WHEELERSBURG — Wheelersburg senior Laney Eller is making the most of an adverse situation.
At this weekend’s Division III state softball tournament in Akron, Eller will have a front row seat in her Lady Pirates’ bid for their program’s second state championship.
It wasn’t a thought in the preseason that the senior shortstop might have to miss a large portion of her final spring season, but a torn ACL suffered in the Lady Pirates’ 14-10 win over South Webster on April 15 unfortunately made that a reality.
“I honestly didn’t think I did it at all, I thought my kneecap had shifted and I was going to be okay,” Eller said. “Then I found out the news and I was devastated. Telling the team was probably the hardest part.”
Eller’s injury required season-ending surgery on May 14 and since then, she’s gone about having a positive approach in support of her team and teammates.
In fact, she’s even taken on somewhat of a coaching role in helping groom freshman Haley Myers — to play her own position in the latter half of the season.
For those who’ve been fortunate enough to cover or watch Eller as a four-year girls soccer and softball player, that change in mentality and adaptation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
“We call her Coach Laney,” Wheelersburg coach Teresa Ruby said, of Eller’s outlook. “She was a leader before she got hurt. When she got hurt it could have went either way — could have felt sorry for herself and checked out, but it was a quick turnaround. She’s been positive, uplifting, and she really coached up Haley Myers when she took over at shortstop. She’s been on top of everybody and the kids have rallied around her.”
In the team’s 9-1 win over Ironton in Saturday’s Division III regional final, Myers was responsible for several 6-3 putouts — and gave the Lady Pirates their second and third runs on a two RBI-double in the second inning.
In the postseason run to become regional champions and since Eller’s injury, ‘Burg’s defense as a whole has successfully adapted and overcome.
“Haley hadn’t really played shortstop before, she’s always been outfield or catcher. I had to help her get to know the game and the position a little better. She’s done so well and I’m so proud of her,” Eller said. “Before I got hurt, we struggled with communication. Now during this tournament run, it feels like we’re all connected.”
Eller will still continue her softball career for at least four more years — beginning next spring as an Ashland University signee.
In discussing her setback with Ashland University coach Emlyn Knerem, she garnered her future coach’s support and encouragement as she endures the rehab process over the next few months.
“Calling your college coach and telling them you’re hurt and have to have surgery is probably one of the scariest things, because they can easily pull your scholarship,” Eller said. “She was so supportive, told me I’m going to better and stronger than ever which made me feel really good.”
Eller described being able to accept the Southeast District and Region 11 championship trophies with her teammates as “the best feeling”, and gave credit to fellow senior Boo Sturgill for making sure she was part of the ensuing celebrations.
“The biggest part of that was probably Boo Sturgill. I’m on my crutches and everyone’s running to get the trophy, she always made sure I was there… even picked me up and carried me one time to make sure I got in,” Eller said. “One of the best feelings, even though I’m not playing I’m still a part of the team. Props to her (Sturgill) for making me always feel like I’m there.”
Five of Wheelersburg’s six-player senior class — Sturgill, Rylie Hughes, Jaiden Missler, Payton Walker and Bayleigh Stevens — each had positive thoughts to relay about Eller’s approach since her injury and how she’s helped the team in her new role.
“Laney has always been the type of teammate you can rely on in any way, shape or form. She loves the game so much and even though she isn’t able to be out there playing right now, her love for the game shows even in the dugout such as cheering the team on or lending a hand in any way,” Stevens said. “Laney has always been an amazing teammate and friend. I cannot wait to see what she accomplishes as she starts a new chapter in college.”
“Not being able to have Laney on the field with us has been rough for everyone. We miss her very much and I know it breaks her heart not being able to play. However, I could not be more proud of her,” Sturgill said. “In times like this it would be easy to see all the negatives, but Laney has chosen to use it as an opportunity for her true character to shine through the adversity. She is with us every practice and game doing whatever she can to contribute and most of all cheering us on. Laney is an amazing teammate and an even better friend. I know she is not going to let her injury get in the way of her goals. As soon as she’s able to get back to it, she will be the person to give her recovery everything she’s got. ‘A minor setback for a major comeback.’ Laney is going to do big things at Ashland University and they will be lucky to have her. The sky is the limit.”
“I hate that Laney was stripped of finishing out her senior year on the field; however, she’s been present in every way possible as she cheers on her teammates and is always there to pick them up when we need it the most,” Missler said. “I’ve grown up playing with Laney and her love for the game has only grown stronger. She is such a great teammate and someone I’m proud to call my friend and can’t wait to see what her future holds.”
“Laney is an amazing teammate and friend even though she hasn’t been able to physically contribute to the team this year, her heart and love for the sport has still shown,” Walker said. “As soon as her teammates enter the dugout, she is cheering them on and helping everyone to adjust to the game. She does anything and everything to help her teammates be successful.”
“I really miss Laney being out on the field with us, but I’m glad she is still able to be there to cheer us on. Laney’s energy and attitude in the dugout plays a huge role in our success,” Hughes said. “Even after her injury, Laney’s love for the game remained. She is one of the best teammates and friends I have ever had and I can’t wait to see what she does in college.”
For the Lady Pirates (26-1) to earn two more wins at the state tournament and claim the program’s second state softball championship, Eller says they’ll need to do what’s gotten them to this point, including scoring at a high pace.
In its five games thus far in the postseason, Wheelersburg is outscoring its opponents 61-11.
And, of course, if ‘Burg does make good on its season-long goal of a state title, Eller will be right there alongside her teammates to help accept the championship trophy.
“Playing as a team. There’s never been any drama on this team. If we stick together, communicate, get the bat on the ball like we did against Ironton, we’ll be fine,” she said.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved