Two Cougars get early start on college

Thursday, April 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:21 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

At this time of year, most high school seniors are concerned with finding a prom date and eagerly counting the days until graduation.

Ashley Perrigo and Felisha Richards aren’t most high school seniors.

They are college freshmen playing softball for Columbia College.

The Cougars (21-4) play a doubleheader today against Lindenwood University (8-15) at 1 p.m. in Columbia.

Columbia College, ranked No. 7 in the NAIA, has won 18 of its past 19. In their most recent meeting, the Cougars beat Lindenwood 12-1 on March 13.

Coach Wendy Spratt said her team can’t take Lindenwood lightly.

“They’ve started playing a lot better in the last week,” she said. “They’ve played a tough schedule.”

Cougars hitting carries team

Spratt said her team is playing at a high level though.

“We are playing very well in all aspects,” she said. “Our offense has been spectacular. It’s been fun. I don’t think this team feels pressure. This team is very confident. We have a great deal of senior leadership.”

That leadership has had a trickle-down effect on Perrigo and Richards, for they have made a quicker-than-average transition from high school to college.

Perrigo and Richards, both 17, graduated a semester early from high school and joined the Cougars in January. They can graduate with their high school classmates in May.

Perrigo said the support of her teammates has helped.

“I never really felt like I had to impress anyone,” she said. “They understand that I am just out of high school and things are completely different. I felt like everyone was behind me and that made the transition so easy.”

Spratt agreed.

“Everybody was real comfortable with them and they didn’t need to feel intimidated,” she said. “They knew we really wanted them there and they could make us more successful.”

Credits, permission required to for early start

To make the early jump, Perrigo and Richards had to make sure they had enough credits. Once all of the academics were in order, it was a matter of getting permission from their principles and superintendents.

Perrigo, of Tebbetts, said the hardest part of the change has occurred off the softball field.

“I come from a really small town and coming into a town this size was a change,” she said. “It’s weird not knowing everyone on the street and not being able to just strike up a conversation with anyone. You do have a lot more to do here (though).”

Richards, of Rolla, said joining the team in the middle of the year was difficult.

“You’re coming in halfway through,” she said. “At first it was awkward because we had to bond together but after awhile you fit your way in.”

Spratt said maturity is the key to making a successful transition.

“I think they have adjusted really well,” she said. “You have to be a special kind of person to come out of high school a semester early. You have to be very motivated and they are.”

Perrigo already earns starting job

Perrigo starts at second base and is hitting .283 with one home run and 11 RBIs. She said her experience playing in summer leagues made the learning curve easier. The speed of the game surprised her.

“The game is so much faster,” Perrigo said. “It took me awhile to get used to that. You have to keep on your toes all of the time and pay attention. I used to be so timid up at the plate, but then I settled down.”

Perrigo’s accelerated development on the field impresses Spratt.

“She’s done an incredible job,” Spratt said. “She’s really relaxed and confident at the plate. She drives the ball hard. Those are things we don’t see someone do consistently until they are seniors and as a freshman she is doing that well. She’s only going to get better.”

Richards is a utility infielder and is hitting .286 in seven at-bats. Although Richards isn’t a starter, Spratt said her presence makes everyone else better.

“Felisha brings a lot to the team,” Spratt said. “She can play anywhere. She is very versatile. She’s not in a starting role right now but I think she pushes the people in starting roles to perform better and that really helps a lot.”

Although Richards and Perrigo agree that it has been hard leaving their friends, the chance to play college softball was too enticing.

Perrigo said she wanted to play with the five seniors.

“The opportunity was incredible, and I get to play with some of the best and next year they’d be gone,” she said. “In my opinion, I’m better off for it. I’ll be a better ballplayer because I’ve played with all of them.”

“People grow up at different times, and I guess I grew up sooner.”

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