Georgia Highlands begins softball play in the spring of 2014, and Willingham is the second Bartow County female athlete on the team’s roster, joining Cass High’s Allison Story, an outfielder.
Willingham, who pitched for Excel, is expected to play in the infield for the Lady Chargers.
“She will probably be a corner for us,” Melissa Wood, her Georgia Highlands coach, said.
Wood said her interest was piqued in Willingham soon after she got on the Georgia Highlands campus during a visit.
“We watched her play, and she has the ability to play at the next level if she works hard,” Wood said. “She’s the kind of player we want, one who wants to go to a four-year institution and has the athletic ability and academic background to succeed there.
“The things that stood out for me about her is the caliber of athlete she is, and the school she’s coming from. Students who attend Excel are great people, and they have their priorities straight. I hope this will be a successful experience for her, and we will be able to pull more students from that institution.”
In the spring of 2014, the Lady Mustangs will kick off their softball play in the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Willingham said she became interested in Georgia Highlands because it’s a local school.
“It’s a great opportunity to be a part of the first softball program at Georgia Highlands,” she added. “My family and friends can come and watch me play.”
The Excel star said she will gladly hang up her pitching glove to try to contribute to the Lady Mustangs as an infielder.
“I pitched because Excel needed me to,” she said. “I started as shortstop the two previous years.”
She played third base, shortstop and catcher in her years as a member of Elite, a travel ball team based in Cartersville and coached by Ken Godfrey.
Willingham said she enjoys playing in the infield. “I think either shortstop or third base is my favorite position. They get a lot of action, and I’ve got a good arm to throw to first base.”
Jon-Michael Nickerson, who coached Willingham at Excel her senior year, said Georgia Highlands is getting a gifted softball player with a firm foundation in academics.
Nickerson said Willingham put the needs of the team above her as a member of the Lady Eagles.
“She pitched for us because that’s what we needed,” Nickerson said. “She did what was asked of her and did it with a smile on her face.”
Nickerson believes Willingham is capable of playing at least two positions in college. “I believe at the next level she is capable of playing shortstop or catcher. She’s athletic enough to do either one. She’s a natural at shortstop.”
The coach said Willingham put up impressive numbers on his team in her senior year.
“She led the team in virtually all our offensive categories,” he said. “She had a .570 batting average, led us in triples and had 62 percent of the RBIs for the team. She was involved in about 85 percent of the run total, whether she was knocking someone in or scoring herself.
“She, basically, was our offense.”
He said the team looked to her when a big play was needed.
“They knew she was our big threat on offense and defense,” he said. “It was no secret that everyone looked to her to try to make the play.”
He described her as the team’s “quiet leader.”
“She goes about leading with her play, not so much vocally,” he said.
The coach said Willingham will only get better.
“She loves to practice, which makes her an even better person to have on your team. I know the coach [Melissa Wood] is really excited to have her.”
Nickerson also believes the Lady Mustangs are getting a player who has the academic background to do well.
“She’s a really good student and comes from a family that put her academics first.”
Willingham, who began playing at about age 7, said she hopes to play at the next level after she finishes at Georgia Highlands.
“I’m looking to go to a Division I program at a four-year school,” she said. “I want to go into sports medicine.”