- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lauren Gibson has been surrounded by softball her entire life.

The Pasadena, Md., native was just 4 years old, serving as a batgirl for her older sister’s team, when she fell in love with the game and asked her mother to sign her up for a tee-ball team coached by her father.

At the age of 7, she was playing travel-league ball, chasing her dream of one day representing her country in the sport she loves. This summer, that dream became reality when Gibson was selected to the USA Softball women’s national team.

Gibson and her teammates will play an exhibition doubleheader against the U.S. junior national team Friday at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, starting at 6:35 p.m. The team will then head to Oklahoma City to continue preparing for the World Cup of Softball, which will be held there July 21-25.

The opportunity has been overwhelming for Gibson.

“I can’t believe that I am even here right now,” she said. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, and I can’t even explain how happy I am.”

Gibson is believed to be the only player from Maryland to ever be selected to the U.S. national team, but with a long list of accolades, she couldn’t be overlooked.

Having thrown no-hitters in back-to-back Maryland 4A state title games for Chesapeake High School, Gibson was recruited to the University of Tennessee, where she has collected first-team All-SEC and NFCA first-team All-America honors in just two seasons.

However, the transition from high school to a Division I college wasn’t easy. After having pitched throughout her high school career, Tennessee moved her from the mound to the infield.

“What she’s been able to do in her first two years at Tennessee is mind-boggling,” said Don Ellenberger , who coached Gibson at Chesapeake. “We don’t have that many girls that come out of Maryland that get the opportunity to play what everyone would consider to be in the elite of softball programs.”

While Maryland may be known as a breeding ground for lacrosse and football, softball has yet to find its spot on the grid, something Gibson says is a goal of hers to reshape.

“When I decided to go to a big school, I could’ve just stayed home and gone to a smaller school,” she said. “But I really just wanted to put Maryland out there on the map because we’re not really known that much for softball, and I feel like we have so many talented athletes for our sport and we should be put out there.”

Gibson’s physical skill level is not solely responsible for what makes her special. Her former coach said Gibson’s all-around character is the prime asset she brings to a team.

Lauren is one of those players that, as a coach, it’s once in a coach’s lifetime that you get that kind of player and also that type of person that you just want to root for,” said Ellenberger, “because she knows she’s done everything possible to get herself ready academically and athletically to be able to be one of the best.”

It always has been a dream of Gibson’s to play Division I softball, but performing for her country presents a new level of satisfaction.

“College is awesome, I’ve always wanted to play Division I,” she said. “But playing for your country is totally different. You might not be playing for a medal, but you’re playing for every little girl that dreams of playing for the Olympic team.”

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