Joni Lott had always hoped for a happy ending to her softball career, though that happy ending seemed to be fading.
Dealing with chronic knee problems and spending her entire freshman year of college away from softball (not even part of a program), the former Jackson County standout faced the grim possibility that her playing days were over.
“At the time, I was like, ‘Dang, this is really it,’” said Lott, who played at Jackson County from 2015-2018. “ … This knee injury has done it for me. It’s put me out of what I love do to.”
But remarkably for Lott, there’s a second chance.
Through working with doctors and physical therapists, Lott will play next season at The College of Coastal Georgia, where she’d originally planned to play coming out of high school.
Lott’s knee problems all stemmed from a shifting patella in her right knee which wreaked havoc on the cartilage and lateral tendon. She’d dealt with knee discomfort due to years of catching. But the problem came to a head during an early-season tournament at the onset of her junior year of high school. Lott said she went down to block a ball then heard a crack.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t do it anymore,’” Lott said.
She was taken to the ER that night and was placed in a knee mobilizer.
Remarkably, Lott returned to the field that season and hit .424 as a junior to help lead the Panthers to a region title and an Elite Eight appearance.
She underwent surgery at the end of the 2017 season to repair the patella, shave down some of the more severely damaged cartilage and partially remove some of the lateral tendon. But a tremendous amount of scar tissue and inflammation remained a constant problem.
Lott hit .343 as a senior, but she said she really had to push herself though that year.
“I just acted like nothing was wrong,” she said.
After grinding through her senior campaign, Lott “just couldn’t do it any more.” The pain was just too much, she explained, forcing her to forgo her dreams of playing college softball coming out of high school. Instead of going to Coastal Georgia, as planned, she spent her freshman year at nearby North Georgia.
Lott said life without softball “was torture.”
To help cope, she passed the time working with the Classics travel softball program. That experience kept her around the game, but didn’t necessarily make the situation easier.
“It made me just crave it,” Lott said. “Just watching them playing out there and me helping … It’s just like, ‘Dang, I want to be out there.’”
Her fortunes changed when her father had an appointment with his surgeon, who happened to ask about Lott. After hearing her story, the doctor requested to review her case.
This doctor devised a plan that could mitigate the scar tissue and inflammation issues and get her back on the field. Lott said tears were shed when she learned she could play again.
“I was ecstatic,” Lott said. “I was like, ‘well, let’s get busy. We’ve got to get back at this.’”
Lott has dutifully spent time in physical therapy strengthening her thighs to help take pressure off the knee. Lott said her knee now “feels great.” She’s also been taking live pitching from former Jackson County ace Brooke Kibbe, who now pitches for Brenau, to help prep for her return.
The coaching staff at Coastal Georgia was quickly receptive to the idea of Lott joining them. She was told a spot on the squad was available and one dorm room was left. It was hers if she could enroll immediately.
“They were pretty on-board with it which was pretty cool,” Lott said.
Lott, who will major in coastal ecology, isn’t sure how Coastal Georgia will deploy her next season. But granted a second chance to play softball, she said she’ll covet whatever assignment she’s given.
Lott, once on the brisk of saying goodbye to softball, is now of the mindset to be better than she’s ever been.
“To push myself, to be stronger, to be faster, hit harder, throw harder,” she said, “just to be be better than I was.”