Texas player Taylor Ellsworth, center, with the Longhorn team in between innings against Indiana on Saturday, February 17, 2017. Ellsworth is one of a handful of softball players who left high school early to play at the University level. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Softball

With high school in the rearview, Taylor Ellsworth is already contributing for Texas

Posted February 21st, 2017

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Story highlights
  • After graduating early from Georgetown and enrolling early at Texas, Ellsworth has played in half of UT's first 10 games.
  • She's one of only what's believed to be five early-enrollee freshmen in the country that are playing this season.
  • Ellsworth was only 17 years old when UT held its first practice last month. That also happens to be her new jersey number.

Taylor Ellsworth, like many of her peers, opened her senior year at Georgetown High School with her blue eyes fixated on Texas’ McCombs Field.

Ellsworth, though, wasn’t planning on getting to the home of the state high school softball tournament as a Georgetown student-athlete. She wanted to spend her spring playing home games already on the UT campus.

Ellsworth now is a college freshman, not a high school senior in her final semester. She graduated early and enrolled at Texas for this semester. A catcher, she has played in five of Texas’ first 10 games entering this week’s Mary Nutter Classic, a tournament in California.

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“It’s definitely different,” Ellsworth said. “I’ve learned more than I could ever hope to learn so far, and (things) I have to work on and a lot (of room) to grow. I’m just excited with the opportunity.”

Texas's player Taylor Ellsworth, center, with the Longhorn team in between innings against Indiana on Saturday, February 17, 2017. Ellsworth is one of a handful of softball players who left high school early to play at the University level. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas’s player Taylor Ellsworth, center, with the Longhorn team in between innings against Indiana on Saturday, February 17, 2017. Ellsworth is one of a handful of softball players who left high school early to play at the University level. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

It’s long been expected that Ellsworth would end up as a Longhorn. She does, after all, consider former UT catching standout Megan Willis a mentor, and she committed to Texas during her freshman year of high school.

Not long after giving that commitment, the freshman began calling pitches behind the plate for Georgetown’s varsity team. Over the next three springs, Ellsworth hit .550 with 21 home runs and 107 RBIs. She earned back-to-back All-Central Texas honors for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Had she stayed in high school, Ellsworth would have played in a district duel against Elgin on Tuesday night. Instead, games against Tennessee, Notre Dame and Washington are on this week’s itinerary. Ellsworth has a .333 batting average and three RBIs in her brief UT career.

“She still has a lot to learn, but she’s taking everything in that we’re helping her do and really absorbing it and using it,” said Texas senior Tiarra Davis. “I think she’ll have a great freshman year. By the time she graduates in four years, she’s going to be a heck of a player here.”

Texas' Taylor Ellsworth runs the bases during the second day of practice for the 2017 season at McCombs Field Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Texas’ Taylor Ellsworth runs the bases during the second day of practice for the 2017 season at McCombs Field Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Moving on

Toward the end of her junior year at Georgetown, Ellsworth began thinking about her future.

No softball player had ever enrolled early at Texas, but she was intrigued by the prospect. She and her family presented the idea to Longhorns coach Connie Clark last May. After an on-campus meeting, Ellsworth headed home to ponder her plans.

By the end of the summer, she’d made her decision.

“I did a lot of praying about it and just one day, I woke and I was like, this is what I’m going to do. This is what I’m called to do,” Ellsworth said. “I need a new challenge and this is a new challenge.”

Ellsworth already knows what it’s like to be one of the youngest players in a dugout. As a freshman at Georgetown, she was already in the middle of the Eagles’ varsity lineup. And she played on a club team with 18-year-olds when she was an eighth-grader. Last summer, she won a club championship with her Texas Blaze team that starred 15 college signees. (One of those players was UT infielder Malory Schattle of Salado.)

Still, Ellsworth was only 17 years old on her first day of practice at Texas.

“In the last year or so, we felt like she was ready,” Clark said. “They all have different maturity levels, but she just turned 18. I think she is somebody that is beyond her years in regards to physical maturity and how she goes about her business. She’s good with time management and is very much a perfectionist.”

A rarity or a trend?

Ellsworth isn’t the only UT athlete who graduated from high school early in December and is already on campus. Football players Sam Ehlinger (Westlake) and Toneil Carter (Houston Langham Creek) are about to start spring football practices with the Longhorns while volleyball players Brionne Butler and Olivia Zelon joined the UT program during the spring semester.

