(Photo by Jonathan Hardy/BYU Photo)
At 6-foot-1, most people would expect Tori Almond to be a basketball or volleyball player at BYU. Almond, however, found softball to be the perfect fit.
“It was always softball,” Almond said. “I did try basketball. Everyone [was] always like ‘Do you play basketball? You’re so tall.’ So I tried it for a year and I just figured that softball was what I was meant to do. I’ve just always loved it.”
For Almond, softball and pitching started from a young age.
“I grew up with a lot of softball,” Almond said. “I had two older sisters and they grew up playing softball, so that’s kind of how I got hooked on it. My older sister, Megan, played with a girl named Lyndsey Nielsen and she was a pitcher. I loved her. She was my idol and that’s what made me want to be a pitcher.”
While softball was always a given for Almond, BYU was not. As a native of Murray, Utah, Almond and her family were always University of Utah fans. Playing softball at BYU had never even crossed her mind.
“My older sister graduated from the U and we’ve always been Utah fans,” Almond said. “It was always Utah. And when I was younger I always wanted to go out of state [to play softball].”
It wasn’t until her recruiting trip to BYU that Almond had a change of heart from Ute red to Cougar blue. “When the recruiting process started and I came here on my visit, I was like, ‘This is so weird. Don’t disown me, but I want to go to BYU,’” Almond said. “Luckily my family is really supportive of it, but I never thought that I would be at BYU.”
A number of things played into her choice to come to BYU including the proximity to her family and the success of the BYU softball program and its coaches. Since being a Cougar, Almond has grown to love BYU for its many facets.
“It’s just such a great place to be, all aspects of it,” Almond said. “I love the people here and I love that I’m surrounded with people with the same values. I love my team. They’re so much fun and we’re so goofy and we make the best memories. So all of it combined is just awesome. I love it.”
On the field, Almond most enjoys her position on the mound. She loves the challenge, but with what she describes as a “shy and soft-spoken personality” she doesn’t always love the spotlight that comes with being a top pitcher for a successful college softball program.
“I like being in control of the situation,” Almond said. “I mean, if everything around me is out of control, I have the power to change it. So I like that, but oddly enough I don’t like the attention and the spotlight that comes with it. But it’s part of the rule, I guess.”
Almond came to BYU in 2011 to work with senior All-American Paige Affleck and junior Hannah Howell on the mound. While Affleck earned a majority of the starting time, Almond quietly made an impact with a 10-4 record as a true freshman. Affleck, Howell and Almond each went on to lead BYU to a conference championship in its last year in the Mountain West Conference and the teams’ seventh-straight post-season appearance.
With a successful freshman season under her belt, Almond used the experience to become just the fifth player in BYU history to produce a 20-win season in 2012. With only four losses, Almond also earned the highest single-season win percentage by a pitcher in BYU history at .833, while also improving her ERA from 3.13 to 2.00 and leading the WAC in strikeouts per game.
“I think learning from the older players that have come before me and seeing them and how they handle everything [has really helped me],” Almond said. “Experience is the biggest thing. If you have a year under your belt, it’s huge.”
While Almond has had many players to look up to and learn from, she’s also developed a close relationship with BYU pitching coach Vaughn Alvey.
“Coach Alvey is one of my favorite people,” Almond said. “He’s one of the really big reasons why I wanted to come here. I met him on my visit and I just thought that he had this spirit about him. I knew I wanted to play for him. We have a really good relationship and I love working with him. We really understand each other, I feel like. It’s not just about softball for him. I can sit and just talk to him for hours about anything.”
Almond’s dedication and hard work have definitely translated on the field. In her sophomore year alone she earned NFCA All-Region Second Team, All-WAC Second Team, All-WAC Tournament Team and All-Eugene Regional Team accolades. No one could be more proud than Almond’s father, who is one of her biggest fans.
“He’s really involved,” Almond said. “And he’s funny because he always paces. He can never sit down while I’m pitching. He gets more nervous than I do I feel like. He was always my pitching coach, and he would come to my pitching lessons and pick up on things when I was growing up, so he’s really involved and wants me to do the best I can.”
While Almond has learned how to control and change her circumstances on the softball field, she has also placed huge importance on her education.
“School is definitely my No. 1 priority,” Almond said. “I mean, that’s why I’m here. That’s why I play softball. And I think in the long run my education is going to take me further. And so it’s really important that I keep up with my school[work].”
Almond recently changed her major to recreation management with an emphasis in venue and event management and is hoping to someday manage events for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. She also has goals to get married in the temple, start a family and own her own business someday.
Almond hopes to improve upon her first two seasons at BYU as the team looks to play in its first and only year in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference in 2013. Making it Almond’s fourth conference in four years, the Cougars will then move to the West Coast Conference in 2014.
While Almond admits that being a college athlete and student at the same time has been hard, she also said she wouldn’t change it for the world.
“It’s definitely a lot of hard work,” Almond said. “You have to have the determination to keep up with your schoolwork and to do all the things you have to, but it’s so worth it. I love my team and I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to play with.”