At the behest of a travel softball coach, Georgia associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Baldwin took a look at a then-15-year-old slugger during a summer tournament in Southern California.
A 250-foot laser shot off the bat of Sydney Kuma on the first pitch Baldwin witnessed – with the ball going foul – caught his attention.
“He looked at me and said he hadn’t seen a ball hit that hard all weekend,” said Russ Heffley, the Hanford West High School coach and coach of Kuma’s travel team, the Central Cal Dirt Dogs. “He didn’t miss a game from there out the rest of the summer. He dialed in on her from the get-go.”
It led to Georgia head coach Lu Harris-Champer taking a look for herself, followed by a recruiting trip and, eventually, the Caruthers High sophomore giving a verbal commitment to the Bulldogs, a Southeastern Conference power ranked No. 12 nationally in the USA TODAY/National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll.
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“It’s a privilege to have the offer I have today,” Kuma said. “It makes me want to become a better athlete and a better person. When you get offered to go to a top-notch school like this, it makes you feel so good about yourself. You are going to college with athletes who are the best of the best.”
It’s a privilege to have the offer I have today. It makes me want to become a better athlete and a better person. When you get offered to go to a top-notch school like this, it makes you feel so good about yourself. You are going to college with athletes who are the best of the best.
Caruthers High sophomore softball standout Sydney Kuma on giving a verbal commitment to national power Georgia.
One of the top returning players in Central Section softball, which opens play Saturday, weather permitting, Kuma is believed to be the first Division I recruit in any sport straight out of Caruthers and among a small group of locals in recent memory to land scholarships into the Southeastern Conference.
In addition to Kuma, former Clovis East standout Melissa Davin (Tennessee), Bullard slugger Claire Stucker (Mississippi State) and El Diamante star Riley Pierce (Missouri) have signed with SEC schools over the past 10 years. Kuma, primarily a pitcher for Caruthers, is expected to play shortstop or third at Georgia.
“It’s pretty cool for a Valley kid to get to go to a big SEC school like that,” said Heffley, whose daughter, Hanford West sophomore Allison Heffley, gave a verbal commitment to Boise State when she was in eighth grade. “They don’t come around very often.”
Fresno State, Boise State, Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton, Iowa State and Nebraska all showed interest, according to Heffley, but Kuma settled on Georgia after a weekend trip to Athens, Ga., where she toured the campus and softball complex, met with a counselor and took in a football game.
Kuma burst onto the section scene last season as a freshman, leading Caruthers to a 21-4-3 record, the Fowler Classic tournament title, the West Sequoia League crown and a berth in the Central Section Division V final.
There is nothing this girl can’t do. She’s something else. She’s the best softball player Caruthers has ever seen, by far.
Blue Raiders softball coach Jeff Day on Sydney Kuma, who made a verbal commitment to national power Gerogia.
The right-handed Kuma hit .622 with nine home runs, three triples, 14 doubles, 40 RBIs and 42 runs, and slugged 1.195. She was 20-4 with 260 strikeouts in 164 innings and named a Bee All-Star.
Kuma has been a three-sport varsity athlete since arriving at Caruthers, also playing volleyball and soccer. In the latter, she has scored 81 goals in two seasons.
“There is nothing this girl can’t do,” Blue Raiders softball coach Jeff Day said. “She’s something else. She’s the best softball player Caruthers has ever seen, by far.”
Central Section preseason softball rankings
(Records from 2016 season)
- 1. Clovis (25-5)
- 2. Buchanan (26-5)
- 3. Central (20-9)
- 4. Clovis East (19-10)
- 5. Hanford West (19-10)
- 6. Stockdale (20-5)
- 7. Bullard (18-10)
- 8. Liberty-Bakersfield (19-11-1)
- 9. Madera (26-7)
- 10. Monache (25-6)
- 11. Frontier (17-13)
- 12. Mission Oak (23-5-1)
- 13. Redwood (15-16)
- 14. El Diamante (15-13)
- 15. Centennial (13-16)
- 16. Sanger (18-13)
- 17. Ridgeview (21-5)
- 18. Independence (15-15)
- 19. Clovis West (9-20-1)
- 20. Taft (22-7)
D-I: 1. Clovis; 2. Buchanan; 3. Central.
D-II: 1. Madera; 2. Monache; 3. Redwood.
D-III: 1. Independence; 2. Taft; 3. Tehachapi (22-6).
D-IV: 1. Mission Oak; 2. Selma (24-5); 3. Chowchilla (21-9-1).
D-V: 1. Caruthers (21-4-3); 2. Firebaugh (24-7); 3. Riverdale (19-8).
D-VI: 1. Orange Cove (22-5); 2. Parlier (14-12); 3. Mendota (12-14-1).