During signing season, college coaches are often bouncing from high school to high school to ink their next freshman class one recruit at a time. Even if done quickly, it takes time to schedule, travel and complete the process. Three Rivers softball coach Jeff Null took a different approach this year. On Nov. 23, Null brought his recruiting class to Three Rivers for a collective signing ceremony and banquet at the Libla Family Sports Complex. Seven of eight scholarship players, along with their families, made the trip from places like Arkansas, Oklahoma and St. Louis. “It’s more Three Rivers,” Null said of the atmosphere of the ceremony. “Here, when we’ve got our brand new gym set up, we’ve got all their names on the scoreboard. They’ve got a nice setup, a nice spread of food. Instead of it being an individual, it’s more of a team thing … It’s turned out well. We will definitely do this again.” The complete nine-player class, which includes one walk-on, is Kenlee McAuliffe (El Dorado, Ark.), Makenna Moore (Ellsinore, Mo.), Naomi Crowley (Ellsinore, Mo.), Scout Harrison (Bono, Ark.), Cayton Sloan (Muskogee, Okla.), Makayla Bryant (Troy, Mo.), Makale Floyd (Woodward, Okla.), Kyla Puckett (Poyen Ark.), and Jaime Lee (St. Louis).
“It’s a really cool experience because you get to see everyone and their families,” Moore said of the group ceremony. “All these girls are so far away that you never get to see their families, really, and they’re all here supporting them. Just a really neat experience.” The ceremony was the first time Moore met any of her future teammates, which should improve team chemistry as well as moving into and getting settled into college. “I can’t believe I’m actually signing to play the game that I love outside of high school,” Moore said of signing. “It’s a privilege to go out of high school and continue the game that I love. So I was really excited that I was going to get to do that.” Null always prefers to sign his classes as soon as possible. The first possible day to sign was Nov. 1. “I was a little bit antsy waiting until Nov. 23. I always like to get them signed as soon as possible. A lot of these girls are super talented. You always worry about somebody swooping in at the last minute and getting them from you,” Null said. “They still have a lot of developing to do. A lot of these kids still haven’t even played their senior year, yet.”
Arkansas plays softball in the spring, meanwhile Moore has the spring softball schedule and Ozark Foothills Conference Tournament to play. Though these Lady Raiders won’t play any Region XVI games for at least 14 months, Null is already confident in the potential roster and said this might be his most talented class yet. “The athleticism is off the charts for the position players that are in this group,” Null said. “As we keep building our program. Every year we try to get better athletes and I feel like this group is just another step forward for our program.” The class features four pitchers, including Moore, a two-time MSHSAA Class 2 All-State selection. “I think it will help me because it just keeps me wanting to push to get better, because I want to be one of the ones that pitches, obviously. I think it’s intimidating but in a good way,” Moore said. Added Null, “We’re super excited. This year, we feel like we’re going to be pretty good, but now we think the next two years for sure we’re going to be pretty good.”
With the Class of 2020 wrapped up, Null is moving onto the Class of 2021, who are currently juniors in high school. “I’m working on the next class. We’re looking at the class of ‘21. We have three commits as of now, so we are still trying to find the right pieces. Starting early allows us to evaluate them a little longer,” Null said. “When you see them once or twice, it is always hard to see the big picture and see their true colors. The more you can see them the better idea you have that they are going to be the right fit. “Everybody seems to really like it when they visit here. Of course, as a father with three daughters, you want to send your daughter to somewhere where you know they’re going to be taken care of and you’re going to feel comfortable and safe where they are at, and I think Poplar Bluff offers that.”
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic