunday at Western Michigan. Next weekend, the Flashes will host Buffalo for games April 9 and 10.
In the nonconference portion of the schedule, the Flashes have been powered by Grimes, whose .452 batting average leads the team.
"Lauren is very determined and incredibly talented," Archual said. "Look at her batting average, she hasn't even gotten close to [dipping] .400. When she goes to bat, you just know that if she doesn't get a hit, she'll work a walk."
Earlier this week, Grimes claimed her third MAC East Hitter of the Week award this season in just five weeks of competition, helping power the Golden Flashes to a 5-1 record last weekend at the Coastal Carolina Invitational.
Grimes hit .545 (12-for-22) with four walks and a .615 on-base percentage in the six games. In KSU's 5-4 win over Longwood, Grimes threw out three runners from left field and went 3-for-4 at the plate with a home run and three RBI.
In the Flashes' 11-7 win over St. John's, Grimes went 3-for-3 with two walks, a home run, a double and a stolen base. She scored 10 runs and posted an .864 slugging percentage.
Both Grimes and Archual choose Kent State partially because of its proximity to their families.
"One of the main things for me was to stay close to home," said Grimes, who was recruited by a variety of colleges both out of state and in state, including Cleveland State, Akron and Bowling Green.
But what sealed the deal for Grimes on her visit to KSU was the team's familiar faces and "fun atmosphere."
"The chemistry here is so amazing," she said. "And the coaching staff has been so helpful. When I was younger, I used to be a bunter/slapper type of hitter. But now they've already helped me with my fundamentals, and the lifting program has helped my mechanics."