By Will Simmons
Lake Land College’s softball team held a showcase of its players for interested universities looking to recruit from the national tournament-bound team.
Coaches from all over the country tuned in to watch players hit, field and pitch, as well as to pose questions to Lake Land coach Nic Nelson.
Nelson, who was hired as head coach in 2009, came up with the idea about eight years ago. He said the simulcast was a success from the start, outside of a minor email flub.
“It was funny,” Nelson said. “We sent it all out to coaches and in the morning before, about two hours before, I found out that I sent the wrong link.”
After getting emails alerting Nelson of the situation from those wanting to tune-in, he supplied everybody with the correct link, and immediately recruiters were able to interact with Lake Land coaches via text and calls while watching the livestream.
“We start it and within ten minutes it’s like, can we see some balls to the left of your shortstop, (from) Georgia, and then Texas texts us, and we’re like, what?” Nelson said.
Now, hundreds of coaches regularly tune in each year.
The showcase was a nice break from a stressful week.
The No. 21 Lakers, the top-ranked team in the regional, scored eight runs in the final two innings to beat Olney Central College, 10-9, on Sunday and then fell to John A. Logan, 7-3.
Tori Haug one-hit Lincoln Trail on Monday morning for an 8-0 victory that set up a rematch with John A Logan on Monday afternoon.
In the first game, Haug allowed only one earned run across six innings for a 12-4 win.
The Lakers broke open a 3-3 deadlock Tuesday afternoon, exploding for six runs in both the sixth and seventh innings for a 15-3 victory and a berth in the 16-team NJCAA Division 1 national tournament set to begin May 24 in Yuma, Arizona.
Haug (23-4), who recorded the win in the tourney final Tuesday, said there isn’t a specific school she has in mind for next year, but it wouldn’t be for lack of interest from other teams. The pitcher threw a perfect game against Southwestern Illinois College in March and a no-hitter in the regional first-round series. For now, she is preparing for the NJCAA national tournament.
“I think, right now, I’m just trying to finish this,” Haug said, “and finish what we have going here, and then start to focus more on my next step.”
Claire Maulding, another weapon on the mound, harboring a 1.89 ERA, said she hasn’t thought of a particular team she’d like to play for during her junior year, but she enjoyed the simulcast.
“I’m talking to a bunch of schools, literally, all over,” Maulding said. “So, I think within the next few weeks I’m gonna have to start limiting who I’m talking to, but, as of now, I’m just open to anything and everything.”
These Lakers are a diverse group as well, with players from as close as Mattoon, such as sophomore outfielder Jordan Sapp, to Mackayla Denney and Sophie Lawrence, who hail from Australia.
Plus, there’s utility-player Klara Cejkova-Kolaci, who grew up playing softball in the Czech Republic.
Ceicova-Kolaci said an opportunity to improve her game brought her to Lake Land. After two years, she is ready to show recruiters how her experience playing for the Lakers has paid off.
“I definitely had to learn to compete,” she said, “because the competition just, like, in the team is just so big that if you want to play you just got to know how to compete and work hard. And that’s where I saw the biggest improvement.”
Although the simulcast is, by name, for sophomores, Nelson featured freshmen, too. He said any athlete interested in showcasing their skills can participate.
Catcher Eva Richardson was one of those freshman who took up the chance to be on display. Richardson, who caught for Maulding at Casey Westfield High School before rejoining her at Lakeland, said wherever Maulding plays next year, maybe her older counterpart can set up a package deal.
“When Claire goes to her four-year,” Richardson said facetiously, “I told her, just, tell them you’ll only go there if (the team) reserves a spot for me.”
Sapp definitely has teams wanting to reserve a spot for her in their rotation. Sapp is batting .371, and although her coach said she has “been bragging all about how she’s regional player of the year,” Sapp was a humble recipient of the award.
“I was not expecting it,” she said. “I was just trying to do my best on the season, and last season I was in and out of the lineup — and was struggling. So, I just wanted to bounce back this year and do the best, especially since I wanted to move on. I needed to do something this year. And I definitely picked up the pace from last year, and for myself, so I’m happy with that.”