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May 9, 2011

HELPING THE HELPLESS - Former Tech softball player Laura Flowers loves helping animals as a veterinarian

By: Jimmy Robertson

Photo provided by Laura (Flowers) RosenthalNow a veterinarian in Northern Virginia, Laura Flowers (now Rosenthal) played on Tech’s second team, and she started 131 of 133 games her final two seasons in Blacksburg.

Some young adults spend their lives searching for a career that makes them happy. Some know very early on just exactly what they want to do.

Count former Tech softball standout Laura Flowers in that latter category.

Flowers, who is married and goes by the last name of Rosenthal, has been an animal lover for a long time, and during her junior and senior years of high school, she worked at a veterinary clinic in her hometown of Silver Spring, Md.

In fact, when it came time to make a decision on where to go to college, she factored in veterinary schools more than she factored in softball.

“I looked at colleges that had vet schools,” she said. “Actually, up until late in my senior year, I was going to go to Maryland and not play softball, partly because of finances. I got into the honors program at Maryland, and I was prepared to focus on academics and getting into vet school there.”

But thanks to a partial scholarship from Tech softball coach Scot Thomas and a small academic scholarship, Rosenthal ended up at the school she wanted to go to all along – Virginia Tech. She played softball for four years, graduated with an undergraduate degree in animal science in 2000 and then went to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine on the Tech campus, where she graduated in 2004.

Today, she and her family live in Jefferson, Md., and she works as an associate veterinarian at a clinic in Leesburg, Va.

Thomas, hired in 1995 to oversee Tech’s fledgling softball program, saw Rosenthal play in a tournament in South Carolina the summer before her senior year. With limited scholarship money available, he couldn’t offer her a partial scholarship, at least not right away. He came up with some dollars later that spring, and that, combined with an academic scholarship from Tech, the vet school and her fondness for the campus, convinced her to come to Tech.

“I think I flipped out,” she said when Thomas offered her the scholarship. “My mom and I were screaming and happy. Signing day was a proud moment. All the pieces of the puzzle were fitting in perfectly.”

Rosenthal played on Tech’s second team in 1997. In her sophomore year in 1998, the Hokies recorded their first winning season with a 32-31 record and just missed an NCAA berth when they lost to UMass in the championship game of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

That marked the first of three A-10 championship game appearances for Tech – all of which ended in losses to UMass. In her junior season, the Hokies won 54 games, which still stands as a school record. She started all 70 games and finished second on the team with six homers. In her final season, Tech won 41 games, and she started 61 of 63 games.

Laura Rosenthal used her softball connections to gain some practical veterinarian experience, which enabled her to get into vet school.

Interestingly, the fondest memory of her career wasn’t a game or a season.

“I think it was the first time we played at the new field,” she said. “My first year, we played on the rec field [next to the Burrows-Burleson Tennis Center]. Our fence was an orange, plastic fence, and there was straw in the dugout because of the mud. The Marching Virginians often practiced right next to us. Having that new complex was a huge step up for the program.”

Perhaps more importantly, though, softball opened doors to her future. Thomas’ neighbor works as a large animal surgeon at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, and he offered her an opportunity to gain some experience by working on a couple of research papers during her undergraduate days. That proved pivotal in enabling her to get into the vet school.

“To get in, you have to have the grades and the GRE [Graduate Record Examination] scores, but also you have to have some practical experience,” Rosenthal said. “You have to have worked in some aspect. Scot got me hooked up with one of the vets there, and I was able to work in the large animal clinic with him. It was through that connection with softball that I was able to get the experience I needed, which was fortunate for me.”

After one’s first year in vet school, he or she picks a track. She chose small animal medicine, and today, she works mostly on dogs and cats, though she sees the occasional ferret or guinea pig.

“I’ve always been an animal lover,” she said. “And I enjoy relating to people. I love seeing the relationship between people and their pets. Most people treat their pets like members of the family, and that’s neat to see.”

While in vet school, she got married, and her husband, a Maryland native, moved to Blacksburg and worked at Tech while she finished school. In 2004, she graduated, and together, they moved to Reading, Pa., where she worked at a clinic for two or three years. The family’s next stop was in Waynesville, N.C., where she worked for a couple of years. After the birth of their daughter, they decided to move back to Maryland to be closer to family.

She’s only been back to Blacksburg once since she left – for the 15-year anniversary of the birth of the Tech softball program. That may not change any time soon, as she is expecting the couple’s second child in late May. So she won’t have many boring times in her house.

Or at work, for that matter.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said of being a vet. “Every day is something new and different. It’s definitely not monotonous.”