By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

ELKHART – Hard work. Within the last week and a half, three area young ladies – Ashley Buck, Taylar Mullen and MaKayla Bickerstaff – signed National Letters of Intent (NLI) to attend college on athletic scholarships. All three stressed it was hard work that allowed them to do so.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, Elkhart Lady Elk and two time All State First Team Pitcher Camryn Rucker echoed that sentiment as she signed her NLI to play softball for the University of Mary Hardin Baylor (UMHB) Cru (Crusaders).

After earning All-District honors in her freshman year at EHS, Rucker turned around and captured All- State honors as a sophomore. She was named to the Texas Girls Coaches Association (TGCA) Class 3A All-State First Team as well as to the Collin Street Bakery / Texas Sportswriters Association 3A Honorable Mention All-State Team. In addition to her athletic prowess, she was also named to the TGCA Class 3A All-State Academic First Team.

As a junior, Rucker was named to the Texas Girls Coaches Association (TGCA) Class 3A All-State First Team as well as to the Collin Street Bakery / Texas Sportswriters Association Class 3A All-State Third Team.

The Elkhart High School Library was packed with family, friends, teammates, coaches and EHS faculty as the Lady Elk formally committed to play at UMHB.

Once the formalities concluded and all the pictures were taken, Rucker sat down to discuss what this meant to her. “I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I’ve had the room to decide maybe I didn’t want to go there (to UMHB) and maybe I want to go here. Maybe I didn’t want to play softball and maybe I just wanted to be a normal college student. Now, I don’t have a choice anymore and it feels good. I don’t have to stress out about it anymore.”

Asked how she felt when recruiters first started calling, Rucker reflected for a moment. “I don’t kruckernow. It seems like it was so long ago. I remember I was excited someone was interested in me,” she said.

Other colleges who made contact with the standout pitcher included the University of Oklahoma, Centenary College and McLennan Junior College. She added, “I was already (verbally)
committed but people would come up and ask if I had already made up my mind. I would tell them yes and they would go away. I could have changed my mind, but after I had committed, I just feel like you should stay the course. It’s just a respect thing for the coach.”

Rucker was also asked what she had learned about herself throughout the recruiting process. “I learned I can do whatever I put my mind to. As far as the whole recruiting process, I thought it was crazy. Foer example, you have to pick 50 college coaches and email them. It was overwhelming, really. When I got that first interest, I was relieved. I thought maybe it’s doing some good.”

The newest Cru member was further asked what advice she might give to her current teammates, once she graduates. “I would say enjoy every day of it. I feel like it was just yesterday and I was a freshman stepping out on the field. Now, I’m a senior and it will be my last year to play in high school. This is going to be the most fun so I would say to them to enjoy every minute of it. It’s like your parents tell you about high school. Enjoy it while you can.”

Standing alongside their daughter – parents Brian and Krispen Rucker – were asked to what they attributed the scholarship opportunity. “I would say all the hard work and dedication she put into it,” her mom said.

“I agree,” her dad expounded. “A pitcher is still practicing when all the others go home. Also, the tournament teams she played on – Impact Gold – helped a lot as well. It’s a college prep team and playing in the right tournaments where the college coaches are going to be but overall, I would say it was the dedication and hard work.”

Asked when they realized their daughter had the potential to move to the next level, her dad responded, “Let’s see. She’s a senior now, so probably it was as a freshman. That summer we discussed if she wanted to take it to the next level and we told her we think you have the ability to do so. We told her though, she would have to be the one to put in the work, not us. Of course we support her, but it’s a decision she made to continue to practice, put in the hard work and get to this point. It wouldn’t have done us any good to prod her along if she didn’t want to do that.”

EHS Softball Coach Terry James added, “I think this is awesome. I think this is a perfect fit for her. She just wanted to get it (the recruitment process) over with. It has been a long time in the making. She wants to get her education and she knows that’s the most important thing – but at the same time – she gets to play a game she loves. She’s able to get the best of both worlds.”

As to what type of message this sends to other athletes in the Elkhart program, Coach James said, “It’s good. There were some young players who were here and got to see this. Anytime a kid gets a chance to sign with someone and go to college – well, if you don’t get excited about that, I don’t know how to help you.”

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.