January 16, 2013 2:31:41 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Lauren Holifield has entertained thoughts of playing softball in college ever since she started playing the sport. Holifield isn't sure why, but something clicked with softball at an early age. As she got older, Holifield never considered staying late to practice her skills or going to Lady Trojan Field on a Friday night as a chore.
All of that hard work came to fruition Tuesday when the New Hope High School standout signed a scholarship to play softball at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville.
"I think it is very special because it is the beginning of the rest of my life for softball and my education," Holifield said. "I have been ready to know where I am going to go and to settle down and not have to worry about where I am going to go."
Holifield has pitched and played a variety of infield positions for New Hope High's fast-pitch softball team. She has played infield and outfield for the school's slow-pitch team. She is looking forward to taking the next step to college ball as a pitcher or as an infielder. She also feels her experience on the travel ball circuit has prepared her for the next phase of her career. Her goal is to use her time at JCJC to attract attention and get a scholarship to play softball at a Division I school.
"I didn't get the offers I wanted to at first," Holifield said. "Going to Jones gives me the opportunity to do the whole recruiting process over again and maybe get the things I want."
New Hope High softball coach Tabitha Beard has known Lauren and her mother, Connie Sharpe, who is an assistant coach for the school's slow- and fast-pitch softball teams, for a long time. She has watched Holifield grow up and isn't surprised she is primed to take the next step in her softball career.
"Lauren is deeply motivated from within," Beard said. "She has always been motivated to be the best and she doesn't settle for second place. Her work ethic throughout the year is what separates her from most, and is what has made her worthy of all of the accomplishments."
Beard feels Holifield will make the transition to a high level of fast-pitch ball. She said Holifield's work ethic also will serve her well because she will be competing against some of the nation's top players.
"It is a different ballgame and a different world, so she is going to have to keep doing what she is doing and stay focused on what she is there for to really show out on that level like she did on this one," Beard said.
JCJC coach Chris Robinson believes Tuesday was his first trip to New Hope High. Now that state junior colleges can sign players from any district, Robinson and his coaches have been making the rounds. He said an assistant coach spent much of Tuesday in the southern part of the state while he came north. He said JCJC also plans to sign players from Madison Central for the 2013-14 season.
In Holifield, Robinson feels the Lady Bobcats are getting a versatile player who has the potential to pitch and to play shortstop and third base. Holifield even played outfield in the school's slow-pitch season last year.
"She is very well rounded," Robinson said. "She can swing it, she can pitch it, she can play defense. She is one of the kids that we felt when the state opened up that we circled and said, 'We had to have her.' We're awful excited and ready to see how the rest of the class shapes up."
Last season, JCJC (44-11) advanced to the NJCAA Division II National Championship. The Lady Bobcats went 2-2 and tied for fifth nationally. Robinson is entering his fourth season as head coach. He spent six seasons as an assistant coach before taking over the program. In that time, JCJC has become one of the nation's top programs. In 2011, JCJC spent its first season in the 266-seat, Community Bank Park, which is one of the state's top softball facilities. The Lady Bobcats also qualified for the MACJC and the Region 23 tournaments for the first time.
With Holifield signed, sealed, and delivered, Robinson hopes the Lady Bobcats can climb higher.
"We are very, very lucky to have Lauren be a part of our program, and we're looking for a lot of good things for the next two years," said Robinson, who saw Holifield play as a junior at the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star game. "We have seen her for a few summers and made contact there and it progressed from there. We got her in for a visit and are very fortunate."
Holifield said she will do what she can to make that happen.
"I think it is a perfect way (to take the next step in her softball career)," Holifield said. "He is great at calling coaches for us and playing teams so other programs can look at his players. I think he will help me find where I need to be."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.