MILLEDGEVILLE — Capping off her high school career after helping lead the Georgia Military Prep School softball team to its second straight state runner-up finish, lone senior Jessica Hayles signed with Georgia College Tuesday morning in the Sibley-Cone Library.
A local standout on the softball field, Hayles set her sights on playing at the collegiate level since she was 4 years old.
“I’ve been playing ever since I was 4 so it’s a big part of my life,” she said. “So, playing in college wasn’t even an option because I’m just so used to it.”
While Hayles and the rest of the Lady Bulldogs expected to take home the state title this season, head coach Julie Brooker believes the senior should have no regrets moving forward as she looks to make an impact for the Lady Bobcats softball team next fall.
“She’s ending on a great note, and that’s the thing, she’s not ending, so there’s going to be no regrets. She’s given it a shot and she’s going to play at the next level,” Brooker said. “Really, truly those years you have playing ball, you only have so many of them and you remember them the rest of your life.”
As the first senior to commit to playing at the next level during Brooker’s tenure at GMC Prep, Hayles paves the way for future players.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of Jessi, you know, she’s really, really stuck with it, very hard worker; just the kind that you like to see things go their way,” Brooker said. “It’s a very exciting day. Jessi is the first senior I’ve had graduate out of our softball program in two years at GMC, so she’s definitely set the benchmark high.”
Hayles’ biggest goal as a collegiate student-athlete is to perform well academically, which she believes is attainable with the help of Lady Bobcats head coach Jamie Grodecki and assistant coach Kayla Lucas.
“I’m very nervous, but I know I can do it,” Hayles said. “What I’m nervous about is keeping my grades up, but with the coaches help I think I’ll be able to — they said they’ll help me out a lot.”
Establishing a renewed reputation of its own, GC softball finished the 2013 season in the spring with runner-up honors in the Peach Belt Conference, an at-large bid for the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II Southeast Region Tournament and the fourth-most wins for a season in school history.
The future Lady Bobcat admits it was the investment in the players’ lives that sold her on both Grodecki and Lucas right away.
“Their love for the players,” Hayles said. “They’re so player-oriented and not just about winning, winning, winning, which is a good thing, but they want to do what’s best for the players.”
For Brooker, the fit could not be more appealing as Hayles will get to stay local, get an education and play softball for a four-year institution; all of which she believes will help both GC and GMC Prep softball.
“To me, what makes it such a great fit is that it’s a local school and number one, it’s a four-year academic school. With Jessi being such a great student, that’s really what I wanted for her; to play softball at the same time is kind of a bonus,” Brooker said. “I think it’s great for the community and hopefully establishing connections between GMC and Georgia College, so I’m just excited about that.”