HURRICANE — Hurricane’s Harlie Vannatter and Lindsey Phares each signed letters of intent to play softball at Bowling Green and Wisconsin-Green Bay, respectively, on Wednesday afternoon, fully cementing the collegiate journeys of one of the best teams in the history of West Virginia prep athletics.
Two seasons ago, the Redskins trotted a softball lineup of nine players onto the field with each of them ultimately receiving Division I offers. With Vannatter and Phares signing on the dotted line Wednesday, eight of them have either begun or committed to begin Division I careers. The ninth, recently graduated senior Taylor McCray, is about to begin as a freshman at Division II St. Leo University in Florida.
So on a day when Vannatter and Phares followed in the footsteps of their teammates before them — McCray, Caiti Mathes (Marshall), Katie Adams (Marshall), Jayme Bailey (Virginia Tech), Kiersten Landers (Florida State), Zoey Dunlap (Youngstown State) and Paige Scruggs (Morehead State, West Virginia State) — it offered a time for reflection for what the program has produced during an unprecedented run of five straight Class AAA state championships.
“If that was any other program in another sport, I feel like that would have been a lot splashier,” coach Meghan Stevens said. “I can’t think of any other team in the state that has produced as many DI athletes as Hurricane softball has, especially in the past decade. It’s a strong legacy.”
Both Vannatter and Phares have been integral parts in that legacy.
In taking over pitching duties as a freshman, Vannatter has earned Class AAA All-State first-team accolades in each of her first three seasons and is the school’s career record holder in most pitching statistics. She will enter her final season with a mark of 75-10 with 696 strikeouts and 84 walks in 4732/3 innings pitched. Along the way, she has compiled an ERA of 1.73.
Vannatter committed to Bowling Green as a freshman.
“It’s very exciting,” Vannatter said. “It feels good to have it done and it’s actually official now.
“Whenever I went down there everybody was so loving — they liked me before they knew me. The campus is not small but at the same time it’s not huge.”
Phares has become a staple in the middle infield at second base and has been an outspoken leader since her arrival. She has a career batting average of .399 but posted her best numbers last season as a junior, hitting .473 with 15 doubles and 58 runs scored while batting second in the Hurricane lineup.
She gave her verbal commitment to Wisconsin-Green Bay as a sophomore and echoed Vannatter’s sentiments.
“It feels great,” Phares said. “It was one of the only places I went that it felt like Hurricane — it felt like home.”
One of the things that has made the program special is the chemistry between its parts. On Wednesday, Mathes attended the signing as did parents of Katie Adams and Zoey Dunlap, among others. Bursting into a stacked starting lineup as freshmen, Vannatter and Phares have been through it all side-by-side over the past three years and the two agreed their joint signing ceremony was even more special.
“She’s a great teammate,” Phares said. “She’s one of my favorite people to play beside.”
“I think we both have the same goals in life and we show that,” Vannatter added.
Yet before the two go their separate ways, there’s one more season of business to attend to at Hurricane. The Redskins will rely heavily on the two after losing McCray, Mathes and Dunlap from last year’s squad. Those three combined to hit 36 home runs, drive in 169 runs and score 145 runs.
But aside from Vannatter’s arm and both players’ bats, the team will likely lean more heavily on the two for leadership than anything else, something Vannatter said she’s looking forward to.
“I’m excited,” Vannatter said. “Since we are seniors, I think it’s a big step. We’ve always been leaders per se, but this year we’re going to have to take ownership to it and have to put our foot down when we need to.”
NESTER SIGNS WITH WVU WOMEN’S SOCCER
Charleston Catholic goalkeeper Katie Nester signed Wednesday to play for the West Virginia University women’s soccer team. WVU announced her signing among the six others to pledge to the Mountaineers.
Nester finished her Irish career with a Class AA-A state soccer championship as Catholic defeated Oak Glen 5-1 last Saturday in Beckley. The Irish had been state runners-up the three previous seasons.
Nester earned 17 clean sheets in 21 games and led the state with a .35 goals against average as a senior, making the 2019 All-Kanawha Valley team.
DUNBAR SIGNS WITH CONCORD WOMEN’S HOOPS
Herbert Hoover’s Allison Dunbar signed Wednesday to play for the Concord women’s basketball team. Dunbar was named to the Class AA All-State third team last season. The 5-foot-8 guard also was named to the All-Kanawha Valley second team after averaging 21.3 points as a junior.