Heather Brown is ready to make a move she couldn't have imagined two years ago.
The quick-footed Pasco-Hernando Community College right fielder was pursued coming out of Hudson High by West Virginia's Salem University, but she just wasn't ready to be that far from home. She opted to stay near her family and friends - and was glad she did during a tough freshman year at PHCC that included a torn left hamstring and ruptured bursa sac in her right knee.
"I didn't get to play at all during my freshman year, so I focused academically and was able to be an Academic All-American," Brown said. "In two years here, I've really grown as a ball player. This year was great because I was able to come back and play almost every game, and it's helped me continuously get better."
Brown, 20, returned from her injury this season to impress her coach, Tom Ryan, with an ability to get on base using her speed and a solid throwing arm from the outfield.
Now she's ready to make that move to Salem University.
Ryan is confident that Brown will continue to grow as a player and person now that she is taking the next step in her education.
"Her work ethic is impeccable," Ryan said. "Whether she is on the field or not, she works hard. I think she'll do well at the next level because she adds a lot of speed to whatever lineup she is a part of. I think she'll have a bit of an adjustment period up there while she gets used to the weather and settles in, but once she does, I know she's going to do great there."
After starting to play baseball at age 10, Brown made the switch to softball a few years later. She was the team captain at Hudson High School and helped shape a program that is still developing. She said her time at PHCC has been beneficial for her to learn "how to just be a player again."
Brown's best friend and fellow sophomore, Ashley Gornto, was PHCC's catcher for the last two seasons and a leader in the clubhouse. As she looks to create a path for herself to continue playing college softball, she is coming to grips with her best friend leaving for the next few years.
"The way she sees it is she'll be gone a few months, back for break then gone a few more months before another break, so hopefully it isn't too bad," Gornto said. "I'm definitely going to miss playing with her, though. She's a good outfielder and a vocal teammate, definitely someone this team will have to replace."
While Brown was happy to play at PHCC for a few years and stay close to home, she says she is excited about moving to the Salem University campus, where she has signed up for a full scholarship.
"I'm just ready to try something new and get away from here," Brown said. "It'll be nice to mature on my own while getting the chance to keep playing. Salem is where I want to be because the coach there wanted to give me a chance in my senior year of high school and is willing to give me that chance again. To me, that says he believed in me from the start and still does."