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Recruiting Diary: Tennessee's Amanda Ayala

(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

Softball America is launching a series of Recruiting Diaries, which will chronicle the recruiting journeys of current college softball players around the country. In this series, we take a look at the unique recruiting experiences of talented softball student-athletes from various teams and conferences within the NCAA.

We start with junior outfielder Amanda Ayala's story. Ayala, who hails from New Jersey, found her way to the SEC and the University of Tennessee through some recruiting serendipity.

Learn her story below.

Travel Team: New Jersey Intensity

Final College Choices: Tennessee, South Alabama, Georgia

Her Story: It was the summer after eighth grade when schools started to look at me. I remember I was playing in Colorado and Coach Ralph Weekly was there, but he wasn’t recruiting. He wasn’t even wearing any orange. He was actually just being a supportive grandfather and watching his granddaughter, who I was playing against. I just kind of happened to be in the right place at the right time. I happened to have one of my better games then. I remember I was catching, which is interesting because I pretty much haven’t caught since then. Afterward, he went up to our coach and asked for our roster and said that he was interested in me and to give him a call when I had a chance.

A couple weeks later, I was playing in Florida and playing outfield. Coach Karen (Weekly) happened to see me playing then. She expressed an interest in me there. They both kind of came back together and talked about a player they saw, and realized they were both talking about me.

So, when I heard that they were interested (in me), I kept in contact with them. At the time, the rules were different and you were able to talk more and visit.

Later on, I went to Tennessee for camps and they came to watch me play. It was during my sophomore year of high school when I decided that I was going to stop looking elsewhere because Tennessee felt like the right place for me.

Why Tennessee?: Once I came for one of my very first unofficial visits and was on campus, I liked everything about it. I loved the people who were talking to me, the football games, the energy. It was something I had never experienced before in my entire life.

I knew that I wanted to leave New Jersey, as much as I love home. I knew that I wanted to go south and wanted to try to play in a challenging conference, and it doesn’t get more challenging than the SEC.

People talk about when you’re in the recruiting process, you just know and have a feeling. No one can really describe the feeling, but you just know when you get it. It wasn’t until I left (Tennessee) that I got that feeling that everybody talks about. That’s what separated Tennessee from any other school that I visited.

Thoughts On The Recruiting Process: Every person has their own journey when it comes to the recruiting process. I have friends who didn’t have it happen for them until later on in high school. I was fortunate enough that I was able to figure out where I felt happiest and most at home early on.

I think players just have to continue to work very hard and trust that with the time they're given, they're going to find the place where they want to be and where they belong. I don’t think talent is based on where you’re from. I know that a lot of the time there is a misconception with a lot of college teams that everyone should be recruited from the West Coast because they have the advantage of great weather that allows them to play all year round. Just because you’re from the West Coast where it is warmer doesn’t mean that there’s a difference in talent level. I think that if you love softball and you want to play somewhere and you have that dream, then just fight and do whatever you can to work hard and don’t give up until you get to where you want to be.

Best Recruiting Advice: I definitely think playing for the travel team I played for gave me an advantage (in the recruiting process) because I was able to be in front of a lot of college coaches when I played. Camps are also a huge part of it because when you’re playing, you don’t get that one-on-one interaction with the coaches that you get when you’re at camps. In games, you might get three at-bats and then they might have to leave to go to another field, or maybe that weekend, with the way their list of recruits is, you’re not playing in an area where they’re able to actually see you play. I found a lot of joy in going to camps just because there is that one-on-one interaction and you can build relationships with the coaches legally and they can see you performing in other areas outside of what they see in a game. I know it’s not always easy to get on certain teams because some of them are expensive and some of them aren’t in the best locations for people to travel to, so I think camps are definitely very important.

mckenna gibson tennessee softball Photo by Eakin Howard_Getty Images.jpg

2023 NCAA Most Improved Player: Tennessee's McKenna Gibson

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