Indiana player Emily Goodin throws between innings against Texas on Saturday, February 17, 2017. Goodin is one of a handful of softball players who left high school early to play at the University level. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Indiana player Emily Goodin throws between innings against Texas on Saturday, February 17, 2017. Goodin is one of a handful of softball players who left high school early to play at the University level. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Those four athletes, however, arrived at UT in time for spring practices. Their actual freshman seasons won’t start until the fall, and they’ll line up with and against their freshmen classmates from across the country. Ellsworth is making her college debut alongside freshmen who graduated from high school last summer.

There are 295 NCAA Division I softball teams in the country. And there are a little more than 1,700 players who are classified as true freshmen. Not many of them should still be in high school.

Besides Ellsworth, there are four pitchers — Indiana’s Emily Goodin, Delaware’s Kat Morris, North Carolina’s Hannah Nommensen and UNC-Wilmington’s Rylee Pate — who are starting their college careers ahead of schedule. Seton Hall’s Baylee Allender, who’s a Houston-area product, is redshirting this season, which should be her senior season at Manvel. And Georgia utility player Madison McPherson also is an early enrollee, though she had already exhausted her high school eligibility because softball is a fall sport in the state of Georgia.

Goodin, from Evansville, Ind., pitched in three of Indiana’s four games at the Texas Invitational this past weekend.

“There was obviously a lot of pros and cons to it because of the things I’d miss my senior year of high school,” Goodin said. “I decided that it would be an awesome experience to go in and get a head start. It was hard at first to make the decision, but I decided I was ready for it.”

Texas and Indiana played each other twice in the tournament, but Goodin and Ellsworth never faced each other.

Back in 2005, Aileen Morales should have been a high school senior in Columbus, Ga., when she arrived at Georgia Tech in the spring. She became a three-time all-conference player with the Yellow Jackets and stole a school-record 44 bases her freshman season, but recalls struggling with “getting teammates to believe in me.” She noted that because she was still in high school, she missed going through fall conditioning and practices with her future Georgia Tech teammates.

Morales, now the head softball coach at Radford University, a small public school in Virginia, envisions early enrollees becoming more commonplace in softball. Players thinking about making that decision, though, need to be realistic about the role they’re accepting, she said. And those early enrollee freshmen also must prepare for the academic aspect of college.

“You have to have someone who has good time-management skills,” Morales said. “The hardest part for any college athlete is that first semester.”

Longhorns catcher Taylor Ellsworth prevents Minnesota's Erika Rozell from scoring a run during their game at McCombs Field on Friday night, Feb. 10, 2017. (Tamir Kalifa/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Longhorns catcher Taylor Ellsworth prevents Minnesota’s Erika Rozell from scoring a run during their game at McCombs Field on Friday night, Feb. 10, 2017. (Tamir Kalifa/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Making adjustments

Ellsworth could still take part in some of the ballyhooed rites of high school. She could still go to Georgetown’s prom with her friends from high school since it’s scheduled on the same day that the Longhorns play Iowa State in an afternoon game at McCombs Field. She could still walk the stage with her classmates at Georgetown’s graduation ceremony, but that’s scheduled for the Friday of the NCAA super regionals. So Ellsworth said she wouldn’t mind missing the pomp and circumstance.

For Ellsworth, who turned 18 on Jan. 20, Georgetown High School is in the rearview mirror.

This semester, Ellsworth is juggling practices — Clark said she’s often the last player to leave the hitting cages — with an academic schedule that includes theater, math and religion courses. Ellsworth is getting used to having a roommate — she lives with Brooke Bolinger, a sophomore pitcher — and has traded in her mother’s home-made enchiladas for meals at UT’s athletic dining hall. She knows the day is coming when she won’t be able to do her laundry at home.

Ellsworth also is getting used to a new jersey number. She’d worn No. 10 for as long as she can remember, but that number already belongs to UT outfielder Taylor McAllister. McAllister’s a senior, which means Ellsworth could have likely had No. 10 had she followed a normal trajectory to college.

Instead, Ellsworth is early. She chose No. 17, the number that matches the year of her arrival at UT as well as her age when she got here.

“I definitely want to make this number mine now,” she said.

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