MATTOON -- Eight members of Lake Land College softball’s 13-player signing class came to campus last weekend to spend a day with the current team and celebrate their signings together. Each of them officially signed in November, but gathered for an unofficial signing ceremony in Lake Land’s theater Sunday morning along with their families and Lake Land coaches. It’s an annual event Lake Land head coach Nic Nelson hosts to give his newest recruits their first taste of life as a Laker athlete.
Four of the signees are from Coles County high schools. Dee Campbell and Haleigh Misner play for Charleston, and McKenzee Davee and Grace McDowell are members of Mattoon's softball team. Campbell and Misner considered overtures from Chicago-area junior colleges. The rest of the class stretches across the rest of the state, other parts of the Midwest and even internationally.
“If we can find it (locally), it’s better than going to New Zealand,” Nelson said. “We have a kid from New Zealand coming in (Marama Makea). But sometimes the pitchers maybe aren’t here, or maybe they want to go somewhere else.”
The signees’ commitments are a culmination of a long recruiting process. Nelson often starts recruiting and watching players years in advance. He said he first heard of incoming freshman Kyrsten Darrough (from Flora, Ill.) when she was in sixth grade. He wants each recruit to visit campus before committing and won’t offer anyone he hasn’t seen play in person in a game or at a camp.
“It’s not just one visit, one look, one glance,” Nelson said. “It’s a visit, a look, go watch them play, go back, bring them in, talk to them. Our program isn’t the easiest program to play for and we’re brutally honest about that with everybody who shows up on campus.”
Each position is represented in the class, which Nelson said is a goal for every class. Some freshmen will slide right into starting roles due to graduation. Junior college players have two years of eligibility, which accelerates the rate of roster turnover.
“In every class, we need every position,” Nelson said.
Nelson is not done with the current class just yet. He wants to sign another pitcher during the late signing period, which begins in the spring.
“We never stop recruiting,” Nelson said. “We recruit 24/7, year-round.”