Growing up, and into her years as a softball standout at Morris Community High School, Lauren Hanford was very often referred to by the nickname “Peanut.”
“The way I got that was that I was always very, very short, very small. Because of that, everyone started calling me ‘Peanut,’” Hanford said recently. “It can be very deceiving. Even from when I was a little kid, I can still remember when I would play, people would hear them call me that and they’d say, ‘Get ready for the bunt.’ I’d just think, ‘I got you guys fooled. There’s no way I’m bunting.’”
The moniker faded for Hanford during her recently-completed four-year softball career at Lewis University. She still hears “Peanut” occasionally from Lewis head coach George DiMatteo and more from his assistant, John Mackinson of Morris, but while Hanford is not the tallest player on the team, it hardly fits anymore.
Hanford hit for some power at MCHS, with 13 doubles and two home runs her senior year. While at Lewis, however, Hanford has become serious about strength training. She power lifts regularly and works with a personal trainer. And this spring, she was the cleanup hitter for the Flyers and their primary right fielder, batting .364 with 16 doubles and four home runs.
"Not only did it make me stronger, it helped make me quicker and better as an athlete," Hanford said of her workout regimen. "You have to be physically fit to fill in at that No. 4 position."
When Hanford first arrived at Lewis, she says, she was a bottom-of-the-order hitter. She played in 52 games, starting 41, as a freshman and batted .259. As a sophomore in 2011, she appeared 40 times, making 34 starts,
Hanford's role grew signficantly when she was a junior. She started 53 games and played in 55, batting .335 with a home run and 35 RBI. It was not until this season, however, that Hanford's power numbers really took off. She never had more than five doubles in any prior season at Lewis.
"She's gotten stronger, and she's made some adjustments. She used to hit the ball hard, but she has been able to adapt and started waiting longer," DiMatteo said. "She used to hit line drives right at me. I would stand 20 feet behind third base because I was afraid for my life. Some girls don't ever make those adjustments. Lauren did. She learned to hit the ball later and hit the ball more up the middle. And her average just exploded."
This spring, Hanford and the Flyers qualified for the NCAA Midwest Regional after failing to do so the prior season. They won their opener 5-0 over Ashland before bowing out with losses to Indianapolis, 4-1, and Ashland, 7-0.
Hanford was a 2013 first-team All-Great Lakes Valley Conference East Divison selection. She was also the GLVC Softball Player of the Week for the week ending April 28.
"I'm one of those people where I'm not too worried about awards and personal stuff. I want to do whatever I can to help my team, whether it's a flyout to score a run, that's what I do," Hanford said. "But that was nice because it told me how good I was doing this year. It made me feel good that people noticed how well I was doing."
DiMatteo says that Hanford's leadership ability has grown similarly to her on-field abillity during her time at Lewis. Where some players are picky about their roomates during road trips, he says, Hanford was always willing to room with anyone. She was always willing to help younger players. She pitched batting practice, which gave her teammates the ability to work against an All-Area pitcher in high school.
"She's very easy going and good-natured, and funny. Lauren is hilarious," DiMatteo said. "She's someone you want to be in your program for as long as possible. She's someone who exudes confidence and demands respect without being overbearing."
An academic All-GLVC selection in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Hanford completed her bachelor's degree in criminal justice and psychology in three years. She is currently working towards a master's degree and hopes to become a police officer.
Hanford also plans to stay involved in softball. She runs summer softball tournaments over the summer, and she may become involved in coaching.
Hanford will likely continue to follow the Flyers, as her sister, Tori, was a freshman member of the team this season, appearing in 15 games.
"My sister and I connect more now that we're older. We don't fight as much as we used to," Lauren said. "It was kind of a rough year for her. She got her tonsils out, and then she got sick with mono. So for a lot of the year, she was just literally unable to play. But it was awesome being with her. She's a big supporter for me. She was always encouraging me to do my best and really fun to have her at school."
Hanford credits her past softball coaches, personal trainer Rich Fleming, Mackinson and her family for helping her succeed.