Chappell to continue career at Cottey College

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The list of college graduates in Skylar Chappell's family isn't extensive. The Woodland High senior figures she'll be the third, once she completes her studies down the line.

It's just one of the many reasons Chappell felt excited to sign her national letter of intent to play softball at Cottey College on Tuesday.

"It's pretty big for me," Chappell said. "Most people on my dad's side didn't graduate high school, let alone go to college. My sister, I think, is the second [in the family] to go to college, and I think, I'll probably be the third. My sister and I both wanted to go further with our careers. We wanted to have a better life for ourselves and help our family out the best way we can.

"Softball-wise, I'm extremely excited, because I've wanted to do this since I was 10, or maybe younger than that. You don't know where you want to go when you're younger. You might think, 'Oh, I want to go D-I. I want to go to a big school.' When you find the college of your dreams, even if it's smaller, it doesn't really matter to you, you're just happy you get to go there and happy you get to experience it."

Ironically, Chappell was originally contacted by the track and field coach from Cottey, but she'll be playing softball for the Nevada, Missouri-based institution, which lies halfway between Kansas City and Springfield, when the 2019-20 school year rolls around.

"I fell in love with how nice everybody was, the small school population and how quiet it was there," said Chappell, who throws discus for the Woodland track and field team. "I think it's a place I can grow, improve and continue to better myself."

A big pull for the Cottey softball program was the success of the team under the current coaching staff. In the two years that head coach Mark Skapin has been leading the Comets, Cottey has won consecutive NJCAA Region XVI titles.

"He knows that chemistry among the players is the best thing to have," Chappell said of Skapin. "He wants to make sure we fit in with them first, which I'm happy I did. I like it down there. They fit in really well with me.

"He wants you to get better and he's going to work you, but he's not going to take the fun out of the game. ... The motivation to work harder is to play better for your friends and teammates, but also, you're having fun at the same time."

Chappell certainly had fun during her time as a three-year starting catcher with the Wildcats. It also helped her develop a close bond with fellow seniors Sarah Baynard, Jordan Duck and Caroline Higdon.

"We kind of grew up all together," Chappell said. "We were happy. We were really close. We weren't the seniors who didn't like each other. We were more close-knit. We always talked about the games and how we could do better. We were just really close friends with each other, and I'm sad that I'm going to go like 12 hours away. But we have ways to talk to each other, and we're going to constantly talk to each other."

Some catchers are known more for their defense and others for their offense, but Chappell was as well-rounded a backstop as Woodland could have ever hoped.

Baynard and sophomore Madi Bentley owe a decent amount of their pitching success this season to Chappell's veteran presence behind the plate.

"She was definitely a leader for us," Woodland softball coach Colman Roberts said. "... I stayed on her a lot, trying to get her better, and she responded. I stayed on her more than anybody, because her position is very, very important."

While her defense and ability to work with her pitchers was key to Woodland's success, Chappell also shined at the plate her senior year. In helping lead the Wildcats to their first-ever region crown, Chappell hit .342 with 19 RBIs and a team-high .480 on-base percentage.

"She's a very, very hard worker," Roberts said. "She always had one of her goals in life to play college softball. She worked hard at it and improved every year since she's been here."

Roberts fully believes Chappell has what it takes to succeed — not just on the softball fields of the Midwest but also in the game of life.

"Chappell is a great kid and has a great attitude," Roberts said. "She's always wanting to be good; she wants her team to be good; and she's willing to do whatever it took to make it. ...

"She's just that type of kid, and I think it's going to be that way for the rest of her life — whatever she chooses to do. I stress that all the time. This teaches us things for later in life. She's a hard worker, wants to win and wants to do good. That's going to carry on in her life. I really feel that way."

For Chappell, that life will hopefully lead to a career as a translator. She said Tuesday her hope is to be able to study abroad in Asia during college.

As she took the first step in a live-action version of Dr. Seuss's "Oh, the Places You'll Go," Chappell found the experience difficult to put into words.

"It's kind of hard to describe," she said of her emotions. "You work your whole life for this, and then you get there and you're like, 'Wow, I actually made it.'"