WORCESTER – When you think about famous duos, some obvious choices leap to the top of the list.
Batman and Robin, possibly the most famous duo, real or fictional, top the list of course, but there are others. In an informal Facebook poll the most popular answers received were: Sonny & Cher; Hall & Oates; Lennon & McCartney; Tom & Jerry; Abbott & Costello; peanut butter & jelly; Starsky & Hutch; Laverne & Shirley; Lucy & Ethel; and my personal favorite, Yogi and Boo Boo.
At Worcester Polytechnic Institute it’s not necessary to look past the sprawling Salisbury Street campus to find the most well-known and arguably most popular terrific twosome in recent memory, if not ever.
Ama and Kelsey.
As in Ama Biney and Kelsey Saucier.
The two play softball together for the Engineers and Biney, you may have heard, also plays basketball for WPI – kind of an unheard thing these days – one college athlete, two sports. While Biney is hitting the hardwood, however, Saucier is not far away, serving as a team manager and sitting at the scorer’s table keeping track of the Engineers’ stats. They have also been roommates since sophomore year.
But this is no fly-by-night friendship, no college coincidence. Biney and Saucier have known each other since elementary school. They grew up in the same neighborhood. They became best friends in the seventh grade and went to middle school and high school together, where they, of course, played softball together.
“People like to say we’re Batman and Robin, but we have never called each other that,” Saucier said. “But really, we’re just Ama and Kelsey. You can’t have one without the other.”
“We’re a package deal,” Biney said. “More often than not, when you see one of us, the other is not far behind. It’s when you see one of us and not the other that everyone comes up and says, ‘where’s Ama? Or where’s Kelsey?’ People immediately think something is wrong if they don’t see us together.”
Biney and Saucier just finished helping the Engineers put the final touches on a memorable four-year stretch for the softball team. The Engineers were 130-46 during the Biney-Saucier Era, with two NCAA Regional appearances, two NCAA Super Regional appearances, a NEWMAC Tournament Championship and two NEWMAC regular-season crowns.
Biney and Saucier were both recently named to the NEWMAC All-Conference Team. In addition, Biney was named the NEWMAC Athlete of the Year in softball. Biney finished the season with a .446 batting average 17 RBI, 50 runs scored and 35 stolen bases. Biney set an NCAA record for all divisions with 98 consecutive steals.
WPI finished 29-13 this year and advanced to the semifinal round of the NEWMAC Tournament.
This season Saucier was 12-5 in the circle, throwing 101 innings in 22 appearances, including 17 starts. She finished with a 2.50 ERA. She started her season with an exclamation point by defeating Amherst College, ranked No. 12 at the time, in the Engineers’ season-opener. She struck out a season-high six versus cross-town rival Worcester State. Saucier finished her WPI career with a 40-17 record, with 317 innings pitched, 47 starts, a 2.83 ERA and 298 strikeouts – all in 82 appearances.
Biney and Saucier graduate from WPI on Saturday and both are headed to careers that will take them further apart than they have been since they have known each other. Biney is head to Florida for work, Saucier to New Hampshire. They sat down recently and talked about their friendship and all of its different components.
Saucier, thanks to her Italian heritage, is the cook of the duo. Biney readily admits she has benefitted from Saucier’s talents in the kitchen, but in true Biney fashion (she can be indecisive now and then) waffled when asked to reveal her roommate’s best dish.
“I’m a picky eater,” Biney said, which was met by a laugh and a roll of the eyes by Saucier. “Anyone who knows me knows that Chicken Parm is my favorite; that’s my thing. But Kelsey makes a lot of great stuff; barbeque, pasta, chicken Marsala. She even makes her own ice cream. That’s pretty wild; I mean who else does that?”
Saucier said spending time in the kitchen in a necessary release for her.
“Cooking is therapeutic for me,” Saucier said. “When the walls are crashing down, if I’ve had a bad game or a bad outing, in the kitchen is where you will find me – usually baking cookies.”
Biney is a fan of the classic, time-tested chocolate chip cookie. Occasionally she’ll venture all the way to an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. Biney was asked if Saucier walked out of the kitchen and said ‘here, try this’ what would she do.
“I would have to know what’s involved,” Biney said, not specifying if she meant ingredients or cooking process, “and then make the decision. I don’t really experiment. If I find something that I like, I’m rarely going to veer off of that. Kelsey is the opposite.
“And that’s with many things in life, not just with food,” Biney said. “Kelsey will try new things, but I’m going to stick to what I know.”
What Biney knew, coming out of Holy Name High, was that she wanted to play basketball and softball in college. Colleges frown on that; they want you to decide on one sport and focus on that sport. When they allow it a student-athlete to play two sports, it’s usually for a fall sport and a spring sport, not a winter sport and then a spring sport.
Several schools told Biney she would have to decide, have to pick a sport. Biney didn’t want to decide. She’s stubborn. The more schools said choose, the more she dug in her heels about playing two.
WPI embraced the concept of her playing both sports. Softball coach Whitney Goldstein floated the idea to Biney one day during the recruiting process and revisited the idea every time she discussed coming to WPI. Biney was interested, to be sure, and she’d get a chance to play with Saucier, who had committed to go to WPI early in her senior year at Holy Name. But, WPI was in Worcester, where she grew up and she just wasn’t sure.
