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Eastside grad moves on to big program
Softball star Lee hopes to make new mark with Missouri

COVINGTON - Bigger and better things are on the horizon for former Eastside softball standout Catherine Lee.

Leaving her legacy at Georgia State after only two years, Lee is moving on to play for the Missouri Tigers, ranked No. 8 in 2008.

"It's been a goal to play somewhere big. Out of high school I never thought I could've played at a big ACC, SEC school or any place like that," Lee said. "After my freshman year, I wanted to transfer but I didn't get released."

After getting released by Georgia State, Missouri was not even in the picture. However, other big name schools were.

She sent out packages to schools such as South Carolina, Auburn, LSU, Texas and Alabama.

At first, Lee wasn't going to send anything to Missouri. But her assistant coach, Christine Sheridan, played for Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine when he was the skipper at Georgia Tech a few years earlier, and she encouraged her.

"(Sheridan) said, 'Why don't you send something to Mizzou? Coach Earleywine would really like that.' It was a longshot, but I sent something to them," Lee said. "They were doing so well and I was sure they wouldn't need another player. He called and said that they were very interested in me coming out there to visit.

"It was in the middle of nowhere. We arrived in St. Louis and started driving. It's like taking the drive down to south Georgia. There was nothing on the way down to Columbia. I got to the town and ended up really liking it."

After the long drive to Columbia, Lee liked the campus as well as Earleywine. She felt comfortable with the way her personality meshed with his.

Missouri was not her only choice. Lee was also impressed with the program at South Carolina, despite the fact that the Lady Gamecocks have struggled for the past few years.

What made the Gamecocks unappealing was a rumor she heard - that Joyce Compton, who has been the head coach for 23 years, was thinking about retiring soon.

"There was no way I was going somewhere where the coach may retire in a year. It was hard having two coaches leave (at Georgia State) and dealing with the transition. It was terrible," she said. "I would not want to go through that again.

"I decided to sit down, take it easy and weigh the pros and cons. It took about a week and a half before I became settled with going to Missouri."

Some of the issues Lee considered were the experience of being somewhere different, the fact that they made it to the Women's College World Series and they have a terrific program.

"You never know unless you try. To be able to play for somebody with those credentials and to have a chance to go in there and do what I do is exciting," Lee said.

In her two years at GSU, Lee did some incredible things.

As a freshman, she became the first player in Colonial Athletic Association history to win the player of the year and rookie of the year honors in the same season and was the first GSU player to be named player of the year.

She led the conference in hits (69), runs (51), RBIs (63), doubles (16), home runs (17) and slugging percentage (.810). She was second in the conference in batting average (.411).

Lee also set new single-season school records for hits, runs, home runs and batting average.

Her freshman accomplishments also earned national attention as she was ranked No. 4 in RBIs, No. 10 in homers and No. 13 in runs.

Last season, she led the CAA in on-base percentage (.463) and walks (33) and tied for the team lead in home runs (5) and doubles (11).

She also finished second in the conference in throwing out runners, catching 12 of them stealing.

Because Lee got released and she is playing outside the state and conference, she will not have to sit out for a season.

"I'll be able to play right away. As part of my release I wasn't able to go anywhere in state. If I had wanted to go anywhere in state or play for a team in the conference I would've have to sit out," she said. "But since I got it I don't have to."

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@newtoncitizen.com.