Despite graduating with honors from Eastside High School as a standout softball player one year ago, Catherine Lee is continuing to make her presence felt in Newton County, this time at Georgia State University.
On Monday, Lee was named the Georgia State Female Newcomer of the Year at the school awards banquet.
Lee, a freshman, is setting Georgia State records left and right, and ranks among the Top 50 in the NCAA national stats in six categories. She has helped the Lady Panthers to an overall 34-16 record. As a result, they will be one of four Colonial Athletic Association teams in the league tournament next weekend at Hofstra on Long Island, N.Y.
"We have very high expectations," Lee said. "We've worked hard to get here, (and) we're not going to take anybody lightly. We have the offense, we have the defense, we have all the tools - we just have to bring it together, bear down and get the job done."
Lee edged out a strong Georgia State Newcomer field of nominees that included several notable standouts.
Such athletes include the CAA Golfer of the Year (ranked No. 39 in the NCAA), the CAA Cross Country Runner of the Year, who earned a spot in the NCAA National Championships and finished 95th in the nation, a basketball player who was in the top 50 in the country in three categories and a soccer player who was All-CAA for the third straight year and winner of an NCAA Sportsmanship Award.
"I'm so proud of Cat and I always knew that she would do well in college," said Eastside softball coach Heather Wood. "She's always had that drive to succeed to be an excellent college player. Honestly, it really doesn't surprise me - I always knew she'd do well."
For Lee, who was the 2006 All-County Softball Player of the Year, she had no idea what to expect after making the leap from high school to college. Nevertheless, the fear of the unknown has reaped benefits for her at the next level.
"In my senior year at Eastside we did well and worked hard," Lee noted, "but (here) you condition a lot, especially in the fall. We worked so hard getting in tip-top shape. At first it's a lot to handle, but the coaches hang in there with you, pushing you to get better, and then you start to realize that the reason why all the freshmen came out so strong is (because) we were in such great shape.
"We hit so much," she added. "I think the difference in last year and this year is that they focus on a lot more of our offense than our defense."
This season Lee, who has started all 50 games this season, leads the Lady Panthers with a .411 batting average. She already has a school-record 15 home runs and 59 RBIs to lead the CAA this year. Her slugging percentage is a whopping .791, on pace for yet another school record.
"As a freshman it's pretty intimidating," Lee said, "so coming in you don't really know what to expect, but you hope for the best."
It's hard to imagine how much better it could get for No. 23. Lee also leads the team and league with 48 runs scored and 65 hits, including 15 doubles.
"I'm so impressed with her," Wood said, who along with Eastside assistant coach Michael Poor helped develop Lee as a hitter. "She's doing a great job for (Georgia State) just like she did for Eastside, and I knew as a high school player that any college that picked her up would be lucky. Georgia State was so fortunate to get her to sign there, and I'm so proud of what she's accomplished there so far."
During her final year at Eastside, Lee batted .353 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs in 41 games to help the Lady Eagles to an overall 33-7 record.
And despite her seemingly effortless transition from high school to college, it was no easy task.
"In the beginning it was a matter of keeping yourself in shape and eating right," Lee said. "It's tough, and my mom will be the first to tell you that (because) I called her a few times and said I don't think I can do it. But now (after) going through a season and seeing what it takes to finish out strong, because you play so many games, it's important that you just stay in there.
"Staying physically fit is more of a goal and I'm excited to do that," she added. "At first it was something I dreaded, but now the better I get the better I'll do for my team."
While continuing to progress, Lee has also become more of a vocal leader on and off the field based on her rising confidence.
"Being a catcher you've got to step up for your team," she said, "but it's hard at first because you don't know where your place is. As freshmen we all have a job to do, and I think the whole class has stepped up and gotten it done."
According to Lee, it almost scares her to sit back and think about what she has accomplished thus far. For now she's just enjoying the time of her life.
"I'm really lucky and very fortunate to have a year like I've had and have a team like we've had," Lee said. "We have amazing players; it's awesome. Our confidence is obviously through the roof, and our program is on the rise. We have a good ball club and hopefully we can bring the same intensity next year."