So she went to see Saucier. Biney told her that she couldn’t decide where to go.
“And I told her, by deciding that she wanted to play both sports, she had already made her decision,” Saucier said. “She was struggling. I asked her, ‘at the end of the day, can you honestly give up playing one of these sports that you love?’ And she said, ‘no.’ And I said, ‘well, you just made her decision.’
”I think it’s different for guys, especially if they want to try and go play professionally. You have to pick that one sport, go play Division 1 and go down that avenue,” Saucier said. “But with girls, we never had the desire to be professional softball players or be in the WNBA. For me, and I think Ama felt this way, too, I just wanted to spend my last four years playing my favorite sport at a program I could play at, where I could make an immediate impact. Her being able to do that in two sports, I feel, was definitely part of what persuaded her to come here.”
Fans of the WPI women’s basketball program – not to mention head coach Cherise Galasso – were certainly happy Biney dug in her heels about playing both sports in college.
Biney finished an impressive basketball career at WPI in March by being an All-Region Second Team selection of the New England Women’s Basketball Association (NEWBA) as well as D3hoops.com. Biney was a NEWBA first-team selection following her junior season.
Biney finished her basketball career with the Engineers as the NEWMAC Co-Athlete and Defensive Player of the Year and three-time All-Conference first team selection. She finished last season leading WPI – and the NEWMAC – in many offensive and defensive categories.
Despite still having a full softball season left to play, Biney struggled when basketball season ended.
“Going into the season I knew this would be my last time out on the court with people who have become some of my best friends,” Biney said, “but it was still super tough for me.”
“I was a mess. I knew I still had softball coming up but to me they are totally different. The people involved are totally different, the sports are totally different,” Biney said. “Once basketball ended it hit me that I was never going to do this again on a level as competitive. I really was a mess. I didn’t even want to come out of my room.”
Saucier and Goldstein gave Biney some space and some love and a few days to recalculate her bearings and she responded.
“Kelsey and coach were very supportive and super helpful,” Biney said. “Coach Whitney told me, ‘you’re unique. You still have one more chance, one more season.’”
Both Biney and Saucier believe Goldstein’s genuine desire to get recruits into the right situation for them – whether that is at WPI or somewhere else – as just one of many amazing qualities their coach possesses.
“Coach Whitney has been unbelievable. It’s been a great honor being part of her first recruiting class. She’s a big reason why I’m here in the first place. She was the first one to recruit me,” Biney said. “She holds a special place in my heart because I would not be anywhere close to the person I am today without her or coach Galasso. It’s been great having been mentored by two women. I feel lucky to have been able to spend the last four years with them.”
Before Saucier decided on WPI, she was also being recruited to play softball at Clark University, Babson College, Endicott College and Merrimack College. When asked what made her decide on WPI, Saucier answered quickly.
“It was definitely coach Whitney. I walked into her office with no real expectations of what I was getting into and I left her office feeling that I needed to come here,” Saucier said. “She is amazing. She definitely is what changed my life, and I feel like a lot of other players on the team would say the same thing. She is definitely a huge reason as to why I came here.
“She takes you from that average high-school player that has a lot of potential and not only brings out that athletic potential, but she also changes you as a person,” Saucier said. “She helps you realize your off-the-field potential as well. She has made me a better person and made me realize what things are actually worth spending time on; what things are important and what things aren’t. She has taught us to be really good people.”
The close-knit nature of the bond Biney and Saucier have with each other is complex; it has been formed by more than 10 years of seeing each other nearly every day. Because of this they are able to see in each other what they don’t really see in themselves.
“I believe Kelsey’s greatest strengths are her charisma and her ability to be a very good communicator. When she speaks, when she is passionate about something, people listen,” Biney said. “Often times the younger kids will come up to her and ask her questions. I always say if I went deaf and she was speaking I’d still be able to hear Kelsey’s voice. Her voice is really unforgettable.
“When she is speaking people listen, really listen. She brings people together,” Biney said. “She is not afraid to be in charge. Her charisma and her communication skills; I think those are her best qualities.”
Saucier said when it comes to the ability to compete, Biney has no equal.
“Ama is the most competitive person I know. If someone on the other team has a big hit or makes a big play, I know Ama will be the one completely focused on out-doing them,” Saucier said. “She will make it her mission to get a bigger hit or make a bigger play. She is without question our sparkplug.
“Ama is a silent leader. Kids want to be like her just by watching her on the field,” Saucier said. “Seeing Ama make some of the catches she makes in the outfield, watch her steal some of the home runs she has stolen with her glove would definitely make a young infielder want to be an outfielder; it already has.
“We coach a 14U team together and one girl on the team came up to me and said, ‘I remember seeing Ama play the outfield in a couple of your college games and it really made me want to be an outfielder.’ That girl is now our starting centerfielder just because she saw the way Ama plays centerfield. It was great to see a young child change what position they wanted to play just because they watched Ama and saw how amazing she was out there.”
The rest of the world can have Batman and Robin. WPI has Ama and Kelsey. And most importantly, in life, they have each other.