To the next level: Greencastle-Antrim’s Mary Ward, left, will use her speed and defensive skills when she plays softball for Penn State University.
To the next level: Greencastle-Antrim's Mary Ward, left, will use her speed and defensive skills when she plays softball for Penn State University. (Public Opinion file/Ryan Blackwell)
By LIZI ARBOGAST

@liziarbogast

Since she was a little girl, Greencastle-Antrim's Mary Ward has had her heart set on one thing: Going to Penn State University.

That dream has finally become a reality as the senior softball centerfielder has officially committed to play for the Nittany Lions in 2013.

"I've always gone there as a kid and have season tickets to football games," Ward said. "I met the coaches and just love the coaches and love their program, and they have a great educational program. Just all the combination of the whole thing made we want to go there."

Although she was being recruited by Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Cornell and Massachusetts, Ward settled on an 80-percent scholarship to Penn State. Having both of her parents graduate from the university probably also helped in her decision making.

"They want to come watch me and see me do well, but they can't fly places or drive eight hours because they both have full-time jobs," Ward said. "The commute of only two hours is really convenient for them to come watch my games."

According to former Greencastle coach Jamie Richardson, who coached her through last spring, Ward's recruitment process began during her sophomore year when Penn State recruiters came to look at an opposing pitcher.

Then they saw Ward.

"The Penn State coach basically said, 'You can't coach speed; you either have it or you don't,'" Richardson said. "That's something you need at the next level, so that was the big selling point, and that kind of kicked off the recruiting process."

Speed has clearly been a strength of Ward's. Just last year, she stole 13 bases in 13 attempts. She also batted .353 with 32 runs, nine RBIs, one double and five triples.

But her defense is potentially her biggest strength, according to Richardson.

"As a centerfielder, that's the person who takes charge of the defense in the outfield," Richardson said.

Ward
Ward
"She has great instincts, and she's just quick on the ball. She can cover a lot of ground, which makes her so good in centerfield."

At centerfield for the Blue Devils, Ward has been a Public Opinion first-team and second-team selection. In her junior year, she was also selected to the Mid Penn Colonial Division first team.

Although she is of unsure of how Penn State will utilize her talents, she does have her eye on a certain position.

"I'm an outfielder as well as a slapper, and they need speed, so that's what I'm bringing to the table," Ward said. "They haven't said anything specifically about positions, but I know they have a leftfielder that is graduating; that's a spot I might be able to fill."

Richardson left the Greencastle head coaching post, but he is hoping whoever takes his spot will be able to prepare Ward for collegiate softball.

"With all of our former players who were moving on, we worked hard on their work ethic and honing their skills during the season," Richardson said. "Hopefully (Ward) will know what the (PSU) coaches want her to work on, so the team can work on that for her for the next level."

Ward's ceremonial signing will be held at 3:30 Wednesday at the Greencastle-Antrim High School library, where she said all of her coaches as well as a number of family members will be supporting her.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Ward said. "It'll be nice to see all my coaches again, and everybody will excited, so it's a good feeling."

Although Ward is unsure of her future career goals, she has already been accepted to Penn State's School of Engineering.

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Lizi Arbogast can be reached at 262-4788 or larbogast@publicopinionnews.com.