Long before being named All-American, long before helping Pacific Lutheran University win the national championship, Kaaren Hatlen doubted her ability to play.
The year was 2010, and the Woodinville native was a freshman pitching in her first collegiate game.
"I went out to the mound," she recalled. "My coach told me she would put me in a position where I would be successful. So she put me in when we were ahead by a ton of runs. Well, I walked the first batter. I walked the second batter. And then I made a throwing error (on a ground ball) to load the bases."
PLU’s manager, Erin Van Nostrand, called timeout and went to the mound. She asked Hatlen if she was okay. The young lady responded that she was fine, that things were under control.
"So then I hit the next batter and then walked another batter," Hatlen said. "I was like freaking out on the mound. I was like ‘I can’t do this!’ So my coach takes me out of the game ... You know it’s bad when even the umpire remarks to one of your coaches that you looked nervous."
But much has changed since then. Over the next four years, Hatlen blossomed and flourished as a player, student and person. She was named a first team All-American in 2012, and twice was named Academic All-American. She also served as a key member of PLU’s 2012 National Championship squad.
To top it off, the recent graduate has been named one of nine finalists for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award. The award is based on athletic, academic and community service accomplishments. The winner will be announced this October.
"Kaaren is a natural for the award," former PLU sports Information Director Nick Dawson said. "She was one of the greatest hitters in Pacific Lutheran history. She was extremely involved in the PLU community. When we had need for a student athlete to work in some kind of community setting or help do some promotional things for PLU athletics, Kaaren was the pretty much the first person we thought of every time. She represented the PLU family and community extremely well."
This fall, Hatlen is in Chicago working as a teacher with underprivileged kids.
"She is absolutely comfortable at dealing with anybody at any social level, at any age level, and she’s very comfortable in her own skin," Dawson said. "She’s worked softball camps and clinics and works very well with the kids. And then interacting with university presidents and members of the board of regents, Kaaren is comfortable with those folks as well."
In regards to being a finalist for the award, Hatlen said: "Honestly, I’m shocked. I did not expect that at all... Knowing the company I’m in is truly an honor."
But when did she overcome her doubts as a pitcher? Hatlen described going against powerhouse Linfield — a team notorious for being a home run wrecking crew.
"My junior year we went down and beat Linfield," she said. "They were our conference rivals. It was the first time we had ever beaten them on their turf. I had never had a moment where I felt I could pitch at the college level and be successful.
"I held them to two solo homers, and we were down 2-0 heading into the final inning. Our coach said, ‘Okay guys, Kaaren has done everything she can do as a pitcher. She has kept them off the bases. It’s up to the bats to come alive.’"
Pacific Lutheran scored 3 in the top of the 7th, then Hatlen came back out and finished off Linfield for the victory.
"That moment of coming into myself as a pitcher and running off the field," she said. "My teammates gave me a hug and my coaches gave me a hug. My coach told me ‘I’m the most proud of you of any other player,’ because she knew how much I had overcome confidence-wise to keep going at it. Just that moment, it all came together in that game. It was really cool."