New York Native Atalyia Rijo Finds A Home At Arkansas
Courtney Deifel’s Arkansas squad has an impact freshman from a location uncommon for stars in the SEC. Hailing from Horseheads, N.Y., freshman shortstop Atalyia Rijo is just the second New York native to play for the Razorbacks.
“I do take a lot of pride in (coming from the Northeast),” Rijo said. “It's pretty cool to be able to say I'm from up north and everybody gets so interested.”
Now at home in Fayetteville, Ark., Rijo has noticed some differences between her upbringing and that of her teammates. It was most clear to her when it first snowed on campus.
“Since we're located in the south, when it snowed, I got to see everybody's reaction,” Rijo said. “(Some of) the freshmen have not seen snow before, so it was really fun.”
Despite their differences, Rijo is impressed by how easily the team connects with each other.
“It's just crazy to see how we're on different sides of the U.S. and we still connect really well,” the Corning-Painted Post High School alumna said. “Just thinking about how everybody comes from different places and we're all here with the same goal, and we just compete.”
The closeness of the team has made Rijo feel at home in the south.
“I'd say that (all my teammates have) pitched in in helping me,” said Rijo, who was named the SEC Freshman of the Week on Feb. 13. “(They help with) making friends, (learning) directions around campus, (knowing) where to eat, all that good stuff.”
For Rijo, she knew the program would be the right fit for her after her first visit to the Razorbacks' campus.
“I came down to my visit and I just fell in love with it,” Rijo said. “I knew it was the place that I wanted to be. So when I went home, I called (Coach Deifel) up.”
As a freshman on Arkansas' roster, Rijo's early success with the Razorbacks comes as no surprise. After all, she has been excelling among players older than her for over a decade. Rijo started playing at the 10U level as an eight-year-old, and she began her high school softball career as an eighth grader.
Rijo's experience playing against older competition has proven to be helpful in her young collegiate career. After going 7-for-11 and hitting a home run in the opening weekend of the season, Rijo has been a mainstay in the Razorbacks' lineup.
She credits her training as helping her easily transition to the Division I level of college softball.
“I'd say that I was trained well growing up,” said Rijo, who played travel ball for Team NC in 2021. “I was trained for this.”
Rijo’s family history has also played a role in her ascension into an elite softball player. Both her parents excelled on the diamond, as her mother, Audrey, played at the Division I level at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and her father, Fernando, played minor league baseball in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. To boot, her cousin, Jose, won the 1990 World Series with the Cincinnati Reds and was the World Series MVP that year.
The New York state champion says her parents served as role models for how to play the game the right way.
Now, as she prepares for the first SEC series of her career, Rijo is excited to see what conference play will bring.
“I'm excited to play everybody (in the SEC),” she said. “(It will help us) see where we are, see the competition and compete.”