ONA — Rielly Lucas surprised everyone, including herself.
The Cabell Midland High School softball star recently committed to Marshall University, giving the Thundering Herd another powerful bat in a lineup that led Conference USA in home runs last season.
“Yeah, big time,” Lucas said after being asked if she was amazed her college choice was a mere 16 miles from her school. “I always told myself I’d go away. I never thought I’d stay here.”
The slugging first baseman received plenty of chances to play at other schools. Programs from several Power 5 conferences recruited Lucas hard, and her interest was mutual. Lucas, though, said when she visited Marshall her decision was easy.
Lucas visited the Thundering Herd softball complex and talked with head coach Megan Smith and assistants Corey Lyon and Maddie Holub. Lucas said she liked what she saw and heard.
“Probably my relationship with the coaches was the main factor in me committing,” Lucas said. “Because of NCAA rules, before Sept. 1 I couldn’t talk to them.”
Lucas is familiar with the program. Marshall’s ace pitcher last season was Cabell Midland graduate Abigail Tolbert. Freshman infielder Sydney Chapman played at Midland. Lucas played against the Herd’s Katie Adams and Caiti Mathis, both former stars at Hurricane. Lucas grew up with MU catcher and former Spring Valley standout Haleigh Christopher and played travel ball with MU commit and George Washington pitcher Brianna McCown.
A Class AAA first-team all-state selection as a sophomore, Lucas slammed 10 home runs, drove in 45 runs and batted .511 last season. She was a second-team all-state pick as a freshman.
Flo Softball and Extra Innings Softball ranked Lucas one of the top 150 players nationally in the Class of 2021. That ranking didn’t come easily. Lucas has put in the time to become the player she is.
“Softball has taught me a lot about hard work,” Lucas said. “It isn’t easy. If you want to be above average, you have to work hard all the time. So few players actually get to play (NCAA) Division I softball, so I knew I had to work harder than others to get there.”
If that sounds stressful, Lucas said it’s not. She said the softball field is her safe place where she goes for all her worries to dissipate. The anxiety about where to play college ball is over and Lucas said she’s glad.
“I was sitting in the softball clubhouse with my parents and the coaching staff,” Lucas said. “I told the coaches I wanted to be a part of their team and it felt wonderful.”
Lucas’ announcement stunned her parents, who had built a relationship with former Marshall coach Shonda Stanton, now head coach at Indiana University, and Jen Steele, now head coach at the University of Delaware.
“Joey and I never pushed Rielly toward Marshall,” said Selena Lucas, Rielly’s mom. “She played against Shonda’s daughter (Shayla) when Rielly was 8 years old and Shonda told her she’d be wearing green and white one day.”
Stanton was prophetic.