URBANA (WCIA) — Quitting softball was never an option for Annie Fleming, even when it would have been easy to walk away. The Chillicothe native had two knee surgeries in high school that kept her out of the game for nearly two years. It didn’t stop her from pursuing her goal of playing at the next level.
“I just knew I had to get back,” Fleming said. “I love sports, I love competing, I love being with a team, and I really wanted to get back to that, and that’s really what kind of motivated me to get through all that.”
But that wasn’t the last of her setbacks. Fleming started as walk-on at Illinois, and quickly made her mark in the record books. She hit the third-most home runs of any freshman in program history, and is a regular starter for the Illini. Last year, the third baseman suffered yet another injury, breaking her wrist before the start of the season.
“That injury was definetly frustrating,” she said. “I worked all fall, I was a team captain and to know that I wasn’t going to be out there with the class that I had been with the last three and half years, that was really tough, mentally that was probably the toughest for me.”
Fleming says she wanted to end her Illinois career on the field, and not the dugout. So after redshirting last season, the infielder is taking advantage of her fifth and final year at llinois. She ranks in the Top 10 in the league for hits and is fourth on the team in batting average, hitting .365, starting all 50 games.
“I worked all summer and I was like, ‘I’m coming back strong, people aren’t gonna know what hit them,'” she said. “It’s just been really fun to see hard work pay off not only for me but for a lot of my teammates. They’ve pushed me and they’ve always supported me.”
Fleming is ready to defy the odds once again. The Illini are 28-22 on the season, but she’s not giving up on her goal of leading the team to the postseason for the first time since 2017.