Ashlee Hein was thinking too much. The 2007 Marysville High School graduate received 80 at-bats in her freshman season at Kent State University.

Ashlee Hein was thinking too much. The 2007 Marysville High School graduate received 80 at-bats in her freshman season at Kent State University.

Hein batted .175 with two home runs and 11 RBI, numbers she was not accustomed to producing.

"I wasn't hitting well and that's such a mental struggle to have to deal with the entire season," Hein said. "Especially since I was given chance after chance by the coaches. But if I didn't have last year I wouldn't be where I am today."

Hein broke out in a big way last spring. She appeared in 48 of 51 games -- starting 46 -- and batted .246 with team-highs in home runs (10), RBI (30), slugging percentage (.508), walks (22) and on-base percentage (.362) and was second in fielding percentage (.992). Hein was named first-team all-MAC.

"It took my freshman year to realize what it took to be better all-around player," Hein said. "The biggest challenge was mental more than anything. As soon as I started getting the hits, it helped my confidence a lot more. I knew I could do it."

Hein's struggles continued in the early portion of her sophomore season. After taking extra batting practice and watching hours of film, Hein broke out of her slump April 3, hitting two home runs and driving in five runs in a doubleheader sweep of Miami. She was named the MAC East Division Player of the Week and continued to ride the hot streak throughout conference play.

In 21 MAC games, Hein hit .300 with eight home runs and 20 RBI. Hein broke a school record for home runs in conference play and the season total of 10 placed her sixth for a single season. As a team, Kent State finished 15-6 in conference play and won its fourth consecutive East Division title.

"As the kids become more and more confident, their performances get better," Kent State coach Karen Linder said. "The biggest jump we usually see is between their sophomore and junior years. Ashlee played a lot as a freshman, and that helped her gain confidence."

Hein earned playing time freshman year because of her defense. Toward the end of her first season and throughout last spring, Hein was allowed to call pitches. Hein credited the Golden Flashes' pitching coach, Amy Densevich, in helping her mature as a catcher.

Densevich joined Kent State in January 2008 and in her first season, the Golden Flashes set school records for most strikeout (529) and lowest opponent batting average (.163).

"Amy works with the catchers day in and day out," Hein said. "That made me better."

Hein also was pushed by KSU's other catcher, Amy Hair, who is a year older than Hein.

"Coming in I knew I could get that spot, but Amy was a year ahead of me and started the previous year," Hein said. "Amy was helpful right away. Her and I are so close and it's more friendly competition. We support each other all the way and we have a good friendship on and off the field."

Now Hein has settled into her place as the catalyst on the team's defense (starting catcher) and offense (cleanup hitter).

Linder expects Hein to accept one more role next season -- team leader. Hein has come a long way from her first week of college in the fall of 2007. The team held four-hour practices the same week classes started. It was a shock to Hein, and she contemplated coming home. She stayed and now Linder is expecting Hein to become an assertive leader.

"She's at that point she can do that," Linder said. "Now she's a junior, she's an upperclassman and especially since she's a catcher, she has to take on more of a leadership role."

Hein is ready and willing to accept the challenge. She already has lofty goals set for 2010 after meeting those goals in 2009 that included being named first-team all-conference.

Among her goals, Hein hopes to become an academic all-American. Hein and Katie Wheeler were named to the first-team all-academic MAC team. Hein has a 3.92 GPA as a special education major. Kent State has had two players on the academic all-MAC team each year since 1993.

"College is a growing experience in a way and I'm also learning more about myself," Hein said. "I'm a very responsible person and for me not to be successful in softball and in academics, I'd think I'd be a failure."

In order to prepare for a responsibility-filled junior season, Hein is working out five to six days a week as per the Kent State workout regimen.

"We lifted in high school, but in college it's a lot more intense," she said. "Last year I stepped it up and this year I'm really focusing on staying in shape. I'm an upper classman, and I'm expected to come back in good shape. I need to prove myself.

"The past two years I didn't want to step on the upperclassmen's toes. I'm excited to be an upperclassman and take on more of a leadership role."