Baylor junior Noelle Winkles has accepted a softball scholarship offer from Kennesaw State University, a former NCAA Division II power now competing in Division I's Atlantic Sun Conference.
Winkles made two visits to the school. The second and most extensive was at the beginning of August.
"The dorms are so pretty and nice," Winkles said. "The campus is really pretty. It's away from home, but not too far where I can still come home."
That second visit included a tour from Wes Holly Jr., the associate head coach to Scott Whitlock, who has announced he will retire in 2013 after his 27th season. Schools such as Virginia Tech and Southern Illinois had shown interest in Winkles, a left-handed batter and speedy outfielder. But she liked the connection she made with Holly and the Owls' program.
"That helped me decide," Winkles said. "He already had a plan in mind and is going to give me everything to work with to help me improve my power-hitting and my slapping. He was the most interested in everything I did."
Winkles led Division II-AA state champion Baylor with a .475 batting average. Despite being small in stature, she hit four home runs, four triples and six doubles. She was 11-for-13 on stolen bases, scored 50 runs and drove in 41.
"I've been impressed with Noelle from day one," Baylor coach Kelli Smith said. "She's very gifted. She just brings so much to the table from the left side. She might dig her feet in the batter's box and hit one 250 feet over the fence, then next time come up and drop one two feet in front of home plate and beat it out.
"Defensively she's a very talented outfielder. With her range she can flat out go get the ball. As long as I've been involved with the Baylor program as a player and a coach, she's probably thrown out more runners at the plate from center field than anybody else I've seen."
Winkles has routinely batted in the No. 3 spot for the Lady Red Raiders, as well as on her summer team, the Tennessee Fury '95, but that could change in college.
"She's very fast from first to third and runs the bases very well," Fury coach Tad Andrus said. "She has a great work ethic when it comes to softball. She deserves anything she gets. From a talent standpoint, if she was three inches taller and 30 to 35 pounds heavier, she'd really be a big-time recruit."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.