Ciara Knowles could have played infield or outfield for South Effingham softball coach Donnie Ussery.
The senior wound up playing right field and will wind up playing for the Armstrong Atlantic State University Lady Pirates softball team.
Knowles signed a letter of intent with the Savannah school and a program that has been in six NCAA regionals in the last eight years.
“On top of being a good athlete, she’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had,” Ussery said. “She would hit a bucket of balls before practice and another bucket of balls after practice. Her hard work has paid off for her, and I’m extremely proud of her. Not a lot of kids get that opportunity.”
Knowles’ dedication also served as a mark for the other Lady Mustangs to emulate.
“She leads by example,” Ussery said. “She’s going to show everyone how things should be done.”
Knowles was one of a handful of seniors who went to the state Class AAA Elite Eight for the fourth consecutive year, the fifth straight year for the Lady Mustangs program. The Lady Mustangs, who finished 26-13-1 after starting the season 1-5, were fifth in the state.
Knowles went 2-for-3 in South Effingham’s season-ending 4-3 loss to Apalachee in Columbus.
A stellar right fielder who often made opposing base runners pay for trying to take an extra base, Knowles could have played shortstop, Ussery said, and he also depended on her in the middle of the Lady Mustangs’ lineup.
“She’s a very versatile player,” he said. “We’re going to have to find someone to step up and fill those big shoes.”
Yet her versatility isn’t limited to the softball diamond — she’s a starter on the Lady Mustangs basketball team and is also on the tennis squad.
Ussery said Knowles reminds him of Paige Mincey, now playing basketball at Wingate University.
“Her softball season is over and she picks up a basketball. Once is basketball season is over, she picks up a tennis racket,” he said. “You don’t find them like that walking the halls very often.”
The Lady Pirates are coming off a 31-18 record and finished ranked No. 15 in the nation among Division II teams.
Knowles was an all-state outfielder as a sophomore but a high ankle sprain sidelined her for much of the 2006 season.
“This is something she really wanted bad,” Ussery said. “All she talked about was wanting to play college softball. She has worked so hard to get back to being the player we knew she could be.”