Nothing compares to a Florida summer for Marist softball utility player Alyssa Grupp. Her home state engulfs her with sunshine, Italian ice, and happiness.
On a typical Jacksonville summer day, Grupp spends most of her day soaking up rays or swimming the waters of the beaches with family or friends. After hours of being in the sun, she heads to Jeremiah’s Italian Ice for a six- to seven-hour shift starting at 3 p.m. Italian ice, gelatos, and soft serve ice cream make up the rest of her day.
Grupp at Jeremiah’s with co-workers
The junior was born in Bethlehem, PA, but moved to Jacksonville when she was a toddler. Her mother is Lisa, a former gymnast, her father Kevin played “just about every sport” growing up, and her older sister is Nicole (or “Nikki”) who played softball at East Tennessee State University. She also has two dogs, Koda and Grace, and loves walking them on the beach when she’s home.
Grupp’s dogs Koda and Grace
“My mom and my dad are the best people in my life. I love them so much. And then my older sister [is] four years older than me. She’s been my mentor and a person I’ve looked up to not only on the field but off the field. She’s been my best friend in life and somebody who I look up to very dearly [and] has really helped me guide and navigate through high school and college and all the ups and downs,” said Grupp.
Grupp family from left to right: Nicole, Kevin, Lisa, Alyssa
Grupp’s sister is the reason she started playing tee-ball at four years old. Watching her play at a very young age inspired her to pursue the sport herself.
However, she almost didn’t make it to that age because of two incidents that occurred before ever swinging a bat.
“I was very accident-prone. I fell and cracked my head open and had an epidural hematoma on my brain and I flatlined. I was just clumsy. I fell in an oven, had this experimental skin graft surgery. My mom was like, ‘I don’t want to put you in sports,’” said Grupp.
She made a full recovery, and the incidents didn’t prevent her parents from letting her play softball. From that point on, she played in a recreational league until she was 10, then played travel ball with the Jacksonville Storm and Santa Fe Inferno, traveling to many parts of the Sunshine State.
To go along with travel ball, Grupp also played at Atlantic Coast High School in Duval County, Jacksonville. She played varsity softball all four years, three of which she was captain. In the fall of her junior year, she made the varsity bowling team, nearly made it to states, and had more fun than she could have imagined.
Something more memorable happened that same year: she committed to Marist College.
“I felt it was a home away from home. When I was on my visit I loved the beautiful campus and the girls on the team at that time were extremely welcoming and made me feel comfortable. Comfortability was a huge factor as coming 14 hours away from home can be very scary. Also, the coaching staff: Coach Joe (Ausanio) is an amazing person and a great coach. Knowing this, I felt Marist would best suit me academically and athletically,” said Grupp.
Since Grupp was going to be playing at the Division I level, she was determined to improve her strength to elevate her game to an even higher level.
“I picked up weightlifting when I knew I was gonna go play a higher level of softball,” she said. “At my high school, you did events, you did clean and jerk, and then bench. So I started doing clean and jerks, which was the hardest form to ever get down. It really taught me a lot about being in the gym and how healthy it is. It also did come with some ups and downs of weight classes and I’d have to run with trash bags to make my weight class, but it was a really cool experience.”
Senior year was just as memorable. She was the senior class treasurer, was part of several honors societies, had senior prom at the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium, and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class. Her favorable schedule allowed her to be increasingly proficient.
“My senior year I had senior leave, so I got out at 10:20 [a.m.], I’d go lay out at the beach. Then I’d go to softball practice at 5 p.m., and I’m like, ‘This is the life, I don’t think I want to live another life,’” said Grupp.
Although this was the life Grupp wanted to live forever, she had to start a new one in Poughkeepsie, over 1,000 miles away from home.
The adjustment was no walk in the park, especially as COVID-19 was still spreading throughout the world during her freshman year. Hybrid courses, campus pauses, her family being 14 hours away, and an inconsistent softball schedule with cancellations and forfeits proved challenging. She also came to Marist as a Business Marketing major and realized it wasn’t for her after taking a few courses.
It was a challenging year for Grupp, but her family and friends were very supportive throughout it all. Her parents’ words of “stay humble and stay determined” and “be a strong woman” constantly ran through her mind. And when she felt that nothing else was helping, she turned to the Bible for guidance.
“I’m really big into my faith. It really seems to calm me down if I’m ever having a bad day on the field or in school or in life in general because life sucks sometimes. We all know it gets hard. I sit down, read my Bible, I’ll go to church up the road. I have a really good community at that church, which I think made this place feel like home even more, but that’s something I really do live by,” said Grupp.
With the help of religion, family, and friends, Grupp overcame the struggles of her first year.
The die-hard Steelers fan switched to Sports Communication for her love of baseball and football. She envisions herself as a sideline reporter one day.
“I really enjoy interviewing people; I’m very good with talking to people. I just enjoy being around and focused on sports. I feel like I could definitely see myself doing that for the rest of my life, if not for a decent amount until whatever happens next,” said Grupp.
Grupp is also in McCann frequently, not only because of the softball workouts the team has, but also because she works as a supervisor. Her co-workers and her interactions with people passing through provide a breath of fresh air.
If there is one place she has truly grown comfortable it’s been with her softball teammates.
“These girls, they’re some of my best friends. I feel like the team feels like family, which has really helped me being so far from home. And days where I feel like I wish I could drive two hours and go see my parents and I can’t, I have them who really are like my backbone,” said Grupp.
The utility player has been all over the country with the team: South Carolina, Hawaii, Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, and California. All have their own “really cool and fun memories.”
The most memorable one was when her sister and dad traveled to Buffalo and surprised her at the MAAC softball championship.
“My sister came for the MAAC tournament,” Grupp said. “That was the most fun surprise. One of my dad’s best friends, my dad, and my sister came. That was 2021. My dad’s best friend growing up never really had seen us play and then he came and surprised us, which was really fun.”
Grupp still has one more year with the team, and after non-conference play and a handful of conference games underway this season, she has a .347 batting average, a .815 OPS, and a .907 fielding percentage in 33 games. Last season she was named to the All-MAAC Second Team.
Though the junior may not have Italian Ice or constant sunshine like Jacksonville, she does have a home away from home in Poughkeepsie. But most importantly, she is happy where she is and is excited for what’s to come.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane and Dan Aulbach
Feature image from Marist Athletics, photos provided by Alyssa Grupp