Incoming Lady Hawks Ericka Bynum (Ringgold, Ga. / Ringgold HS), Kameron Carter (Boaz, Ala. / Sardis HS), Tori Etheridge (Knoxville, Tenn. / Farragut HS), Kalei Kimbrell (Chickamauga, Ga. / Gordon Lee HS), Maggie Meacham (Trussville, Ala. / Shelton State CC), Paige Rowland (Eufaula, Ala. / Wallace Hanceville State CC) and Tori Willingham (Summerville, Ga. / Chattooga County HS) are set to join the Shorter University softball program next fall.
"To say we are very excited about the 2013 class is an understatement," head coach Al Thomas stated. "We've got seven players who all have the ability to make significant contributions to our program. These young ladies are all excellent in the classroom as well as on the diamond and all have exceptional softball skills. Ericka Bynum has unbelievable power, can play the corners and is energetic about the game, Paige Rowland will add plenty of depth, college experience and power to our team as she could be the best catcher in the country on the Juco level. Maggie Meacham will also add depth, speed, athleticism and experience, as she arguably is the best utility player in the country on the Juco level. Tori Etheridge is a strong-armed, athletic shortstop, who gets better every time she steps on the field, and Kameron Carter is an extremely athletic shortstop who could contribute right away with her glove, her bat and her athleticism; both Kameron and Tori Etheridge can play several positions on the diamond which is always a plus."
Kalei Kimbrell will add pitching depth as she has just been named the Georgia Class "A" Pitcher of The Year along with her unprecedented three consecutive State Championships. Tori Willingham is a local athlete that is a great talent behind the plate with the knack for getting on base and driving runners home.
"We will graduate several key student athletes in 2013, therefore it was extremely important that we pay close attention to detail as we assembled this new recruiting class" added Thomas. "It is evident that these young ladies have superior skills and a love for the game that is un- daunting. We are thrilled for them and their families and welcome them to the Hawk Softball Family."
Ericka Bynum (utility) Ringgold High Ringgold, GA
Bynum spoke on her reasons for choosing Shorter University and the softball program.
"I really like Coach Thomas and I feel very comfortable going there," she said. "I love the girls going with me: Kalei Kimbrell- Gordon Lee and Tori Willingham-Chattooga. It's a great college with a great softball program." I knew almost a year ago after meeting Coach Thomas and visiting Shorter that it was the college that I wanted to attend."
"He does a great job of recruiting the area, and he's always at the summer league games and even makes some of the tournaments," Ringgold coach Rachel Hodge said of Thomas. "They won the national championship last year with several area girls, so he knows what kind of players we have." Bynum led the Lady Tigers to a Class AAA runner-up finish with a .464 batting average, seven homers and 16 doubles.
Ericka is an extremely talented athlete and her work ethic is superb in the classroom as well as on the field. She is a team player and she was a vocal leader on our team. Her attitude, competitiveness, and talent make her a great, well-rounded softball player. Her career and success in high school is only the beginning for her, I feel that she will do great things at the next level and adjust very well Said Ringgold Head Coach, Rachel Hodge.
Cameron Carter (utility) Sardis High Boaz, AL
Shorter University in Rome, Ga., will be the next stop for Kameron Carter in the Sardis slugger's career, as she signed with the Hawks during a morning ceremony in the SHS library. Carter is the career home run leader for the Lions. Last season, she batted .408 with eight home runs and helped her squad reach the regional tournament for the second year in a row. As a sophomore, Carter batted .384 with 12 homers and 52 RBI. Her performance helped propel the Lions to their first Etowah County Tournament championship, a runner-up finish in the regional tournament and their first state tournament appearance. Carter made all-state as a junior and was first team all-state as a sophomore.
"When I visited Shorter, I really fell in love with it," Carter said, "I loved Coach Thomas, and it just felt like home, where I needed to be."
Carter had several offers and had other college visits planned, "but when we visited Shorter, I just decided I was done."
"Shorter won the NAIA national championship in 2012. The Hawks finished 53-11. Coach Thomas said if I could hit ball well, I could play right away," Carter said. "I don't care what position I play as long as I'm on the field."
Carter plays shortstop for the Lions, but said she "loves third base."
Sardis head coach Mary Beth Gilliland played college softball at Jacksonville State. She remembers some battles against Shorter, and she believes Carter made an excellent choice.
"Shorter always seemed to have great athletes and an exceptional program," Gilliland said. "Their coach (Al Thomas) is a really good guy and a great coach. Kameron has made a great choice and will be successful at the next level."
Tori Etheridge (utility) Farragut High Knoxville, TN
Tori has been a four year starter at Farragut. She has been a major contributor to our program every year.
"Tori has that great mix of speed and power, she can beat you with a walk off homerun, stolen base or a great defensive play. She has shown progress and improvement every year and I feel she is ready for a break out senior season," commented head coach David Moore. "Tori is the type player that could play any position on the field and do a great job. Tori loves the game and I feel she will continue to get better and go on to have a very good college career."
"Once I visited Shorter, I just fell in love with the campus and the town," said Etheridge. "I wanted to go somewhere far enough away from home, but still close enough so I could come home when needed. The softball program, Coach Thomas and the softball staff are all excellent. I wanted to be a part of a winning team, and I know I will be at Shorter University."
