MONMOUTH — It hurt, and Kristine Kahl knew it wasn’t good.

The Monmouth pitcher is used to being dominant on the mound. She winds up and fires with all the strength she can muster. After a pitch in just her second game last year, that combination of poise and power was reduced to wounded vulnerability.

A force on the mound as a freshman, Kahl injured a groin muscle in the second game of the season. It put her out for most of the season and had the Mustangs scrambling in her absence.

“It was from the drop on my change-up,” she describes. “I changed my change-up since then. So I won’t have to worry about that any more, but I had to drop harder for it, and it just aggravated it.”

The torn muscle made for a long and frustrating season. Kahl knew how bad the injury was from the beginning. She hoped she’d be able to work her way back but also knew it was going to take time.

“Groin injuries aren’t that great,” she said. “I had heard that if you don’t get them right, they recur throughout the rest of your life. So I knew I had to take care of it now. I went to the trainer and he said the same thing.”

It put Kahl on the sidelines and put the Mustangs in a tough spot. Monmouth was already low in numbers. To lose its standout pitcher only made that challenge even greater.

“We just didn’t have enough personnel,” said Monmouth coach Rachel Bernier, whose team finished 8-7 and lost in the Western C quarterfinals. “The year before we had nine people, and last year, we had 11. So it really impacted us. Thank goodness Colby (Wilson) stepped up and what what she did pitching and made it so we could get to the playoffs. But it was huge. It was a juggling act every day.”

It was tough to watch the games for Kahl. She could still throw. She could do the motion and warm-up her arm, but she just couldn’t put any stress on her leg or that muscle. She knew there was a chance she might miss the rest of the season, but she returned to the mound late in the year.

“She always came to the games and was cheering on her teammates,” said Bernier. “This is her sport. She was frustrated, but she never showed it. She came to practices and came to games and did what she could do.”

By the end of the season, she felt 100 percent. She got into a couple games and felt fine during the winter. That has allowed her to enter this season feeling healthy and ready to go.

“I’m feeling good about the season,”said Kahl. “I’m optimistic about how things will be. We have numbers this year. So that’s pretty good. I feel pretty good about my pitching. So hopefully we’ll come together and be able to go far.”

After being so effective her freshman season, Kahl is excited to return to form and help make the Mustangs a threat in Western C. Monmouth only lost one player and has the depth it lacked a year ago. Though Kahl missed most of last season, she feels like she’s pitching better than she was at this time last spring.

“I feel like I’ve been improving,” she said. “I was pretty confident last year, and I’m pretty confident this year. Another year of experience under my belt helps. I feel like I’m mentally stronger than I was last year.”

Bernier says Kahl is stronger and a little more muscular this year. She already sees great improvement on the mound and at the plate. Though she pitched well as a freshman, she struggled at the plate at times.

“She’s stronger, there’s not doubt about it,” said Bernier. “She worked hard on her pitches. She developed different pitches and spins all winter long. She also improved her hitting. She’s hitting the ball with some authority.”

The Mustangs now have seven players on the roster that can pitch. So they’ll be able to give Kahl some rest while also utilizing the depth on the roster. Kelsie Hilton is a four-year starter while Wilson and Kristi Hilton are three-year starters. After a challenging season last year, both the Mustangs and Kahl may be ready to rebound this spring.

“Reen has worked extremely hard, and I’d like to see her have some success,” said Bernier. “It was frustrating for her. You could see it. It was disappointing to see her work so hard and have that injury.”

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