PORTSMOUTH — Simply put, Boo is definitely not scared.
In fact, she is more than excited —and absolutely welcomes the challenge —about playing collegiate softball at someplace you probably aren’t familiar with.
That’s because Boo Sturgill, the Wheelersburg High School standout, announced on Wednesday of last week her intention to play at Carson-Newman University — a private liberal arts institution and NCAA Division II program located in Jefferson City, Tenn.
Sturgill — at her socially-distant signing ceremony inside the Scioto County Welcome Center in Portsmouth — signed her national Letter-of-Intent in front of family, friends and Lady Pirate teammates which were able to attend.
Sturgill signed alongside fellow Lady Pirates Laney Eller and Rylie Hughes, as —in fact — all three are current Lady Pirates set to become Lady Eagles.
Hughes committed to the University of Charleston and Eller to Ashland University, both of which are also Division II programs.
Sturgill, conversely, heads south to Carson-Newman —as she described the “home atmosphere the minute I stepped foot on Carson-Newman’s campus”.
She will be playing for head coach Michael Graves and assistant coach Kristen Toppel, as Toppel played for the Eagles just a few short years ago.
“Touring the campus and talking to the coaches made me feel like I wasn’t nervous to go there. I knew I was going to be in a safe environment, and eventually that would be a place I would get to call home too. It’s very small and like a small town, like Portsmouth or Wheelersburg,” said Sturgill. “The athletic facilities are amazing, the weight room is awesome and the softball field is beautiful.”
She said she didn’t get to tour any classrooms or academic-based buildings due to the coronavirus safeguards, and although academics are a reason why Sturgill chose Carson-Newman, the Eagles’ softball tradition is indeed strong.
Graves is in his 15th season on the Eagles’ staff, and is the program’s only second-ever head coach —named to that position in May of 2018.
In all but one year as Graves was a paid assistant on Vickee Kazee Hollifield’s staff, the Eagles captured either a South Atlantic Conference regular season or conference tournament championship.
He has coached 10 All-Americans at Carson-Newman, and helped tutor 18 all-region selections and 57 all-SAC picks.
Sturgill said the Eagles are an ideal, even perfect, match for her — given her dislike for losing but her love for the Volunteer state of Tennessee.
In her first two Pirate campaigns, Wheelersburg went 24-1 in 2018 and lost in the Division III regional semifinals —before a 21-3 and district runner-up appearance the following year.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association then cancelled the entire 2020 season in response to the coronavirus threat.
“I don’t like losing. I am very competitive. That was a big part for me (in choosing Carson-Newman),” she said.
Sturgill said Graves recruited her as an infielder —primarily playing second base or shortstop or even catcher.
“I will play whatever my role is or where ever I can best help the team,” she said.
Wheelersburg coach Teresa Ruby referred to Sturgill as a “team builder”.
“She wants to excel individually, but she is a good teammate to those girls around her,” said the coach. “She truly tries to make those around her better.”
Sturgill, in two years, has a batting average of .525 with 79 runs scored, 22 doubles and 10 home runs.
A first-team Division III all-Ohioan as a freshman, she was first-team all-Southern Ohio Conference Division II, first-team all-Southeast District, and most notably the Division III Southeast District Player of the Year.
As a sophomore, she repeated to the all-SOC II and all-Southeast District Division III first teams, and was second-team all-state.
On the travel circuit, she has been playing softball since the age of nine.
Sturgill said the sport is a passion, a lifestyle, and an escape.
“Softball has a special place in my heart. It’s more than a sport. It’s a lifestyle for me. It’s something that I love doing and enjoy doing. It’s more than just playing. It’s where I can go to get everything else off my mind,” she said. “A lot of people know me around Wheelersburg for softball. I’ve played a lot and it’s kind of my life.”
It was also, unfortunately, a livelihood taken away in 2020 — when the OHSAA cancelled the season following Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s closure of in-person learning within the state’s schools.
The Pirates had big plans too, as in aspirations of another Division III state championship, which Wheelersburg won in 2016.
Sturgill said that motivates “me and my band of sisters” even more.
“I really wish we could have had a junior season. Our team was going to be very special. But I think that we will be just as good, if not better this year. We are all ready to work hard. We’re all very motivated and we want that state title,” she said. “Every year we work hard for that, but even more so now since we didn’t get to prove ourselves last year.”
She also explained how happy she was to have her signing completed —ahead of her senior spring.
“It’s a huge relief,” said Sturgill. “Going into my senior season, I have this weight off my shoulders. Just to be able to relax and have fun and enjoy it and I know where I’m going to school. I’m just excited to be able to just play and not worry about it.”
Sturgill said her only decision now is on a major, of which she remains undeclared but did express an interest in the medical field.
In all truthfulness, just like her lack of nerves for deciding upon Carson-Newman, she won’t be scared or nervous about that decision either.
“I’m very excited about getting a lot of my schooling paid for, but more importantly to me, being able to play something that I love for four more years. Carson-Newman gave me the opportunity to continue doing something that I love,” she said. “I want to make a lot of memories in the next four years and hopefully win some more championships.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved