Three former Athens High School softball players are among the first recruiting class at Trinity Valley Community College, which will begin its first season this fall. Signing with the Lady Cardinals were former Lady Hornets (from left) Natalie Norman, Kenzi Morton and Alicia McDowell. Norman was a 2007 AHS graduate and Morton and McDowell graduated in May. On hand for the signing at Cardinal Gym were (from left) Cary Morton (Morton’s father) and Jim and Sherrie Kilgore (McDowell’s parents).

In the two short months she’s been on the job as the first-ever head softball coach at Trinity Valley Com-munity College, Ashley Johnston has been busy. Very busy.

Among many details that are involved in starting a program from scratch, like hiring an assistant coach, ordering equipment, overseeing field renovations and scheduling games, she had to assemble a team.

After tryouts, watching hours of tape and spending even more hours on the phone, she has her first team. The first recruiting class numbers 17 strong and includes three former Athens High School players.

“I believe that I have signed some pretty talented kids that will work hard and that are very passionate about the game,” Johnston said. “I think through hard work and dedication, we will have a very successful year.”

The Lady Cardinals are scheduled to begin their historic first season Saturday, Sept. 6, in the Navarro College Invitational Tournament at Waxahachie. Their first home game at Cain Park is set for Wednesday, Sept. 24, against Angelina College.

When the first pitch in the program’s history is hurled toward the plate, AHS graduates Natalie Norman, Kenzi Morton and Alicia McDowell will be on the TVCC roster, having the distinction of being the first Lady Hornets to sign with TVCC.

Norman, a 2007 AHS graduate, helped the Lady Hornets to helped the Lady Hornets to a bi-district championship as a senior, hitting .347 with seven doubles and a triple. She also stole 11 bases and anchored the defense at shortstop.

“Natalie was the backbone of the (2007) team,” AHS softball coach Gary Qualls said. “She was a great leader and deserves this opportunity.

“She had other offers in the spring of 2007, but was really holding out with a prayer that TVCC would get a program going.”

Johnston expects Norman to play in the outfield.

“I have high expectations for Natalie to come in and be my best outfielder,” Johnston said. “My number one trait about Natalie is that she is very coachable. She has been around all summer for me to help with my tryouts.”

Morton earned all-district and all-Henderson County area honors at second base for the Lady Hornets this past season. She hit .414.

“She will be a great asset to Coach Johnston and TVCC,” Qualls said.

Johnston likes Morton’s aggressiveness.

“I am hoping that her aggressiveness and enthusiasm for the game will lead us to a great season,” Johnston said. “The one thing that I really liked about Kenzi at tryouts was how aggressive she was.

“She was diving and doing whatever it took to stop the ball and that’s the kinda athlete that I look for.”

McDowell went 14-6 with a 1.51 ERA in the circle for the Lady Hornets this past season. She had seven shutouts and hit .396, earning her all-district and all-Henderson County area honors.

“Alicia worked very hard in the offseason and turned herself into the number one pitcher for last season,” Qualls said.

In addition to pitching, Johnston expects McDowell to also see playing time at first base.

“I’m hoping that Alicia and her left hand will be productive to this team,” Johnston said. “I also hope that she will learn to not only pitch for us, but also play a little first base as well.”

Norman, Morton and McDowell won’t be the only Henderson County area players on the squad. Eustace right fielder Jennifer Whitlock has also signed with the Lady Cardinals.

The TVCC recruiting class also includes four transfers from other schools — Tancy Matthews (C) and Alex Tordiglione (SS) from Southern Arkansas University, Julie Goolsby from Navarro College and Trish Crocker from Tyler Junior College.

“Even though we are not eligible to compete for a championship this season, I want my girls to look at it as if we were,” Johnston said. “I want them to show everyone a piece of what we’re bringing to the table next season.

“We are all very excited about the upcoming season.”

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