January 17, 2013 10:02:46 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
CALEDONIA -- Fear is a wonderful motivator, even for accomplished student-athletes.
When you have had as much success as Cara Hopper, you can wonder if anyone is watching and you're doing enough to give yourself a chance to play the sport you love in college. For Hopper, that apprehension gave her the push she needed to work to improve.
The Caledonia High School senior standout realized the benefit of that work Wednesday morning when she signed a scholarship to play softball at Itawamba Community College in Fulton.
"I knew if I pushed myself I would go somewhere," Hopper said. "This is what I have always wanted. I was worried I wouldn't be good enough. I was worried it wouldn't be enough. I had a little doubt like nobody is going to want me. It motivated me to push harder to make sure I knew I was going to achieve my dream."
Hopper first visited ICC at the end of her junior year. She said she liked the campus and enjoyed talking to coach Andy Kirk. She said she hit it off with Kirk, the coaches, and the players and knew immediately she had found the right place.
Hopper hopes to make her mark as a pitcher. She has spent the past two seasons as the primary starting pitcher for the Lady Confederates. She said she has honed her natural ability as a pitcher to develop a changeup and to learn how to move the ball in and out and up and down to have success. She realizes she will have to raise her game to compete at ICC, but she is eager to take on that challenge.
"I think finishing this year and having a great year is going to help me to move up to that level," Hopper said. "I feel like I have a good base (as a pitcher). I know I have always pitched in high school, but I have always enjoyed playing the field, too, and I am glad I am going to have the opportunity to do both."
ICC (34-13) set a season-single record for victories, including 22 in division games, en route to winning the MACJC North Division and finishing fourth in the NJCAA Region 23 tournament.
Kirk said Hopper, who also was a standout on the Caledonia High volleyball team, will have an opportunity to earn playing time as a pitcher, infielder (second base), or an outfielder.
"She fell in love with the campus and we fell in love with her," Kirk said.
As a junior, Hopper was 14-6 with one save and a .067 ERA. She threw five no-hitters and had 187 strikeouts in 105 innings. She allowed only 36 hits and 30 walks. She also led the team in hitting with 28 hits and a .364 batting average (only four strikeouts). She also was tied for the team lead in extra-base hits and sacrifices.
Kirk said Hopper's versatility as a position player and as a hitter made it more appealing to add her to the program. He feels Hopper could blossom when she is involved year-round in a strength training program and she has a chance to concentrate on softball full time.
"Signing Cara is like signing three different players for us," Kirk said.
Caledonia High School coach Robin Elmore remembers when Hopper started her varsity career as a second baseman as an eighth-grader. She said Hopper took a hit off her leg in a game against Neshoba Central but wouldn't come out. She said Hopper has become even tougher mentally and has worked hard in the circle to become a dominant pitcher.
"She is a tremendous player," Elmore said. "She has improved tremendously on her changeup and moving the ball around. She always has had pretty good speed, but her speed has picked up tremendously, too. She has gotten stronger and stronger every year. A blind squirrel will find an acorn every now and then throwing it down the middle, so moving the ball around has been her biggest strength. I was very satisfied with her improvement last year, and I expect greater things this year."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.