Phipps to play at Ohio Christian

New Boston’s Kayla Phipps swings at a pitch during a contest against Ironton St. Joseph in early April. Phipps will join the Ohio Christian University softball squad for 2018 on forward.

It’s one thing to have the talent and the pedigree that makes college coaches interested in offering a scholarship or an opportunity to join a college program.

However, the primary factor, at least for the vast majority of college coaches when evaluating student-athletes, is whether or not a student-athlete can dedicate himself or herself to the game of their choice for the next four to five years.

By proving herself as a dedicated worker to the Ohio Christian University softball program, New Boston’s Kayla Phipps will get that opportunity to play collegiate softball as Phipps, who was a consistent lynchpin at the plate and in the field for the Lady Tigers over the course of her career, got the opportunity that she had hoped for when David Jolly offered the utility outfielder a spot on the Trailblazers’ softball roster.

For Phipps, the opportunity to be able to play her favorite sport at the collegiate level is a dream come true.

“It feels amazing, honestly,” Phipps said. “Growing up, I’ve always wanted to to play at the collegiate level, and to actually have the opportunity to play on a team is more than exciting for me.”

However, the opportunity is one that Brian Holbrook feels is well-warranted due to Phipps’ own due diligence and hard work in making her dreams a reality.

“Kayla is definitely a go-getter and a team player,” Holbrook said. “She was not only interested in her personal stats, but she was interested in winning, seeing the other kids progress, and doing well, which is what makes Kayla a unique talent. It’s one of the reasons why she’s ready to move to the next level because she’s a team player and a team sport. Kayla worked hard in order to keep her options open, and because she kept her options open, she’s not only going to get to go to college, but be able to play softball there. It’s vital for our kids to realize that education, as well as athletics, goes hand-in-hand if they’re planning on moving to the next level.”

Throughout the course of her career at New Boston, Phipps, who batted anywhere from second to sixth in the batting order and played in each of the three outfielding spots — primarily in left — played an integral role in a program that won a dozen SOC I games the last two years and finished in fifth place in the conference standings — an immense improvement from 2015, where the Lady Tigers didn’t win a single game in conference play and finished at the SOC I cellar.

That improvement, Phipps said, is due in large part to Holbrook, who ramped up the difficulty of the practices in order to prepare New Boston for what was to come in game situations.

“It was tough being a junior with a new coach, but (Brian Holbrook) made it more than fun,” Phipps said. “I had such a great team to count on all four years. Whether we won or lost, we all stuck together. When Coach Holbrook stepped in, the running and conditioning intensified, but he knew what he was doing, for sure. I believe next year will be the year of the Tigers and I’m going to miss them all for sure.”

However, going from 0-14 in conference play just two years prior to a 7-7 overall mark in SOC I action also takes a great deal of dedication from Phipps and Madison Salisbury, the team’s two seniors this past season.

In Phipps’ case, Holbrook says that Ohio Christian is getting a player who is attentive.

“Kayla is willing to work hard,” Holbrook said. “She’s willing to listen, she’s not a know-it-all, and she’s willing to take criticism, as long as the criticism is constructive and delivered in a positive manner.”

At Ohio Christian, Phipps will join her boyfriend, R.J. Hayes — who signed with OCU to play collegiate tennis in May — as a student-athlete under the Trailblazers’ banner. Like Hayes, Phipps — who will continue to play in the outfield with Ohio Christian — knows that she’ll have to be a regular in the weight room in order to become an everyday player.

“We talked about being in the outfield as far as my defensive position was concerned,” Phipps said. “From a hitting standpoint, I will definitely have to hit the weights in order to be as effective as I want to be going forward.”

“(Ohio Christian University head coach David) Polly’s already sent her some things for her to work on,” Holbrook said. “He sat Kayla down and was very honest with her and the things that she needed to do in order to advance as a player. She received that very well and started to work on those things as soon as he laid out those things for her. She was able to gel with some of her new teammates very quickly by communicating and introducing herself. She’s pretty excited about not only advancing her softball career, but her education as well.”

But no matter what the future holds for Phipps, she will always look back on her career at New Boston with the same pride and joy that she had when she graduated from Glenwood High School.

“As a student, I believe I accomplished so much and more,” Phipps said. “I just hope that I can play the same role in college that I did in high school.”

And why not? It’s clear that Phipps is already showing increased maturity just two months after graduating high school.

“I was impressed how Kayla came to the realization that, in order to advance, she was going to have to work on not only getting back to the basics, but by doing the best that she could as a whole,” Holbrook said. “A lot of times, kids will only try to emphasize one part of their game, which is their highlights. Kayla spent more time working on the basics, and she went back and worked on her game in order to move up to the next level. She was also willing to put her nose to the grindstone when it came to her studies, which is also a very important part of her being able to get to where she’s at today.”

Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7