Nov. 15, 2013
DEKALB, Ill. - Northern Illinois University head softball coach Christina Sutcliffe didn't have to look far for talent as the second-year head coach announced the signing of seven for 2015 Friday.
Sutcliffe's second recruiting class at NIU focused on the Land of Lincoln with five singees, Keegan Hayes, Bekah Harnish, Ashley Evans, Melaina Koulos and Haley Wroten, all hailing from the state of Illinois. Tara Thacker of Uniontown, Ohio and Alaynie Woollard of New Castle, Ind. are the only non-Illinois residents to sign with the Huskies.
"If I had one word to describe this class, it'd be `winners.' They have several state championships among them and a couple summer ball national championships. They just know how to win. They all know they're coming in here as a part of our culture change and our vision of where we want to be." Sutcliffe said about her class.
Hayes is a finesse who has the potential to be the future ace of the Huskie pitching staff. The Naperville native is coming off a dominant season in the circle, where she finished 22-3 with a 1.53 ERA, 168 strikeouts, and had a 38 inning scoreless streak. Hayes' pitching prowess, coupled with her performance at the plate, where she owned a .330 batting average, earned her DuPage Valley Conference Player of the Year and Illinois all-state (class 4A) honors after her junior campaign. Her stellar junior season also earned her Chicago Sun-Times All-Area and Daily Herald All-Area honors. By the time she graduates, she will have earned four softball varsity letters. She is also a two-time DuPage Valley All-Conference and Naperville Sun All-Area award winner. Hayes has played at the highest level of competition for the Beverly Bandits in the summer.
"Keegan Hayes is kind of the rock of the class," Sutcliffe said. "She's a player that I saw at my prior university, and I fell in love with her at camp over there. I've followed her for the last three or four years, and I've been pretty close with her. She's been very loyal to me and very loyal to NIU. We wrapped our class around her."
A native of Maple Park, Ill., Harnish is a catcher who captained Burlington Central High School to a 27-4 record and its first conference title in four years during her junior season. Through three varsity seasons, she owns a career batting average over .500 with 16 career home runs and 158 career RBI. In her decorated high school career, she has been named to the all-state team in all three of her high school seasons, earning second-team honors in 2011 and 2012 and first-team honors in 2013. Harnish, who also started for the Wasco Diamonds in the last two summers, is a model student, owning a 4.0 GPA.
"Bekah is a local kid who's part of the Wasco Diamonds organization," she said. "We're doing a really good job of getting into the local travel ball teams, and that organization in particular has been really good to us. She's going to fight for time behind the plate and at third base. She's a good kid. She's quiet, but it's going to be exciting to see her come into her own here. She'll hopefully end up being a really good leader for us."
Another local talent, Evans is from Manhattan, Ill. and is a versatile infielder who has been named team MVP for Lincoln-Way Central High School in every season of her career. She brings an abundance of leadership experience to the Huskies as she has been a team captain since her freshman year. Her infectious positive attitude and commitment to her teammates earned her three consecutive team Sportsmanship awards. Evans also played club ball with the Orland Park A's and the Illinois Stars.
"Ashley is going to be a utility infielder for us who might see some time out in the outfield," Sutcliffe said. "She's another kid who came to our camp and honestly just fell in love with NIU and couldn't see herself anywhere else. It ended up being a perfect fit."
Wroten, a native of Belleville, Ill., is a slick fielding second baseman that captained a Belleville East High School squad that finished 30-9 on the way to a sectional title in 2013. In 2013, she batted .415 with 26 RBI and eight stolen bases on the way to earning News-Democrat Class 3A-4A All-Area honors. Through two varsity seasons, Wroten has proved to be a defensive anchor on the infield, owning a fielding percentage over .920 with 139 putouts and 29 assists. She also played for the Collinsville Extreme Elite, Junior Lancers and Metro East Rebels.
"Haley is going to be a utility corner infielder for us," she said. "She came to our camp, and I fell in love with her. She has a great personality and is a lights up the room type kid."
Koulos of Naperville, Ill. is a resilient outfielder who came back from an ACL tear in just five months to lead Waubonsie Valley High School to a 23-6 record and a second consecutive conference championship in her junior season. Koulos is a dangerous contact hitter who owns a .367 career batting average and has only struck out 12 times in 218 plate appearances in her career.
She is a three-year varsity letterwinner who has been named to the Upstate Eight All-Conference team twice, the Beacon News All-Area team twice, and the Daily Herald All-Area team once in her decorated career. Her work ethic is evident off of the field where she is the owner of a 3.8 GPA and is a leader in four student organizations. In addition to a stellar career at Waubonsie, Koulos played club softball for the Naperville Diamonds.
"Talk about a charismatic kid, she has a ton of personality," Sutcliffe said. "Her knowledge of the game is better than probably anyone else in the class. She's just a true student of the game. She'll try to win some time in the outfield and compete for time in the DH spot. She just really works hard at her game and wants to be the best player she can."
Thacker is a dominant pitcher who has pitched back-to-back shutouts in Ohio Division 1 state championship games. Her three-hit shutout in the 2013 state championship game capped off a perfect 34-0 season for North Canton Hoover High School marking the first time that a team went undefeated in Ohio Division 1 history. Thacker is currently fifth on the Ohio all-time list with a streak of 36 consecutive wins that she will carry into the 2014 season. She owns a 37-1 career record as a pitcher with an ERA below one and 288 strikeouts. Thacker spends most of her time outside of softball volunteering for the eight different service organizations she is involved with. In the summer, she competes nationally with the Lady Laser organization.
"She's going for her fourth state championship this year," she said of Thacker. "She could have graduated early, but wanted to stay to try and get that fourth state championship. She was kind of a late pickup for us, but we couldn't be happier with finding her. The kid just competes. She figures out a way to get it done."
Woollard is a power-hitting catcher who is coming off a junior season in which she set New Castle High School single-season records in home runs (12) and slugging percentage (.978) and was named Courier Times Player of the Year. With a season to go in her high school career, Woollard owns her school career records in home runs (25), walks (62), and career total bases (212). She is a two-time All North Central Conference selection (2012 and 2013) and was named first team All-Area in 2013.
Wollard has played for several club teams throughout her career including the Central Indiana Catz, Team Indiana and most recently the Shockwaves.
"This kid just goes hard. She's a fierce competitor," Sutcliffe said. "Last nationals, she caught a ball in the eye, ended up getting nine stitches and still caught the next day. She's a bulldog. We're looking for her to bring that tenacity and that work ethic. She mashes the ball as well. She could end up legitimately playing anywhere on the infield for us. Her ability to go through a wall for you is pretty unique."
The Huskies open the 2014 season Feb. 7, 2014 when the Huskies travel to Boca Raton to face Louisville in the FAU "Kickoff Classic."