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STORRS, Conn. – When the UConn softball team plays Stanford on Saturday afternoon, it will be a reminder of the impact that supportive friends have on each other – whether as teammates or opponents on the field.
As the Huskies prepare for their weeklong trip to California and Hawaii for non-conference tournaments, sophomore Kelli Bates is more excited than anyone to compete against her best friend, Molly Fowkes.
Bates (Granite Bay, Calif.) has been inseparable with Fowkes, a sophomore outfielder/first baseman for the Cardinal, since the pair met as freshmen at Del Oro High School in Loomis, Calif. Back then though, they were teammates.
“Molly transferred to my high school from a different school in Oregon. Her family moved around that time,” said Bates, a lifelong Granite Bay resident.
It was only by a similarity that Bates and Fowkes didn’t know they had that helped bring them together, while maintaining that relationship ever since.
“I was already on this travel ball team when she came to one of our practices to try out. We were talking to each other and when I asked her what school she went to, she said mine,” said Bates. “My teammates asked if we knew each other and we just looked at each other and said…nope.”
Though Fowkes didn’t join that travel team, the duo played four years of high school softball together, becoming best friends right from freshman year. They lived close to each other and spent time together constantly.
“We always hung out together. We’re also both short, so we always got along well,” joked Bates.
Even being 3,000 miles apart now, Bates and Fowkes have had no trouble staying close as both pursue a college education while playing the sport they love at the highest collegiate level. Supporting one another became a key part of their relationship.
“For me, it was hard choosing to come this far from home, but she was one of the people who pushed me to do it,” said Bates. “She’s always been that friend that would support me to go after my dreams…It’s something new, it’s an adventure. She was very supportive of that.”
Over time, their families met and became friends too, strengthening their friendship even more so in high school. Fowkes’ family even invited Bates on a special excursion to the deep south during senior year of high school.
“The best thing we ever did was when her family invited me to Mardi Gras with them in February as seniors,” said Bates. “It was awesome. Her father knew a lot of good restaurants and her mom planned a lot of fun activities. All Molly and I had to do was wake up.”
Fast forward two years and best friends will be lined up on opposite base paths, wearing different uniform colors and competing against one another – both as Division I players.
“It will be surreal. We’re both living our dreams now,” said Bates. “Though we aren’t teammates anymore, playing on the same field together will be an amazing feeling and I’m really looking forward to it.”
When the Huskies play in Palo Alto, Calif. this weekend, Bates and Fowkes will be roughly two-and-a-half hours south of Del Oro High School – the place where it all started, and definitely didn’t end.