The Evolution of Recruiting: Chelsea Thomas

The evolution of recruiting chronicles the recruiting journeys of USSSA Pride players. Each player narrates their own story and how they ultimately made the decision on where to play college softball. Watch how recruiting has changed through the years from the stories of each player. The evolution of recruiting begins in the 1990s and ends with the recent processes of our Pride rookies.

The next recruiting story is from Chelsea Thomas whose story is not your conventional recruiting story! Though Thomas is one of the best college pitchers of all-time and remains Missouri’s all times wins, strikeouts, and no-hitters leader, she wasn’t heavily recruited. Unlike most Division I softball players, Thomas barely played travel ball and was recruited by Missouri because of a recruiting video her dad, who doubled as her high school coach, sent out. She eventually became Mizzou’s first 3-time All American and helped the Tigers reach the Women’s College World Series for the first time in 15 years.

“I think my story is unique in the fact that I was only recruited by two Division 1 schools (Missouri and Iowa State).  Coaches didn’t come after me and beg me to be a part of their program.  I had to work really hard to be seen and I didn’t get the exposure that most athletes do that play on their travel ball teams in the summer during their high school years. “ Chelsea Thomas

One last thing that’s pretty funny and I remember it vividly. As Coach [Earleywine] was driving back from Pleasantville, he called me and I was sitting in the Hardee’s drive through in Columbia. All he said was “our lives are about to change.” Was he ever right.” Pete Damour, Missouri Asst. CoachCT mizzou interview

Athlete: Chelsea Thomas
Alma Mater: Missouri, 2013

Year you committed:  2007

How old were you when you committed: 17

How many official visits did you take? 1

How many unofficial visits did you take? 1

Did you make a recruiting video? Yes

How old were you when you first learned/thought about playing getting a scholarship to play in college?

CT: I wanted to play in college from the first time I ever picked up a softball.  I fell in love with the sport itself in t-ball and fell in love with pitching when I was in 4th grade.  When I really started to get serious about pitching a few years after I started attempting to pitch, that’s when I decided a college softball scholarship as a pitcher was my top goal.

When did you first start getting serious about the recruiting process? Explain the steps you took (videos/emailing coaches/camps/tournaments/showcases/visits) and how you committed to your school.

CT: I played on a summer ball team in 6th and 7th grade.  We played mostly weekends, and I went to two Nationals.  In Iowa, where I am from, we play our high school season in the summer.  I wanted to play for my high school team, so I gave up my travel team to compete for my high school.  Because of this, I was not heavily recruited at all.  I had a family friend who knew how to edit videos and we put a little recruiting tape together. My dad coached my high school softball team, so he got to contact coaches for me and send my videos out to colleges I was interested in.  I did not want to go too far from home, so my list wasn’t very long.  We ended up getting a response back from Coach Earleywine at Mizzou, and he actually drove down to my little hometown of Pleasantville, IA and watched me throw a bullpen at practice.

From Head Coach Ehren Earleywine:

“I drove 4 hours into the middle of a cornfield in Iowa expecting to be disappointed with this “prospect”, but after the first pitch registered at 70mph I knew I had a chance to be a pretty good coach.  I thought the gun was off/broke quite honestly, so I recalibrated it while she continued to throw in the bullpen behind me.  It sounded like a shotgun going off each time it hit the mitt.  My heart was racing to say the least.  I put the gun back up and the next pitch said 71.  She continued to throw for about 15-20 minutes and the gun ranged from 67-72mph the entire time.  That was the beginning of a new era in Missouri Softball and I’d do anything to go through it again.”

I went on a visit to Mizzou where Coach E talked about the direction of his new program and where I fit into that equation and everything just felt right.  I knew that was where I wanted to go, and I called to commit my junior year!

Why did you commit to this school and why at that time?

CT: I loved that Mizzou was close to home.  I liked the idea of the challenge of helping to build the program throughout my career.  The city of Columbia and everyone I met on my visit just made the entire process feel as if I was already part of the Tiger Family. You just feel it within yourself and you just know it when you find the right place for you!

What happened from the time you committed to the time you stepped on campus?

CT: I started seeing a new pitching instructor for lessons and really started working hard on mechanics and learning a new pitch.  After I got my scholarship offer and I committed, I wanted to do whatever it took to be ready to go my freshman season.  I actually feel like I amped it up a little bit more once I committed because I wanted to do so well for my new team and the program I was getting ready to become a part of.

Looking back on your recruiting story, what stands out the most?

CT: I think my story is unique in the fact that I was only recruited by two Division 1 schools (Missouri and Iowa State).  Coaches didn’t come after me and beg me to be a part of their program.  I had to work really hard to be seen and I didn’t get the exposure that most athletes do that play on their travel ball teams in the summer during their high school years.  I was very lucky to get the chance that I did, and I am very grateful for my dad’s (as my high school coach) hard work in helping me get looked at.  When I made my decision, I didn’t have looks from big name programs in the game at the time.  I take a lot of pride getting to be a part of the building blocks that make up the Mizzou Softball program that is now well known in the softball community.

Chelsea is a special player and an even better person.   She is the reason we’re where we are today.” Coach Earleywine

What’s your advice to athletes now on the recruiting process?

CT: Do your research. Understand what the coaches are about with their style, their way of teaching, etc and make sure you are a good fit for the program.  Don’t get too focused on the level that is recruiting you.  I know every softball player’s dream is to play at a big Division 1 program.  That is a great goal, but for most it is very unrealistic.  You have to be realistic with yourself as to where you are at athletically, and that is not a very easy thing to do. To be successful in college softball, you have to find the right fit with your coaches, academically, financially, and athletically.  Be open to anything and make your decision based on these important factors.  You will feel it when you have found the school for you!

When we were recruiting Chelsea, I was actually still a student manager so I didn’t recruit her specifically. I do remember, prior to Coach E’s trip to Pleasantville, Chelsea came to an antiquated concept that use to be huge…junior day. We’d bring in all of the recruits on our list who were juniors on visits. Obviously, there aren’t any more junior days in today’s recruiting environment!” Coach Darmour