BEAR CREEK — Another Bear is set to become a Mountaineer.
On Oct. 1, Chatham Central junior Jaylee Williams, a three-sport athlete in golf, softball and tennis, announced her commitment to play …
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BEAR CREEK — Another Bear is set to become a Mountaineer.
On Oct. 1, Chatham Central junior Jaylee Williams, a three-sport athlete in golf, softball and tennis, announced her commitment to play softball at Appalachian State University once her high school career concludes in 2023.
“I’m excited and blessed to announce I have decided to further my academic and softball career at Appalachian State University,” Williams tweeted on Oct. 1. “I would like to thank Coach Nate Eaton, my teammates, and family for all the support. #GoApp”
Williams’ recruitment period lasted just one month after opening on Sept. 1 and visiting two schools — UNC-Chapel Hill and App State — before making her decision.
She only had a couple of things on her college wishlist and App State checked all of the boxes. There was no need to go anywhere else.
“I wanted a school that was in a four-hour radius (from Bear Creek), which fit both of them, and they both had hospitality and recreation management for my degree,” Williams told the News + Record on Monday. “But I wanted a school that was really family-oriented and had a good chemistry and I felt like I’d fit in more at App State than I would at UNC.”
Once she officially made her decision, she called Mountaineers Head Coach Shelly Hoerner and subtly snuck in the fact that she was committing to App State.
“I called her back and asked her where my headshots were from when we were taking pictures during my visit and she said, ‘I’m sending them to you now,’ and I said, ‘OK, good, because I’m going to need something to post when I commit to you,’” Williams said. “She started screaming and hollering, she was so excited and so was I. It’s just really where I wanted to be.”
Williams’ commitment has been years in the making.
She first began playing travel softball when she was 8 years old, where she said her passion for the game “took off,” slowly growing into the dominant offensive player she’s become today.
Perhaps nothing has helped her grow more, however, than joining Team NC Eaton, a Charlotte-based travel softball team under the Team North Carolina umbrella, for which she’s played both the last two summer and fall seasons.
Team NC Eaton has played in a variety of tournaments across the country — averaging around 10 tournaments a year — including those in California, Florida, Colorado, Texas, among others, and faces Division I-level competition week in and week out, a great way to prepare their players for the next level.
This past summer, Williams and Team NC Eaton placed seventh in the 16U Premier Division at the 2021 Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships in California, one of the most competitive travel tournaments in the country.
“My whole goal is to put these girls in the best tournaments that we can and this past summer, we played PGF Nationals, which is the elite of the elite, the most premier tournament in our game,” the team’s head coach, Nate Eaton, told the News + Record. “For our age group, it’s like you’re playing in the big leagues. That’s the level at which you’re playing. The best softball players in the world are there.”
Tournaments like these have played a large part in Williams’ development as a player, which Eaton said is night and day from when she first tried out for his team in 2019.
“In the last two years, she probably has the most growth of anybody on the team,” Eaton said. “When she first came here, she struggled. Most kids do, though, because they’re facing better pitching, better defense. … And now, she’s my leading hitter, leading almost every offensive category except for home runs and RBIs. This kid could have played at anywhere in the country (in college), but she chose to stay in North Carolina.”
On a team like Eaton’s, one player leading almost all offensive categories is no small feat, as nearly the entire roster consists of Division I college commits.
Of the 15 players on Eaton’s current 18U roster, 14 are committed to Division I schools, including two to Virginia, one to Penn State, one to North Carolina, two to Purdue, and a few others elsewhere.
Then there’s Williams, whose role as a power slapper — a left-handed hitter deemed softball’s “secret weapon” — has propelled her to national recognition.
According to the most recent rankings from Extra Inning Softball, an outlet that ranks players and teams across the nation, Williams is ranked as the 53rd player in the country for the Class of 2023.
For the state of North Carolina, Eaton said he believes her rank is much higher.
“Right now, I would say, in the 2023 class in North Carolina, she’s certainly one of the top five players, she’s probably top three,” Eaton said. “She’s clearly the best outfielder in the state. … When you think about it, that’s (out of) a lot of softball players.”
And her numbers back it up.
During the 2021 summer travel season with Team NC Eaton, Williams racked up a .462 batting average with 61 hits, 26 RBIs, eight doubles and 46 runs scored, along with a .482 on-base percentage.
She also had the highest combined batting average (.429) on the team in the two largest national events for Team NC Eaton, the PGF Nationals and Triple Crown’s Fireworks in Colorado.
One thing’s for certain: she isn’t afraid of the big moments.
“(In travel ball) you have not just one college coach and a couple of fans (watching you), you have thousands of fans and over 20 college coaches standing behind your dugout,” Williams said. “I just do well under pressure.”
“It’s almost every weekend (that she comes up in big moments),” Eaton added. “She’s going to give you the hit in the gap because she’s a power slapper. … Jaylee is trying to knock your teeth out. That’s the way she does it.”
Williams will have to wait another couple of years before making her college debut with the Mountaineers, but once she does, all of her travel experience might add up to her becoming an impact freshman as soon as she steps foot on campus.
“I believe she’ll make an impact her freshman year because she’s been used to playing at such a high level,” Eaton said. “She’s going to have this winning personality coming in that maybe (App State) hasn’t seen in a while. … She’s going to make it hard on that coach not to put her on the field.”
Until then, Williams will continue to balance all three of her sports, including golf and tennis, which are happening simultaneously this fall, as well as finding time to get in the cage and hit softballs at least two or three times per week while also competing in the fall travel season for Team NC Eaton.
And she still has two spring seasons with the Bears left in the tank.
Last season, Chatham Central thrived with their pandemic-shortened schedule, going 7-1 in the Yadkin Valley 1A conference and losing their second-round playoff matchup with the South Stanly Rowdy Rebel Bulls.
This year, in a brand new conference, the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A, Williams and the Bears will attempt to replicate that success — and even surpass it.
And just because she’s already made her commitment and won’t have to worry about the added stress of college recruiting, Williams said she’s still going to make the most of her final two seasons in high school as she refuses to get complacent.
“I’m going to work hard and get better,” she said. “Because you can never be perfect.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.