"I couldn't have asked for anything better. I was looking for a smaller institution that makes everyone feel like family, and Shorter is definitely that."
Kalei Kimbrell (pitcher/outfield) Gordon Lee High Chickamauga, GA
Many talented softball players have come through the Gordon Lee High School program in the past decade, and many have left with their share of awards and other hardware. But none of those players have graduated from GL wearing three state championship rings. This spring, Kalei Kimbrell will change all of that. The lone senior on this year's state title squad has already ordered her third piece of championship jewelry after pitching the Lady Trojans to the clinching win in this season's state finals. Kimbrell also saw another dream turn to reality when she signed her letter of intent to play for Coach Al Thomas and the Shorter University Lady Hawks.
"Kalei is a tremendous athlete who has all the tools to succeed at the next level. Not only is she a great pitcher, but also is also athletic enough to play outfield. I look forward to seeing her continue to improve as she focuses on softball in college," said coach Mull.
Kimbrell shined as the team's ace this season. She went 21-4, allowing just 15 earned runs all year long. She walked 33 and fanned 135 in 144 innings, and finished with an ERA of 0.73. She hit .347 out of the clean-up spot as a senior with five doubles and 40 RBIs to help lead the team to a 35-4 record.
Kimbrell said Shorter was her first and only choice to continue her softball career and her education, a decision she made more than a year ago, "The minute Coach Thomas talked to me; I knew that he was going to be the coach I would be playing for."
Kimbrell will be the third former Lady Trojan on the Shorter roster; joining 2012 GLHS graduates Kendall Johnson and Courtney Towns.
"Knowing Kendall and Courtney are already there helps a lot," added Kimbrell, who says she may pursue a double major in nursing and early childhood education.
Maggie Meacham (utility) Shelton State College Tuscaloosa, AL
As a freshman, Meacham hit .414 and set a school single-season record by scoring 55 runs. She had eight doubles, six triples, eight home runs, 34 RBIs and 29 steals.
Meacham was named to the ACCC All-Northern Division and the NJCAA All-Region XXII first teams. She was a second-team NFCA All-South selection. She was also an NFCA Academic All-American.
"Maggie is a difference maker for us here at Shelton" commented head coach Buddy Boyle. "She can do the small things and also hit with some power so defenses have difficulty adjusting to her. Defensively she can play multiple positions, which allow us to do some things to get the most out of our personnel. Maggie really embraces the team concept and does whatever helps us win."
"I chose Shorter University because I was impressed with the strength of their softball program. The opportunity to play a sport I love for two more years is like a dream come true! I feel blessed that Coach Thomas has given me that opportunity, and I look forward to playing for him," said Meacham.
"I also really like the town of Rome, Georgia, and Shorter just felt like the right fit for me. I plan to go into Physical Therapy, and Shorter University has a great reputation for sending its graduates on to the best PT programs."
Paige Rowland (catcher) Wallace Hanceville State College
"Paige is a coach's dream player. She is one of the hardest working players that we have ever had at Wallace," commented head coach Jayne Clem. "She always wants to do everything right. She will work until whatever she is doing is correct. She is a coach on the field. As our catcher, she is in charge of the game on defense. She calls the pitches and the defenses that we play. In between every inning she is talking to her pitcher making sure that they have a game plan when they go back on the field. She can be a game changer at the plate. She was our leading HR (14) hitter last year as a freshman and will only get better the more at bats she gets. She comes early and stays late at practice. Paige strives for perfection. She is just as dedicated in the classroom as well. She has a 4.0 GPA and helps the other players on the team with their studies. We will miss her next year at Wallace."
"It was a perfect fit! Shorter offered great academic opportunities that I felt would help me be successful in obtaining my license in Physical Therapy," said Rowland about why she chose Shorter. "Plus, the softball program also holds high regards and huge success that I want to be a part of. I cannot wait to have a positive experience both on the field and in the classroom."
Tori Willingham (catcher) Chattooga County High Summerville GA
Willingham, in addition to throwing out 11 of 15 would-be base stealers, led Chattooga with a .445 average, 12 doubles and 31 RBIs, Tori is 1st Team All-Area Northwest Georgia.
"Tori is a like having a coach on the field--she is a leader on the field, as a catcher she has a very quick release ---she knows the game very well. Tori is one of the best players I have ever coached," said head coach Jeff Bennett.
"I became interested in Shorter my sophomore year after attending the summer camp with my high school team," said Willingham. "When I got word that Coach Thomas had been looking at me later on that year, my interest grew. After my official visit at the end of my junior year, I knew that Shorter was the school I wanted to attend. Shorter had many assets to offer, but the ones that stood out most were the fact that I would be able to attend a school of faith, stay close to my family, and have the opportunity to continue my softball career at the college level. I look forward to becoming a member of such a quality team and being led both on and off the field by an admirable coaching staff."
"Shorter University is one of the very best softball programs in the country and they are getting one of the best softball players in Northwest Georgia in Tori Willingham. Coach Al and his staff are one of the hardest working staffs I have been around that is why they are winners," added Bennett.