COLUMBIA — A year ago, if someone put a map of the United States in front of Georgia native Catherine Lee, she couldn't have pointed out Missouri, let alone Columbia.
"I thought that Mizzou and Missouri were two different schools," Lee said.
No. 3 Missouri (8-2)
vs. UMKC (4-5)
When: 1:30 p.m.
Where: University Field
Still, Lee ended up transferring from Georgia State to MU at the end of last season to play for the Tigers softball team.
"If you were to ask me a year ago today if I was going to play in Missouri, I would have said no way," Lee said. "So it was just funny the way things turned out."
Coming out of Eastside High School in Covington, Ga., in 2007, Lee was looking to play for an SEC school and was considering Georgia Tech, where Ehren Earleywine had been the coach. Earleywine was packing his bags to come coach for Missouri when letters expressing Lee's interest arrived at Georgia Tech. Somehow the letters got lost, and Earleywine never saw them.
"My mom sent two or three letters to Georgia Tech," Lee said. " I can't believe she sent that many there, if they didn't want me, they didn't want me."
Lee spent her first two years of college at Georgia State, an NCAA Division I school in the Colonial Athletic Association. She had an outstanding freshman year, breaking Georgia State records in batting average, home runs, RBIs, and runs scored. She was fourth in the nation with 1.15 runs batted in per game and she made the All-CAA team her freshman and sophomore years.
In 2009, Georgia State played Missouri, and Lee met her future coach for the first time.
"Before the game I went up and I apologized to her for not getting her letters at Georgia Tech," Earleywine said. "She just smiled and laughed and said everything is OK now."
Lee went 2-for-2 against Missouri, including a double, and Earleywine said he was impressed.
"She is a big athletic kid," Earleywine said. "She is not limited to one particular thing. She does so many things well. The second thing that jumps out at you is her power. Every time she swings the bat, she gets her money's worth."
But after Earleywine saw Lee's stats, he called Christine Sheridan, who had played for him at Georgia Tech and is now an assistant coach at Georgia State. She had nothing but good things to say to Earleywine. That led him to offer Lee a spot with the Tigers.
"After seeing her hit in the Georgia State game and talking to Christine (Sheridan) about her, it was really a no-brainer," Earleywine said.
Living in a state with an SEC school, it was a dream for Lee to play for a college in that conference. She said she received offers from Alabama, LSU, Auburn and South Carolina, but it was MU that grabbed her attention.
"Missouri was the first school that I heard back from, which was an adrenaline rush," Lee said. "I just loved the atmosphere here at the university. I loved the facilities and the school. I thought the university (MU) was better than South Carolina and Auburn. I decided that it would be good to go to a different part of the U.S. I decided the place where I was going to get the best softball and school experience was here at Mizzou."
One player that was excited to hear that Lee was coming to play for the Tigers was fellow Georgia native Rhea Taylor. Taylor and Lee played high school basketball and softball against each other in Georgia, and Taylor said they clicked right away.
"I just knew I was going to automatically relate to her," Taylor said.
Taylor said that Lee is one of the Tigers' most talkative players, and that when others run out of things to say, Lee is the one who usually breaks the silence. She said Lee's outgoing personality helped her get to know the other players quickly.
"She is just loud," Taylor said with a smile. "Our personalities just complement each other. She's loud when I'm not, and I'm loud when she isn't. We are like sisters now. Things just seem to shoot out of her mouth. It is amazing how she can just talk and talk and talk."
Earleywine said that Lee picks up where former MU player Micaela Minner left off last season. Minner was the vocal leader of the team and Earleywine said Lee could potentially be that vocal leader this season.
"She (Lee) is just a culmination of a lot of things," Earleywine said. "Very rarely is a person able to be a very good athlete, be very social, and to maintain class as a woman. It is just very hard to do. She is the kind of person you would want your daughter to grow up and be like."
Lee says she has has no regrets about coming to Missouri.
"It's not bad being away from home," Lee said. "This is the place I want to be."