LAND O'LAKES — Lauren Evans is entering a special stage of her softball career. And not just because she'll start seeing pitches to hit.
At long last, the Academy at the Lakes star will be able to officially work out with USF. Evans orally committed to the Bulls as a sophomore and never wavered, signing in November.
In a couple of months, Evans will return as a member of the Great Britain under-19 national team, meaning a trip to Holland for the European championships. Evans' mother, Vicky, is from Essex, England, and Evans' talent scored her a tryout and subsequent easy selection to the British side.
That talent also made for an interesting senior season at Academy at the Lakes. Evans' reputation preceded her, and she saw very few fastballs right down the middle. In fact, she was intentionally walked twice — with the bases loaded. Vicky Evans called it a downright "annoying" dynamic.
"In one way, it's a sign of respect," said Lauren Evans, who recorded just 48 actual at-bats due to all the walks. "But it's hard because I want to help my team by swinging the bat. If it's close, I'm gonna swing at it. I want to swing at everything."
She rarely swung and missed. Evans did not strike out in her junior or senior seasons, quite a feat. As a senior, she hit .708 while striking an impressive figure as a 6-foot shortstop. The Wildcats ended up running into eventual Class 2A state champion Canterbury, losing in the regional semifinals a year after being felled by Canterbury in the state semis.
At USF, Evans will almost certainly play first base, her main position for Ocala's Team North Florida in travel ball and with the British national team. USF coach Ken Eriksen has been eager for her to graduate.
"My daughter (Tatiana) was playing as a 10-year-old, against a team from Land O'Lakes. And I see this kid who's 2 to 3 inches taller than anybody else. And she played like she was 14. I said, 'I gotta keep an eye on this young lady,' " Eriksen said.
As Evans kept growing in stature and ability, there was little doubt she'd get an offer from Eriksen. Because she wanted to stay close to home, the interest was mutual.
"It was such a relief for us because she didn't have to go through the recruiting nightmares that others do," said her father, Earl Evans.
Evans has circled May 31, the date she can start working out with the Bulls. Another anticipated time is July 21-26, the European tournament for Great Britain.
The only "depressing" thing about being on a national team is that there will be no softball in the 2020 Olympics. She's hoping it gets added to the schedule, still a possibility.
Evans keeps up with her British teammates via social media, but has performed only in one event for the national team, a tournament in Canada last summer.
But she has visited her mother's homeland many times.
Vicky and Earl met while he was stationed in Essex for the Air Force. They married not long after, lived there a few years and moved to Florida in 1992. Evans was born and raised in Land O'Lakes, but can still bust out the British accent.
"It's actually very good," her mother said.
It seems like Evans is good at everything. Academy at the Lakes athletic director Tom Haslam called her the "best athlete, overall, that I've ever seen," taking into account not just her playing ability, but also her academics and character.
On a recent afternoon, Evans was heading from school to mentor younger kids. She has been a regular participant in a sports panel that Haslam puts together, where model students pass on what they can to the younger Wildcats.
"I was talking to them about making mistakes, and saying how theoretically you have to sometimes just flush them down the toilet," Evans said. "And so now when kids see me in the hall they'll say, 'Flush it.' It's funny, but cool to know that maybe someone will actually take something I say and use it."