The first stage in a lifetime dream will be realized for Ashley Penney next year.
The Langford resident and student-athlete in the Diamond Excellence program at Lambrick Park secondary has always wanted to play fastpitch softball at a high level. Having kicked her game up a notch when she joined the White Rock Renegades 97s for the bantam national championships a few years back, and enjoyed great success in midget ball the past two seasons, she scored her latest coup earlier this month.
Penney, 17, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher and power-hitting cleanup hitter for the Renegades, signed a letter of intent to attend San Jose State University in California. She’ll play ball starting next fall on a full-ride scholarship for the NCAA Div. 1 Spartans.
“I’m really excited. It’s been one of my dreams since I was little,” she said this week, after finishing up one of her three-times-a-week indoor pitching workouts.
Penney, who came up playing in the Victoria Devils organization, gave a verbal commitment to San Jose State in Grade 10. But NCAA rules stipulate schools can’t initiate contact until a prospect is in their senior year, a.k.a. Grade 12 for Canadians.
The path to collegiate ball has seen this confident young woman work hard to achieve both team and individual success, according to Renegades’ assistant coach Courtney Gill.
“She’s matured and grown into quite the athlete. Her work ethic is unparalleled,” Gill said. “It’s going to be exciting to see how she does in preparation for going away.”
The Renegades 97s, so named for the players’ birth years, as is the norm in girls fastball, are a perennial powerhouse in B.C. come playoff time. With Penney playing a central role, playing outfield when not pitching, the team captured the under-16 national crown in 2013. Their ace nursed a shoulder injury last season, but was full value in the post-season, helping her team win the U-18 provincials as a first-year midget team and earn the bronze medal at nationals.
Gill said Penney has been working on altering her pitching style slightly, with the help of hall of fame pitcher Rob Guenter and her dad, former Victoria Grizzlies GM Jackson Penney. The hope, Gill added, is the change will allow her to better manage the workload of the season and leave her in good shape as she heads south.
With the Spartans expected to field a number of seniors next season, it may be even tougher for the rookie pitcher to gain playing time. Penney isn’t worried, saying she plans to work hard and do her best to make an impression.
“Their pitchers are really good, but I’m going to try my best to keep up with them.”
She’s not anxious to give up her time at the plate, either. While some pitchers focus solely on their mound duties, Penney works hard on both sides of her game. That said, she knows she’ll have to convince her new coaches that she deserves a spot in the batting order.
If anyone can impress as a freshman, Gill said, it’s Penney.
“Her work ethic and her self-motivation is going to be a contributing factor to her making an impact right away, but her maturity level has been her trademark,” the coach said. “It’s going to be tough for her. I went and played in the States as well. I know what it’s like being a small fish in a big pond.”
Making the move a little easier will be the fact she’ll be rooming with Emma Entzminger of Saanich, a former Lambrick academy classmate who’s currently in her freshman year at San Jose State.
“I might be a little homesick at first, but I’ll get used to it,” Penney said.
First, however, she’s got her Grade 12 year to complete and a final season with the Renegades, one she hopes will result in another medal performance.