After missing her senior season with a broken foot, North Augusta third baseman Chelsea Wheatley is looking forward to playing softball again. At Aiken Technical College.
The Graniteville junior college is beginning its first women's sport next season, and recruiting is in full force.
At North Augusta High School on Wednesday, Wheatley, second baseman Ashlie Padgett and left fielder Dusty Walker each signed letters-of-intent to play for the inaugural Lady Knights squad when school begins in August.
"I think it's great the three of us from North Augusta get to play again," Wheatley said. "I'm very honored. I never thought I'd get a chance to play again."
The three signings doubled the size of coach Rick Wells' initial recruiting class. Wells previously inked infielder Leighla Walden of Burke County, infielder/catcher Allison Foster of Evans and shortstop Sabrina Thames of Florida Community College.
Wells said he hopes to sign 16 players before classes begin.
Aiken Tech is known for its men's basketball program, but Wells, the school's director of institutional planning and research, put out a feasibility study in 2002 for adding a women's program. Fast-pitch softball won out over volleyball, and the school put everything in motion.
A stadium is being built, and Wells said it will be finished by the start of the season.
The team will play a brief slate of games in the fall before officially starting in spring 2005. The team will compete in the National Junior College Association of America Division I against teams from Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and South Carolina, and will be a member of the Carolinas Junior College Conference.
In addition, the team will compete against selected National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and NCAA Division II teams from the southeast region.
"We're expecting to compete for a championship," Wells said.
For Walker, the timing of Aiken Tech's decision to start a softball team couldn't have been more perfect.
She spurned an offer from Spartanburg Methodist to instead make the short daily commute.
"I've always wanted to go to college close to home," Walker said. "I'm glad they got a softball team when I graduated."
For Padgett, she enjoys the thought of playing on the Knights' first team.
"It'll be neat," she said. "I hope we're a winning team."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.