What It's Like To Take The JUCO Route
Softball America spoke with three former junior college softball student-athletes to get an inside look at their experiences on the JUCO route, how they transitioned from the JUCO level to the Division I level and how their time at the JUCO level shaped them into the softball players and people they are today.
See below for SA's conversation with Hannah Coulter (Gordon State College to the University of Georgia), Ally Clegg (Chipola College to Coastal Carolina University) and Candela Figueroa (Chipola College to Troy University).
Softball America: How did your recruiting process to your JUCO school go down?
Hannah Coulter (Gordon State to Georgia): My recruiting process in high school was somewhat simple. I knew the coach of Gordon State, and he always had an interest in my ability. I committed there during my junior year of high school. Gordon felt like a good fit for me from the moment I stepped on campus, and I knew I was not strong enough to go to a large school yet.
Ally Clegg (Chipola to Coastal Carolina): The way I got recruited in high school was through my travel ball coach, who took us to practice in front of the Chipola coaches and scheduled games in the area so that they could come watch us. Eventually the coaches offered me and four other players from my travel team.
Candela Figueroa (Chipola to Troy): I am an international student-athlete, so for me, the process was a little different. When I got recruited, I had already graduated from high school and was 19 years old. I am a member of the Argentinian National Team and because of that, we have the opportunity to travel the world. We went to participate in the Pre-Pan American Games in August 2017 and that was when Chipola saw me play and took a chance on me.
SA: How do you think the JUCO route helped prepare you for the Division I level?
HC: The JUCO route prepared me because I was able to compete with some high-level competition in actual college games, rather than just being thrown into my first SEC game with no college experience. I learned how to handle the infield, how to read a pitcher and so much more just by having a year and a half of college competition under my belt. When I played my first game at UGA, I looked back and was very thankful for having gone to JUCO.
AC: It helped prepare me for the next level because it taught me so much about the game of softball and about life itself. Being at a JUCO, I had to be a leader my sophomore year because it is a two-year school. My other sophomore teammates and I had to help the freshmen learn everything, so that shaped me into a leader.
CF: I believe that the JUCO route helped me prepare for the next level because when I played at Chipola they pushed me to be the best player I could be no matter how tired I was. We practiced really hard, conditioned, did CrossFit and a bunch of other activities that helped me get to where I am today.
SA: When it came time to transfer to the Division I level, how did that recruiting process go?
HC: This is my favorite story to tell. I was standing behind home plate before a game my freshman year, spring 2017, and (former Gordon State associate head coach) Deyton walked up to me and made a comment to me about how he was going to UGA to observe a softball practice. I jokingly told him to put in a good word for me. He looked me dead in the eyes and told me if I kept working the way I was working, he would get me there. I didn't think much more of that because it just seemed like a long shot.
Fast forward to the fall of my sophomore year in 2018, and I got a call from Coach Deyton and he told me that UGA was interested in a mid-year JUCO transfer and they wanted me. I talked to my parents and immediately told Coach Lu, UGA's head coach, that I would see her in January.
AC: To get recruited to go to the next level, I emailed a lot of coaches of schools I was interested in going to. I told them that I played for Chipola, what year I was, what position I played, and sent them the link to look at my stats for that year. I ended up getting a good amount of offers, but I narrowed them down to my three best choices and took visits to those schools: Eastern Kentucky, Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina.
CF: It was a long and stressful process because I am an international student-athlete and we need a lot of extra stuff when it comes to NCAA. However, I was very excited and happy to have the opportunity to choose where I wanted to go.
SA: What’s one thing you’d like for younger softball players to know about the JUCO route?
HC: Taking the JUCO route is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I understand that it is a dream to go D1 out of high school, but sometimes that is just not logical. Take time to think about all the experience you can gain from junior college.
AC: For all the younger softball players out there, I would like to tell them to not be embarrassed or ashamed of the JUCO route. When I was in high school, I was so ashamed to tell people what school I was going to because everyone always seems to look down upon junior colleges, but I can honestly say that taking the JUCO route was the best decision I ever made. It taught me to stay hungry and never get complacent.
CF: I would like them to know that JUCO isn’t for bad players. Sometimes going big isn’t the right thing for all of us and JUCO helps you get where you need to be before you transfer.