STEPHENS CITY – Blake Conner wanted to go to Shepherd University in West Virginia and when the school made her a scholarship offer, she got her wish.
The Sherando senior recently signed her letter of intent to play softball at Shepherd and she said it was a dream come true for her.
“It was my first choice all along,” Conner said after school on Monday. “I just loved the campus and I didn’t want to go far away from home. So it’s the perfect distance.”
Conner signed her letter of intent at a signing day party she had at the Paladin Bar and Grill in Stephens City on Nov. 23.
Conner said that she attended Shepherd’s recruiting day in September or early October and was offered a partial scholarship by the school around the second week of October.
“I just really liked the coach,” Conner said. “I liked her coaching style. I really connected with her. It’s not too far and I didn’t want to go far at all.”
Conner said she was also getting interest from local Division III colleges Eastern Mennonite University, Shenandoah University and Bridgewater College.
Shepherd’s softball program is on the rise and is coached by Marissa Leslie. Last year the Rams went 42-18, including 23-9 in the Mountain East Conference. The Rams advanced to the NCAA Division II Super Regionals, losing a best-of-3 series (in 3 games) to West Chester University of Pennsylvania.
“It’s nice knowing that they have a winning program last year,” Conner said. “Hopefully they can build on that with my class and the classes after me.”
Conner will join some familiar faces with the Rams. Her former teammate and 2018 Sherando graduate Tori Seymour plays at Shepherd, as does 2018 James Wood graduate Lindsey Anderson. Conner said Seymour and Anderson were both at her signing day party and are friends of hers.
Also on the Rams’ squad this season is 2019 Central grad Alex Mantz.
Sherando softball coach Clarence Smith said it’s nice seeing so many local players playing at Shepherd at the same time.
“I love that (Leslie) is coming down, dipping into this area and the talent pool down here,” Smith said. “I think that probably correlates with their success. It’s nice knowing that the brand of softball that we play here is finally being recognized by a Division II school, not just a Division II school, but a Division II school that’s been pretty successful.”
Smith said that he believes Conner will have plenty of success at the next level. Conner said that her goal is to earn a starting position, hopefully as early as her freshman season. Conner said that Leslie has told her that she will probably see playing time at either first base or in the outfield.
“She’s big on if you can hit, if you can keep your bat hot, then you’ll get playing time one way or another,” Conner said.
Conner has had a hot bat throughout her career at Sherando. Last year Conner hit .471 (33-for-70), with seven doubles, two triples, five homers, 17 RBIs, 30 runs scored and four stolen bases.
Smith said he was happy to see that Shepherd offered Conner a scholarship before the early signing day. There is another signing day period, which is in the spring, and Smith said a lot of times players get offered in the spring, which can be a distraction during high school softball season.
“It was nice to see that a young lady, who works as hard as she does and always takes the opportunity to try to get better, was extended this,” Smith said. “So now she doesn’t have to worry about pleasing anyone else. She’s got her spot (for college) here in the spring and she’s ready to focus on the spring season without having to keep one eye on what she’s going to do beyond this.”
Conner, who is playing basketball at Sherando this winter, said that signing early was “a relief,” and now she’s excited to finish out her high school career.
“The pressure’s off now,” Conner said. “I can just work hard and not have to worry about anything and be stress-free.”