The campus seemed huge to her. Building after building after building as she drove around in a golf cart driven by USF softball coach Ken Eriksen, touring a foreign USF campus for the first time.
It was Lee Ann Spivey’s first time setting foot on campus. A freshman at Flagler Palm Coast High School, Spivey was taking her first official visit to the school where she would build a lasting legacy just three years later.
Now, she stands two weeks away from graduating college.
Looking back on her four years at USF, she has no regrets and a bevy of memories — both good and bad, joyous and frustrating. They all shaped her legacy.
“I’ve gained so much knowledge in four years, I wouldn’t be able to begin to explain everything I’ve learned since I’ve been here,” Spivey said.
Spivey didn’t intend to play softball in college. She was a lifetime baseball player, having switched to softball in middle school.
It wasn’t until a catching camp hosted by Eriksen that Spivey realized her own potential.
“Once it was over, Ken Eriksen came over to my dad and said, ‘If I could sign her today, I would.’ That was before I had thought anything about colleges or anything.”
Early recruitment is the norm in softball. Coaches know what to look for and tend to get a jump if they see the right fit.
For Spivey, USF was the perfect fit.
“We visited a couple of other schools, but I kept telling my parents, ‘I have to come back to USF,’” Spivey said of her recruitment. “There was something about the feel, I really liked Ken Eriksen as a person and I really felt he was the best fit for me and the school was the best fit for me.”
Once at the school, the transition from high school was seamless. She started as a freshman and Eriksen was surprised, even after recruiting her since age 14.
“She's hit some of the hardest balls I've seen leave the ball park in the last year and a half at South Florida, and she can run like the wind,” Eriksen told reporters back in 2013. “She's the total package of a great athlete.”
But when it came time for her first game, her nerves overshadowed her talent.
“I just remember feeling a rush of emotion. You’re excited because it’s finally here, you’re nervous because you’re a freshman and I was a freshman starting,” Spivey said. “That in itself was really nerve-racking. I remember going out there and being so jittery and in my first at-bat, I’m pretty sure I struck out.
“I get in the dugout and coach looks at me and says, ‘Ok, you got your first one out of the way and now you can breathe finally.’ I felt like once I settled in and got into my natural habitat and let my confidence take over, it was a lot easier. But the first time ever, it’s unexplainable.”
The mishaps wouldn’t end there.
At the tail end of her freshman season, USF was in position to secure the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament heading into the final game of the regular season.
“We were winning the ballgame with players on first and third and I wasn’t supposed to throw the ball to second if they stole, I was told to hold it,” Spivey said. “But the girl took off running and she just looked so dead to me. I hesitated and then launched it into center field and all of the runners scored.”
USF lost the game, but still found its way into the conference championship game where Spivey would make up for her youthful mistake.
In a scoreless 10-inning game against Notre Dame, a young Spivey looked at then-freshman Mo Santos and the two had an exchange in the dugout that would seal the game.
“We’ve got this,” Spivey remembers telling Santos. “I’m going to get on base.”
To which Santos responded, “And I’m going to hit you in.”
Just like they drew it up, Spivey hit a double to put herself in scoring position with Santos up next. The rest is history.
“She slides in to home and jumps up and we’re huggin’ each other because we did exactly what we said we were going to do,” Spivey said, reminiscing on one of her proudest moments. “Obviously it was a huge team win, but I remember that moment specifically.”
Spivey has evolved since those freshman years, transitioning from a “loose cannon” to a poised leader of a surging team.
Coming into her final season, it was hard to imagine she would eclipse the stellar play of her junior season — Spivey hit 52 RBIs in 56 games.
But her senior season didn’t start the way she had intended. Through the first nine games of the season, Spivey was batting just .144, the lowest mark of her career.
“For me it was more about being comfortable and getting back to doing my thing rather than trying too hard,” Spivey said. “Once I finally let myself just have fun and stopped caring what my stats are going to be, that’s when I started getting out of my slump.
“If I’m doing my last year and I’m giving it my all and having fun, that’s all that matters.”
That trait — the ability to forget the past and fix what’s broken — has not only helped Spivey in her career, but other young guns on the team.
“She’s always been a leader on this team, she’s always someone you can go to and she will always help you whether it’s batting or defense, anything,” sophomore catcher Mia Fung said of Spivey. “Especially me being a younger catcher, helping me with signs or getting to know other players was a big help.”
Just like her freshman season, Spivey overcame obstacles, but in this case, she had some help.
Spivey has experienced many key moments in her life in the sanctuary of the USF Softball Stadium, including watching her boyfriend Nick get down on a knee in center field and pull out a ring.
Since that day, Spivey has batted .338 on the season with another 39 RBIs to her name.
“I’m going to attribute that to a ring around her finger,” Eriksen said of the catcher following USF’s win over UNLV on Feb. 26. “When she’s happy, she’s playing well.”
Spivey has one regular season series left in her senior season. But she’s looking past it, for now.
With one last run in the tank, for Spivey and the other seniors, it’s College Softball World Series or nothing.
“I expect nothing less than for us to make it to the World Series and I’ve expected nothing less than that every year I’ve been here,” Spivey said. “We just have to be willing to go out there and get it.”
Looking even farther than that, Spivey will take her Criminology degree and her fiancee to Gainesville to pursue a master’s degree.
But her lasting memories of USF will never be left behind. It’s the place where she grew up and the field she built her legacy on. It’s a place that will stick with her long after she walks across that Sun Dome stage.
“You’re never really leaving anything behind,” Spivey said. “Once you’re a part of USF, you’re always going to be a part of it.”