Hofstra’s Jay Miller is the 12th-leading active NCAA Division I softball coach in victories with 1,043 and he’s 22nd on the all-time list in that category.
So when he discusses a college softball player, his opinion should be respected.
Which says a lot about former Nottingham High standout Kristin “Z” Hallam.
Prior to accepting the Pride job in June, 2018, Miller spoke with some people close to the program about the players he would be inheriting. He liked what he heard about Hallam.
“Everybody said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a great shortstop,’” Miller said. “I hadn’t seen her, I didn’t really know her except by word of mouth. And then when I saw her, she really sort of blew all that out of the water. Once you meet her and start working with her in person, you find out she’s a lot better than even what people were saying about her.”
Coaches have been saying such things since Hallam was a little kid playing in the HGSA and when she went on to become Mercer County’s all-time hit leader with the Northstars.
In her four-year, 182-game Hofstra career, which included torn labrums in both shoulders, Kristin had an overall average of .356 with 221 hits, 26 doubles, eight triples, a homer, 51 walks, 24 hit-by-pitches 64 RBIs, 51 walks, 83 stolen bases, 151 runs scored, an OPS of .893 and a .954 fielding percentage.
She was on three straight Easton/NFCA All-America Scholar-Athlete teams and made the CoSIDA Academic All-America second team last year. In 2019 Hallam was the Colonial Athletic Association’s Defensive Player of the Year, and also made various other All-Region and All-District teams (2021 honors had not been released as of May 23).
Hallam is unsure how much merit some of her academic awards have, saying “there are a bunch of funky places accolades come from,” but she is certainly proud of her classroom achievements. Z finished with a 3.91 grade point average while earning a BS in Exercise Science. She currently holds a 4.0 GPA as she pursues a Master of Sports Science (concentration) in Exercise Physiology and Strength and Conditioning.
“Excelling so much academically has always been a huge part of my life,” Hallam said. “It started when I was younger, my mom would ask our grades and if it wasn’t an A she would say ‘Why not?’ So to keep that mindset throughout the demands of being an athlete in college is something to be proud of.”
It takes a special mindset to excel in sports and smarts at the Division I level, but Hallam did just that while also making time for a few other things.
“Time management seems to come easy to me,” she said. “I grew up always having a schedule — places to be, practices to attend and homework to finish. Although college was not that much different, it definitely helped having a busy schedule as a child.
“Having to attend eight hours of study hall a week my freshman year helped also. I was able to have fun – but not too much — aside from softball and schoolwork. One of my favorite things to do in my free time would be to drive and sit on the beach and watch the sunset. It is very difficult to join other clubs. However, I participated in the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.”
Kristin took her participation in the FCA seriously, as it helped her deal with injuries, a coaching change and any other adversity she faced.
“I learned that, through the grace of God, there is always a way to finish a task,” she said. “There aren’t problems, just solutions. I got stronger in faith and strengthened my relationship with God. It has empowered me to get through many struggles I have faced as well as understand myself better as a person.”
Hallam’s first major challenges came after her sophomore season. The Pride won the CAA championship and finished 18th in the nation, which were her proudest team accomplishments. But issues quickly followed as she had to undergo left shoulder surgery after the season.
Shortly thereafter, coach Larissa Anderson left the program, so rehabbing was not Hallam’s only concern.
“At first the coaching change was very difficult,” she admitted. “My coaches have two different coaching styles. When I got the news of (Anderson) leaving, I had just had surgery and had to ask her if she was serious because I thought I was hallucinating off of (pain) drugs. However, I was able to be a part of the interviews and selection process of the new head coach, which helped ease some of my nerves. We also lost a lot of seniors that year and were basically going to have a whole new team so it just felt so crazy overall.”
One thing that helped is that former Steinert standout Julie Meyer was maintained as the associate head coach, giving Hallam a hometown connection. It didn’t hurt that Miller took an immediate liking to his shortstop.
“As a coach you wish you had nine kids like her,” he said. “She shows up every day, she works her tail off and she gets better. She’s a great competitor and more importantly she’s just a great person. She’ll do anything you ask.
“She was a great leader for our team. She sets a good example with the way she conducts herself and she also holds her teammates accountable to the things they need to be doing to compete at this level. So, just a great kid overall.”
Everything appeared to go smooth in Miller’s first year, as Kristin hit .358 with a career-high 34 stolen bases and 47 runs scored, while winning the conference Defensive Player of the Year Award.
In doing so, she continued to check off items on her “goals” list.
“The only goal I had coming here was to play — did that,” she said. “My other goal was to win a championship – did that. Then I sat on the field at shortstop at night and cursed at all of my errors and said they won’t be back next year. Then, I won Defensive Player of the Year. After that, I was onto my senior year and I just wanted to have fun and win.”
That last goal got put on hold, as her junior year was not as easy as her play made it appear. Midway through the season, Hallam tore her right labrum and played through pain. She tried rehabbing it to avoid surgery but was forced into another operation at the start of 2020, forcing her to redshirt last year while she completed her undergraduate degree. She missed little softball, however, due to the Covid-19 shutdown.
Thus, Hallam embarked on earning her masters this year and enjoyed another standout season.
And while her playing career has ended, a new one is beginning. Hallam recently accepted a graduate-assistant’s job at the University of Missouri, one of Miller’s former stops.
“I will get another masters degree -— master of education in school and counseling psychology with an emphasis in positive coaching and athletic leadership,” Hallam said. “It’s two years long, so I will look for a coaching position after it finishes.”
Her current mentor feels that’s an attainable goal.
“I think she’ll be an excellent coach down the road,” Miller said.
For now, Hallam has a memorable five years on Long Island to reflect upon.
Asked what she was proudest of, Hallam laughed and said “I am proud to have finished my career with all my body parts and (to finish) at Hofstra University. I have faced much adversity here. From surgeries, to coaching changes, to administration switches, it seems that nothing seemed to stay consistent or come easy. I am proud that I didn’t give up on myself or my commitment to this university, no matter the circumstance.”
The constant factor through it all, which helped keep her dedicated, was the sport she loved.
“Softball has brought me some of the best memories and my closest friends,” Hallam said. “It has humbled me beyond belief and has taught me to never give up. It has allowed me to travel around the country to the coolest places while playing the best game in the world. Softball helped me grow into a leader and develop into the best version of myself.”
As any of her teammates or coaches will attest, that’s a darn good version.