COVINGTON, Ga. - Signing scholarships to play in college is a big deal. Some student-athletes wait for all of the schools interested in them to offer before contemplating a decision.
Natalie Ray, however, jumped at the opportunity to play softball for the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss).
“Ole Miss was the first offer I got,” Ray said. “So, I took it. I loved the coaching staff. They’re the best and sweetest. And they really pour into the players and the campus.”
Be that as it may, Ray didn’t rush into this decision.
Ray's official signing was on Wednesday, Nov. 10 inside the Eastside High School auditorium, more than a year removed from her commitment on Oct. 23, 2020.
There were a lot of factors into her final decision.
First, the Ole Miss coaches would have weekly Zoom calls with Ray and her parents the month leading up to her final decision. Additionally, Ray took a few visits to the Ole Miss campus that convinced her even more to become a Lady Rebel.
The feeling she got when first stepping on the campus was indescribable. Ray felt welcomed on every visit.
“It was so much fun,” Ray said. “It was like being home away from home, really.”
Now, even after putting pen to paper, Ray said she has no doubts about her decision. She’s excited about what the next chapter holds.
But, Ray realizes she wouldn’t be where she is today without the support of her Eastside team.
From the coaches to her teammates, Ray remains appreciative of her time as a Lady Eagle.
“My coaches have always pushed me to be a player and a better person,” Ray said. “I love my teammates. No matter what grade everyone is in, we were always learning something from each other.”
During her Lady Eagles career, Ray racked up quite a few accolades. The top one came during her senior year when she claimed Eastside’s all-time stolen base record. Ray was also voted as Region 8-AAAAA’s Player of the Year this season where she recorded a .512 batting average, nine home runs and 23 RBIs along with 27 stolen bases.
Ray will graduate from Eastside in May 2022. A few months later, she’ll be moving to Oxford to begin her freshman year of college.
As that time quickly approaches, Ray has a lot of anticipation about playing in the Southeastern Conference. She labeled it as “the best conference you can play in.”
Even so, once Wednesday’s ceremony was complete, Ray highlighted how unreal everything was in that moment.
“It’s hard to believe,” Ray said. “It feels like yesterday that I decided to go to Ole Miss. And now it’s actually happening.”