The strange things that almost happen are not as strange as those that do.
Take Amy Chellevold Hillenbrand – and what softball coach in the world wouldn’t?
Arizona’s first four-time all-Pacific-10 Conference selection, Amy Chellevold played in four NCAA championship games, helped win two of them, and graduated in 1995 with 27 career records as a Wildcat, the nation’s all-time leader in hits (371) and runs (252).
She was a slap-hitter with a satin touch, she ran like the wind and left UA with the school’s best career batting average ever, .415.
Not bad for a volleyball player.
Amy graduated from Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High School in 1990 and attended UC-Santa Barbara for a year on a volleyball scholarship. Her sister, Julie Chellevold Berman, went to Ohio State on a volleyball scholarship – and played on a high school club team coached by none other than Dave Rubio, now the UA volleyball coach.
So, how in the world did a young lady playing a different sport at a different school wind up as one of Mike Candrea’s top stars in softball?
“It was fate,” said Amy, married now 5 ½ years to Tucson businessman Mike Hillenbrand, and mother of two: daughter, Lauren, 4 and son, Brock, 20 months.
And how’s this for fate? Mike is the son of the late Bill Hillenbrand, for whom the Arizona softball complex is named.
“When I was in high school,” Amy said, “I had a good friend a year older, Jamie Heggen. She played softball at UA three years (1991-93). We kept in touch. I was not all that happy at Santa Barbara and one thing led to another.”
One of the strangest twists happened when Amy played in a high school softball tournament.
Arizona assistant coach Larry Ray was there to watch.
During a break in the action, sitting at a restaurant munching on a sandwich, Ray asked a stranger if he knew who that No. 13 was for Thousand Oaks High.
Yeah, the other guy said, “I know her well. She’s my daughter.”
Later, as a college freshman, when Amy decided to switch sports, she also decided to switch schools -- to UA’s everlasting grattitude.
“She was a model student-athlete,” Candrea said. “Amy did everything perfectly on the field, and her effort as a player was matched by her community involvement.
“She may have been a better volleyball player at one time, but she developed her skills in softball so quickly it was amazing,”
Chellevold-Hillenbrand graduated from UA in 1995 with a degree in exercise and sport science.
“After graduation, I played on teams here and there, moved to San Francisco where I had a job, then eventually came back and coached with Mike for five years. During her time as a Wildcat assistant, Amy made the U.S. National Team.
An injury (torn ACL) in 1998 dashed her 2000 Olympic dreams. But that year, 2000, she met future husband Mike Hillenbrand, a graduate of Miami of Ohio.
Amy serves with Candrea on the U.S. National Softball Team Selection Committee, and is also an athlete-advisor to the U.S. Olympic Committee for softball.
Her most memorable experience at UA is a difficult choice. “There were just a lot of great things,” she said. “But winning the championship and coming back to Tucson was among them. In those days, you’d get off the plane and there’d be an airport full of fans cheering you.”
“To be honest,” she said, “I’d have to say one of my most memorable experiences was the devotion of the fans of UA softball. They are incredible. I still have friends who were fans back when I played.
“I go to games now and everybody wants to hold my kids and talk softball. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Among those who influenced Amy the most at UA were Candrea (“he was like your father when your father was far away”), Associate Athletic Director Kathleen “Rocky” LaRose and Dr. Kathryn Russell of the exercise sport sciences dept.