Back in the spring of 2009 when Delani Vest was starting her varsity softball career as a freshman at Kaneland, her dad Kerry offered some tried-and-true advice.
"My dad told me I would blink and you are going to be graduating," Vest recalled.
"And it feels like that's what happened."
Time certainly did fly, and life sure did change, for Vest in the past four years. Vest began her career that freshman season making an immediate impact, earning a spot on the All-Area team. She capped her four years at Kaneland this spring by not only being chosen to the All-Area team for the third time but winning the 2012 Daily Herald Tri-Cities All-Area captain award.
Vest won an area-best 20 games this spring while also excelling at the plate. She hit .448 and scored an area-best 47 runs as the leadoff hitter on a Kaneland team that won conference and regional championships.
From a freshman playing with a veteran team in 2009, Vest became the veteran for a 2012 team full of young Knights like Paige Kuefler, Lanie Callaghan and Hayley Contorno. She developed into a leader for the team not only with her play on the diamond but in letting her teammates know what's expected.
"I think she was able to keep them all focused on what we wanted to accomplish as far as team goals are concerned," Kaneland coach Brian Willis said. "That was the big thing I saw for the people who hadn't been here before or played under the pressure we played under in some of the games. It all started in Tennessee (at their spring tournament) and snowballed from there and we were able to be successful."
Vest said that leadership role wasn't hard with a bunch of like-minded teammates focused on the same goal. The Knights went from a rare losing year at 14-19 last season to 31-7.
"A lot of girls take high school season as the season to stay in shape for travel ball," Vest said. "This group of girls all wanted to achieve something. I was happy with how everyone was on the same page and everyone wanted the same thing and everyone worked hard to get where we did."
Vest began playing softball in the city she was born, Elgin. She moved when she was 9 but already had an early start in sports thanks in large part to her sister Rilee, one year older than Delani who served as her catcher every season until this past one when Rilee moved on to Cornell College in Iowa.
"We were in gymnastics up until we hit softball heavy," Delani Vest said. "Whatever Rliee did I did because we were so close in age."
Vest credited her coaches both with the Thunder and Wasco summer teams with helping her develop the skills that enabled her to go 17-6 as a freshman at Kaneland with a 0.50 ERA while hitting .385 with a .418 on-base percentage, 2 home runs and 14 stolen bases.
"It was goal of mine (as a freshman to play varsity) and I worked real hard in off-season," Vest said. "I knew Mallory (Huml) was a really good pitcher and her senior year but I worked really hard at it and it clicked and (former) coach (Dennis) Hanson put me in and I was able to produce. It was really cool."
Vest hit .403 as a sophomore and won 13 games with a 1.20 ERA as the Knights took second in the Western Sun Conference. She again made All-Area.
Vest missed nearly the entire junior season after giving birth to her son, Braden. She said the decision to return to softball as a senior wasn't that difficult.
"It was pretty rough coming back but I knew it (softball) was something I loved to do and wanted to get back into it as soon as I could," Vest said. "I'm really glad I decided to come back and stay with softball. It makes it hard but it's been worth it.
"I considered (not coming back), but softball gets me ahead of the game moneywise for college. and it's something I love. It wasn't that hard of a decision."
Willis talked to Vest this winter about returning.
"She had let me know before the season she had every intention of coming back," Willis said. "She wasn't sure how she would be able to juggle everything with her son and other things going on. That's the part I admire. She was able to be an athlete, a mom and work at the same time. And be successful at the same time."
Vest said she got a lot of help in being able to balance everything which included a job at a department store in the evenings after softball practice.
"Pretty much everyone, my parents, his (the father's) parents, his dad's parents, friends that say "Do you need me to watch Braden for a couple hours so you can take a nap?" Vest said. "It's pretty tough, waking up at 6 in the morning with Braden, school, softball and going to work. It's rough but it's something I have found some kind of a rhythm to."
With her 20 wins this year Vest finished with 50 victories in her three seasons with the Knights and a career batting average over .400. She will continue playing softball at Waubonsee Community College next year, a school that was a good fit on several levels.
No doubt Vest heads into the next chapter of her life knowing how true her father's words are. And she probably has learned her own advice to offer.
"On the field I thought she was the same old person," Willis said. "You would never know she had those other things going on. She was able to be the catalyst for our team leading off and setting the table for our big hitters behind her. On the mound she was solid all year, she wasn't spectacular but she was consistently solid and a very good pitcher.
"I know all the girls will miss her as well as the coaching staff. She persevered and her teammates picked up on that and I know the coaches did too."