Anna Kirk got what she bargained for the last four years while playing for the Ohio State softball team.
The 2013 Hartley High School graduate from Groveport played against a high level of competition, picking up a few life lessons along the way. This spring, the senior third baseman helped the Buckeyes extend a string of consecutive 30-win seasons to six.
"It's everything I hoped and dreamed of," Kirk said. "Some things are harder than others, like the mental side of the game that no one ever explains to you. But the traveling, playing great competition, it's an awesome experience.
"Ultimately, it's about how well can you deal with failure and how well your mindset can switch and find a positive."
Kirk was one of six players from the Central District who competed for the Buckeyes this spring. The others were redshirt junior infielder Maddie Marotti (Watterson), junior catcher Becca Gavin (Gahanna), junior pitcher Shelby McCombs (Licking Valley), junior outfielder Bailee Sturgeon (Teays Valley) and sophomore catcher/utility player Emily Clark (North Union).
Kirk made the Big Ten all-defensive team this spring as the Buckeyes went 35-18 overall and 15-8 in the conference to post their most wins overall and in the conference since 2010.
Ohio State also made its first appearance in the Big Ten championship game since 2007, losing 6-0 to Minnesota on May 13 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The Buckeyes earned one of 32 at-large bids to the 2017 NCAA tournament, their ninth appearance in program history and second in a row. They lost to South Carolina Upstate 7-3 on May 19 and Longwood 3-1 on May 20 in Knoxville, Tennessee, to conclude their season.
Kirk was a first-team all-state honoree in 2012 for Hartley when it was a Division II district runner-up. She missed her entire senior season with the Hawks with a knee injury, but started 44 games as a freshman for the Buckeyes in 2014.
Kirk played 209 career games for Ohio State and had a .950 career fielding percentage while playing several infield positions, primarily third base.
She had her best season at the plate in 2015 when she hit .333 with 10 home runs and 40 RBI. This season, she batted .262 with six home runs, 24 RBI and 42 runs scored.
Gavin, Kirk, Marotti and McCombs all made academic all-Big Ten this season.
Gavin also was second-team all-Midwest Region as she had her finest collegiate season to date.
A first-team all-state selection for Gahanna as a senior when she hit .500 with 33 runs and 34 RBI, Gavin split time during her first two college seasons between catcher and outfielder.
This spring, she started 49 of the 50 games in which she played, primarily at catcher, and batted .280 with three home runs and 18 RBI. She hit .348 and threw out 36 percent of baserunners attempting to steal during Big Ten play.
"What I like about this team is that (our success) was kind of unexpected," Gavin said. "We're a young team and kind of out the gate we didn't know where we'd be. During the spring season, some of the people who weren't doing very well in the fall stepped up. We all vibe together well and our chemistry is good."
On April 9 during a 5-0 win over Michigan, Ohio State set the single-game attendance record at Buckeye Field with 1,836 spectators. McCombs struck out 10 and gave up just three hits.
McCombs, who helped Licking Valley earn the Division II state title as a junior in 2013 and was named state Player of the Year as a senior in 2014, went 10-5 with a 2.87 ERA for Louisville in 2015 before transferring to Ohio State.
She posted a 6-3 record in each of the last two seasons. This spring, she had a 2.62 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings.
"I love Ohio State and I love everything that it's about," McCombs said. "When you think about being a Buckeye, you're in shock and awe all the time. The education is amazing. It's been great and I love the team and where we're going. It was probably one of the best seasons (Ohio State has) had so far, so I'm glad to be a part of that."
A 2013 Watterson graduate, Marotti is the daughter of Mickey Marotti, who has been the assistant athletics director for football sports performance for the Buckeyes since 2012. He also served as director of strength and conditioning at Notre Dame from 1998-2005 and Florida from 2005-11.
Marotti, whose family resides in Dublin, hit .379 with three home runs as a senior for Watterson, leading the Eagles to the CCL title. She then played for Notre Dame for one season before transferring to Ohio State.
This season, Marotti hit .275 with five RBI in 30 games, including 25 starts.
"I couldn't imagine being anywhere else," Marotti said. "I love it here, just the culture of 'O-H-I-O' and the tradition is so rich.
"This year it just kind of took off for me. I started to pinch hit and tried to run with my opportunities, and it's been working out."