SEC signees Rogers, Phillips, Boseman and Lindsey lead area softball seniorsView 7 Photos
GET TO KNOW THEM
› High school team: Ooltewah
› Signed with: Mississippi State
› Positions played: P/1B/OF
› Roots for: Green Bay Packers
› Occupational goal: Registered nurse
› Highlights: Was MaxPreps national freshman of the year; hit .589 with 21 HRs and 89 RBIs her sophomore year; appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” in 2017 after pitching a no-hitter and going 4-for-4 with a HR in a playoff win; selected on All-America teams by MaxPreps and FloSoftball.
› Advice for youth players: “If it doesn’t work the first time, try again. If it doesn’t work that time, try again.”
› High school team: Baylor
› Signed with: Florida
› Positions played: SS/3B/LF
› Roots for: Boston Celtics
› Occupational goal: Pediatrician or nurse practitioner
› Highlights: Was a varsity starter as an eighth-grader; has a career batting average of .524 with 23 3Bs, 91 SBs and 177 runs scored; chosen an All-American by USA Elite Select; currently ranked the No. 26 player in the nation by FloSoftball.
› Advice for youth players: “Don’t be discouraged. You’ve got to keep working. Keep showing effort.”
› High school team: Silverdale Baptist Academy
› Signed with: Tennessee
› Positions played: C/IF/OF
› Roots for: Los Angeles Angels
› Occupational goal: Veterinarian
› Highlights: Was Central’s starting catcher her freshman year and hit .430 with 10 HRs; has a usual POP time (the interval from when a catcher receives a pitch to when her throw to second base hits the fielder’s glove) of 1.8 seconds; last year led the Chattanooga area with a .735 batting average and also led Silverdale in HRs, 2Bs, RBIs and SBs.
› Advice for youth players: “Keep these in order: God; family; school; attitude; softball. And always thank your parents. They’re the ones who provide the rides and the equipment and all the things that help make you successful.”
› High school team: Meigs County
› Signed with: Tennessee
› Positions played: P/1B
› Roots for: Atlanta Braves
› Occupational goal: Dermatologist
› Highlights: Set a season school record for HRs in a season with 15 as a sophomore; has 1,003 career strikeouts, including a state-tournament record 80 in 2017, when she allowed eight earned runs all season; last season’s Gatorade state player of the year; currently ranked the No. 12 player in the nation by FloSoftball.
› Advice for youth players: “Always believe in yourself. You know your potential. And always trust God when taking your direction. Don’t go somewhere he doesn’t lead you.”
THREE TEAMS TO WATCH
› Baylor: The Lady Red Raiders can expect a stern test again from GPS, but the winners of the past three Division II-AA state championships remain formidable. Ace Sellers and Macy Ann McKnight are experienced pitchers despite being a freshman and a sophomore.
› Meigs County: The Lady Tigers return to Class AA after winning Class A state championships the past two years. What should help is the return of a lot of talent, including catcher and Toledo signee Aubrey Reed, who hit .574 and drove in 65 runs last season.
› Chattanooga Christian: The Lady Chargers are making the move to Division II-A but return most everyone from there District 7-AA winning team last year. As postseason moves along, it could help that CCS will host the region tournament after it hosts the district.
With Chattanooga as the hub, the southeast Tennessee and northwest Georgia areas have combined to produce a nationally recognized hotbed for girls' fastpitch softball. And with four signees in the Southeastern Conference in the class of 2018, there are no signs of it cooling off any time soon.
Ooltewah's Kayla Boseman, Baylor's Cheyenne Lindsey, Silverdale Baptist Academy's Kaili Phillips and Meigs County's Ashley Rogers lead the current crop of accomplished athletes representing the Chattanooga area this spring as the TSSAA season gets set to begin Monday. Coincidentally, future Tennessee teammates Phillips and Rogers will face each other opening day in a doubleheader in Decatur scheduled to start at 5 p.m. (a matchup that was rained out and was never played).
"We've talked about it quite a bit," Phillips said about facing her future teammate in her first at-bats of the season. "It's going to be a difficult game, that's for sure. She's a tough pitcher to hit against. She's worked hard. I've worked hard. It's going to be interesting."
Boseman signed with Mississippi State in November and Lindsey signed with Florida. Of the four, they've known each other the longest. They were youth teammates for a decade playing for coach Steve Frost's Frost Falcons. And they have always gotten along great, right?
"Sometimes," Boseman said, making the others laugh after their photo shoot at the Times Free Press last Sunday.
The competitive juices added to their talents are reasons athletes like these get offers to play softball at an elite level like the SEC.
"The RPI of the conference has been number one for probably the past four or five years, edging out the Pac-12," said Karen Weekly, who along with husband and co-head coach Ralph have guided Tennessee's Lady Volunteers to a 23-1 start this year. "They have some good teams, but not the depth. Last year all 13 SEC programs played in NCAA regionals. No other conference is that strong."
Although these four have extraordinary athletic gifts, they have ordinary traits like any other human being in other areas. Imagine being the target of high-level college recruiting as a middle-schooler, which has become the norm for softball players.
"I was always terrified," Lindsey said. "I honestly did not want to talk with coaches. It felt like they had your whole entire future in their hands."
Rogers sensed she was a "late bloomer" because she didn't commit to the Lady Vols until the middle of her sophomore year. She figured to sign with an NCAA Division I school but didn't realize she had SEC potential until she attended Tennessee's camp. There she received plenty of reassurance.
"There's always the fear of being rejected," Rogers said.
Now that these four are seniors, they know that comes with an added responsibility beyond just producing on the field.
"It's stressful being a senior," Rogers said. "The coaches expect you to lead the team. I just want to be a good example for the young ones."
They all know the importance of leadership. They had help with the mentoring process in the early stages of their high school careers.
"For me it was Allie Jones," Boseman said of the current Lincoln Memorial University senior and former teammate on Ooltewah's team that finished third in the Class AAA state tournament in 2015. "She was always positive. One thing about her, she never gave up. I think that's a big reason how we made it that far."
For Lindsey, a member of three Division II-AA state-championship teams, it was a current Middle Tennessee State senior — from whom she inherited the Baylor leadoff spot.
"Precious Birdsong really helped me out," Lindsey said. "I got frustrated with my hitting. I remember she took me aside and gave me suggestions."
Rogers said all three seniors on Meigs' 2016 team, the first of back-to-back Class A state-championship teams, "really brought us together as a team."
Phillips played for SBA's state runners-up to the Lady Tigers that year. She became eligible to compete in the state tournament after transferring from Central at the end of her freshman season.
"Coming from Central to Silverdale and not knowing who the players were, the whole senior class stepped up and included me," Phillips said. "They really brought me under their wing, especially at the state tournament, and really pushed me."
These four have contributed to multiple district and region championships throughout their careers, in addition to the state-tournament appearances. They have different but incredible athletic gifts. And they know what it takes to win.
"It takes a special player to come into this league," Weekly said of the SEC. "It will chew you up and spit you out if you're not mentally strong. Everybody has struggles. But you're not going to stay around very long if you don't have competitiveness and grit."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter @KelleySmiddie.
This story was updated March 11, 2018, at 11:50 p.m. to add Chattanooga Christian to remove GPS from THREE TEAMS TO WATCH and again on May 21, 2018, to clarify that the game between Meigs County and Silverdale Baptist was rained out and never played.