Kim Wert exemplifies blue-collar attitude expected in Missouri softball

Wert followed coach Larissa Anderson to Missouri after playing under her at Hofstra, and together they’re working to change MU softball.
Sophomore infielder Kim Wert. Photo courtesy of Mizzou Athletics. Mizzou Athletics

As a 10-year-old, Kim Wert’s little league teammates were forced to duck when she threw the ball. That’s when her parents knew she had a gift.

Realizing Kim might need to play for a more competitive team, the Wert family found the 10U Delaware Storm travel softball team. Three days a week, they made the 2.5 hour drive from Accomack, Virginia, to Delaware, for her to practice with the Storm.

Later in the year, Storm coach Jerry Kirby asked Kim’s mother, Bobbie Jo Wert, if Kim would guest play in a tournament for his 18U team.

So she did.

In the game, Kim stepped up to the plate with the score tied and recorded an RBI as a 10-year-old facing an 18U pitcher. Practicing with the 18U team, Kim fell in love with the game. She caught bullpen sessions and learned about change ups and drop balls.

It was this talent that then-Hofstra coach Larissa Anderson witnessed in Binghamton, New York, when she watched Kim as a high school underclassman. She recalls her making a Derek Jeter type play at shortstop.

“She planted off her right foot and threw across the diamond and as the ball left her hand, [she] kept running to the dugout because she knew the kid was out,” Anderson said. “Those things you can’t teach.”

When Anderson recruited Kim to Hofstra, Kim knew that Anderson was the type of coach she wanted to play for.

“You would find yourself admiring the way [Anderson] talked about the culture, the history, the family,” Bobbie Jo Wert said. “So right off the bat, Kimberly was impressed with her. Honestly, she went to Hofstra for coach Anderson and she knew if she wanted to be better, coach Anderson was the person that was gonna push her to be better.”

During her senior year at Nandua High School, Kim tore her ACL and was in the process of rehabbing for much of her freshman year at Hofstra. She worked primarily as a pinch-hitter and batted .258 with five homers and 13 RBIs in 32 games.

“She wasn’t an everyday player, but when she had those opportunities she really capitalized on it,” Anderson said. “She’s physically in better position [now] than she was last year. Her body can handle the demand that it’s going through.”

At the end of her freshman year, Kim’s college softball career changed: Anderson was leaving Hofstra for MU, where she was named head coach on May 26, 2018.

“In that moment, Kimberly was like, ‘What am I going to do without coach?,’” Bobbie Jo Wert said.

Ultimately, she knew she wanted to follow Anderson for a chance to play against some of the nation’s best in the Southeastern Conference.

“When I made the move here to Mizzou, she immediately said, ‘I’m following you to have the opportunity to play in the SEC’,” Anderson said. “She’s a leader on the field and everyone looks to her because she is the only one who has the experience under me.”

At Mizzou, sophomore Brooke Wilmes began to see a culture change within the program when going through 5:30 a.m. workouts last fall. Three days a week, the team would lift, run and participate in team bonding activities.

“They weren’t easy,” Wilmes said. “We really had to work together and that was super demanding of us. Working out together and struggling together is what has helped us become the team we are today.”

The shift in the program culture can be attributed in part to Anderson’s desire to bring a blue-collar mindset to Missouri.

“I want them to hold each other accountable, be tough, to be passionate about what they do and to appreciate everything that they’re given,” Anderson said. “Sometimes, playing in this conference, you get a little spoiled and I want to bring them back down to reality and get them to understand that we have an obligation.”

Kim’s knowledge of what Anderson expects from the team defensively has helped her teammates adjust to the transition. So far this season, MU has allowed 102 fewer runs than all of last year.

“[Kim] is a veteran in terms of my philosophy and my standards,” Anderson said. “The team looks to her as a whole because they know that she knows exactly where I’m coming from. That leadership does carry throughout the rest of the team.”

Anderson believes that the work put in off the field by her team is what sets them apart when they face off against SEC opponents.

“It’s an internal confidence,” Anderson said. “The preparation that when you step onto the field because you know that you have done more than your opponent. It’s the internal confidence of saying I’m better than you because I’ve done more this week.”

Anderson jokes that Missouri has had a Hofstra takeover. In addition to the head coach and Kim, Missouri added Sarah Michalowski-Marino as an assistant coach and Michaela Transue as a graduate assistant. Michalowski-Marino coached with Anderson at Hofstra for two years and Transue played for Anderson at Hofstra.

In part because of this coaching change, many thought this would be a rebuilding year. The Tigers were picked last in the SEC preseason poll. Missouri currently ranks ahead of the preseason pick Florida Gators.

“There’s not a game on our schedule that I’m not expecting to win,” Anderson said. “But I’m also looking at this program long-term. When I was hired, my first conversation with Jim Sterk was we want you to build a culture, we want you to build a program. I can do that.”

This year, Kim’s power numbers have propelled the Tigers to sixth place in the SEC with a 10-8 conference record. She leads the Tigers in homers (17), RBIs (45) and has started every game of the season. Kim is three home runs away from tying the program record set by Amanda Renth in 2008.

“[Anderson] has pushed me to be the best that I can be,” Kim said. “She is very tough on me, but she knows that’s the kind of player that I am. I need to be pushed. I push myself, but having coach in [my] ear constantly is a big motivating factor for me.”

Back at home, young girls who are hoping to someday fulfill their softball dreams look up to Kim as an inspiration.

“Her being out there is big for our community and the softball girls giving them hopes and dreams to aspire to be more than just this little tiny peninsula,” Bobbie Jo Wert said. “So she's carrying a lot of weight on her shoulders, but she's doing the eastern shore proud.”

Bobbie Jo Wert thinks her daughter may never return home from Missouri.

“She is literally living her best life, living her dream,” Bobbie Jo Wert said. “Mizzou has been absolutely wonderful from the people in the community, just everyone. I don't think she'll ever come back home.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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