Monday, December 11, 2017
Sports

State softball: Distance no deterrent for Canterbury pitchers

ST. PETERSBURG — Kama Woodall and Hailey Hopkins are opposites as pitchers. Woodall, a freshman, is a flame thrower. Hopkins, a junior, relies on finesse.

But each, thanks in part to the other, is having her best season. Together, the right-handed aces have helped put Canterbury in position to win its second straight Class 2A state title and third in the past four seasons.

Both arrived at this point with a drive that borders on the extreme.

Woodall, who started attending Canterbury last year as an eighth-grader, travels from Spring Hill, roughly a 150-mile roundtrip commute. She is up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for school.

"It's early at times and can make for a long day," Woodall said. "But I don't mind. It's something I've gotten used to."

Hopkins, who transferred from Bradenton Manatee, travels about 60 miles each day.

"I lived about five minutes from the high school I came from and could wake up about a half-hour before school," Hopkins said. "Now, I'm getting up about two earlier. But this was something I definitely wanted to do."

Both said their reason for attending Canterbury had to do more with the school's penchant for churning out college-ready students than the softball program's reputation as a consistent state title contender.

Canterbury, located in northeast St. Petersburg, is a college preparatory school. Last year, 72 students took 134 advanced placement exams and 10 were named AP scholars. Those were the statistics Woodall said opened her eyes when she glanced at a web site about the school.

"I'm thinking about going to an Ivy League school, and this was probably the best fit to make that happen," said Woodall, who has a 4.0 weighted GPA. "The education at Canterbury is amazing. It's something I wanted to do, even if it meant traveling as much I did.

"But that was okay. The place I live is kind of desolate, so I'm used to long drives. I was already driving to Clearwater for pitching lessons when I was younger. My dad (Rick) works in Tampa, so it wasn't as much of an inconvenience for him either."

Woodall pitched in all but one game and led the Crusaders to the state title last season.

"I honestly didn't know anything about the softball program before I got here," Woodall said. "I barely knew they existed. Then I started hearing about how good they were. It wasn't until I came out for the team and saw how intense they were with their workouts that I knew they were serious about softball here."

Hopkins made the move because she wanted to play softball in college and attending Canterbury would boost her GPA and test scores enough to make that happen.

Hopkins, who committed to Kent State in the fall, has a 3.2 GPA, which she says is low in part because she struggled academically as a freshman. She has yet to take any of the standardized tests.

"I goofed off a little bit as a freshman," Hopkins said. "I wanted to get serious about academics, and this seemed like the best place to do it. I found out about Canterbury (21-6) through some players here who were already on my travel team."

As for the commute, Hopkins said it's nothing compared to the frequent-flier miles she logs with her travel team, which is based in New Jersey. She often goes to out-of-state tournaments, even during the school year.

"I'll leave on Thursday, catch a red-eye on Sunday and get back just in time for school on Monday," Hopkins said. "That can be rough, but it's something I'll have to get used to in college."

Hopkins' arrival meant Woodall had to share some of the pitching load. That new role could have caused friction, but the two have worked together to make each other better.

"We complement each other very well," Woodall said. "We talk different pitches, game plans and how to keep our heads straight in games."

They have become a consistently capable tandem that can overwhelm opponents, particularly in their classification. Since the district tournament began three weeks ago, the Crusaders have recorded shutouts in four of their past five games.

But the wins — and shutouts — have piled up, as has suspicion from opposing teams on how a program can land two top-level players at the game's most important position in consecutive seasons.

Canterbury coach Jody Moore said she started hearing some of those rumblings from opposing parents in the stands. Moore does not coach travel ball and does not work her players until conditioning starts in January.

"I'm not involved in their personal lives, and only have them from January to May during the high school season," she said. "People think we're good just because we have some talent here. It's not that easy. These girls work hard every day in practice. That's why they keep getting better and better."

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