College athletic programs make it a point to find talented high school seniors. Last week, three Division I colleges tapped into Columbia County's prep pipeline during the NCAA's early signing period.
Greenbrier High School's Lindsay Jones and Lindsey Sutherland and Evans High School's Adrienne Daniels all signed letters of intent to attend college on an athletic scholarship next year.
On Monday, Jones signed a rowing scholarship with the University of Tennessee; Daniels inked a deal to play fastpitch softball for Liberty University; and Sutherland signed a dual-scholarship Tuesday with Gardner-Webb University, where she will compete in volleyball and track and field.
Greenbrier's Lindsey Sutherland has been courted by several colleges, but the offers were for either volleyball or track, but not both.
Then she traveled to Gardner-Webb, a Division I-AA program in Boiling Springs, N.C.
"I just went up there to visit for track and the volleyball coach asked to talk to me," Sutherland said. "Two days later they called me with an offer for volleyball and track."
At Gardner-Webb, Sutherland will compete in the heptathlon, which comprises seven different track-and-field events - shot put, 100-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, 400-meter run, high jump, long jump and javelin.
"I've only done three of those events. It's going to be a challenge, but I'm up for it, will work hard and hopefully excel," she said.
There's no reason to doubt Sutherland's prospects, according to Greenbrier High School volleyball coach Debbie Born. "She's only been playing volleyball for three years and she gets a Division I scholarship - that says it all," Born said.
Before giving up fastpitch softball, Sutherland made the Columbia County Recreation Department all-star team and played for the first Georgia squad to ever win a Dixie Belles World Series game.
Also, she starts for the Greenbrier basketball team.
Then there are her best sports - volleyball and track.
Sutherland has qualified for the Georgia High School Association track and field state championships for three straight years, and she placed second at state in the shot put last season.
In volleyball, she led the Lady Wolfpack to the Area 3-AAAA title this fall and was named Area 3 Player of the Year.
"I think I'm equally rounded in both of them," Sutherland said. "I love both sports. That's why I'm glad to be able to continue playing both of them in college."
It would be safe to say that Adrienne Daniels is the best pitcher Evans has produced in fastpitch softball.
That's an easy call, considering Columbia County switched from slow-pitch just five years ago, and Daniels has been the Lady Knights' ace for four seasons.
But Daniels didn't dominate by default. Nine years ago, she set a goal to make it to the next level; signing to play for the Liberty Flames simply was the culmination of that plan.
"I worked hard every day and didn't get a big head about it," Daniels said. "You've got to be dedicated, you have to be determined. You can't go out there and say, 'This is what I want to be,' and not work toward it."
No one can say Daniels isn't dedicated - after the signing, she traveled to Columbia to take pitching lessons.
As a Lady Knights senior, the right-hander posted a 15-3 record and an .084 earned run average. Her strikeouts-to-walks ratio was 134-5, which equates to 8.06 strikeouts and .30 walks per-game.
During her four years with the Determinators travel team, Daniels compiled a 114-28 record on the mound, including 925 innings-pitched, 1,084 strikeouts, only 115 walks and a .07 earned run average.
Daniels also excelled on offense, batting .483 for the Determinators, with 18 home runs and 158 RBI.
At Liberty, Daniels plans to be a force at the plate.
"The coach told me that when I wasn't pitching he'd give me a serious look at first base, to keep my bat in the order," she said.
Still, pitching will be Daniels' specialty. Her arsenal includes more than a dozen pitches, highlighted by a 63 mph fastball.
The fastest throwers at the college level are clocked in the high 60s, so Daniels has another goal to reach.
"College is going to be a place where I can practice every day and get stronger. I believe if I work hard enough and keep my heart in it, I can get my fastball up there," she says.
When Greenbrier's Lindsay Jones moved to Columbia County two years ago, she decided to try rowing. It didn't take long for her to realize she'd found her calling.
"The people, the shape it puts you in, the competition - a whole variety of things," she said of the reasons why she loves to row.
Once she decided rowing was for her, Jones noticed it was different than the other sports she'd tried.
"I'd say rowing is the most athletically demanding," she says. "The real athletes row - the others just play games."
Now, after only two years of polishing her skills, Jones is good enough to be a scholarship athlete at the University of Tennessee.
Despite her late start, Jones made up for lost time with a rigorous rowing regimen. In her second year of action, she was moved up to the varsity level by Augusta Junior Rowing Club coaches, who noticed her potential.
Part of her rapid rise from novice to the college ranks, she admits, can be attributed to her physical build. Jones is nearly 6 feet tall, and has the long limbs of the kind of rower sought by college programs.
"I really wasn't sure I wanted to row in college. My decision changed and I started contacting coaches," said Jones, who considered offers from the University of Louisville and Central Florida.
She settled on Tennessee, the only Southeastern Conference school with a varsity rowing team. Next season, other SEC athletes will take to the water, but Jones will already be a Volunteer, putting in practice on the Tennessee River.
"They really have an up-and-coming program and the coach has shown me every bit of kindness," Jones said. "I hope to make an impact. I went up there on an official visit and got along with all the girls, so I'm really looking forward to it."
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