Free State senior Georgia Rea signs to play softball at Western Illinois University
photo by: File photo
To say it was a good week for Free State senior Georgia Rea would be an understatement. The softball standout actually had the best week.
Rea, who is a catcher, signed her national letter of intent to play DI softball at Western Illinois University on Wednesday from her home. She then celebrated a birthday on Friday.
The former was probably more significant for Rea, who printed out the official letter Tuesday night before signing it in front of her family Wednesday afternoon. Rea plans to have an official ceremony with more people in attendance following the Free State-Lawrence High softball matchup in the spring of 2021.
“It’s definitely been a back-to-back thing,” Rea said. “I can breathe because the next four years I know where I’m going. I couldn’t be more happy with where I’m going. Honestly, Western Illinois checked off all my boxes.”
So how exactly did Rea celebrate these two occasions? By driving to College Station for the Heart of America Elite Fastpitch League (HFL) championship to play more softball on Saturday. The trip for her started Thursday night and Rea was on the road for most of Friday as well.
But that level of determination is honestly a big reason why Rea is in this position in the first place. Rea really plays softball year-round on a regular basis. She has hitting lessons, catching lessons, normal practice time, club softball, high school softball and her own individual sessions on the diamond.
“I feel like it is a daily thing,” Rea said. “It is like breathing and second nature.”
Softball didn’t always consume so much of Rea’s life. In fact, she played baseball until she was in the seventh grade. It wasn’t until her first softball game that she learned that you couldn’t lead off on the base path because Rea was called out for doing so.
Still, Rea was able to learn most of the fundamentals of the sport while playing baseball growing up.
“I feel like it set me up for the game I.Q.,” Rea said. “There is not really much difference between baseball and softball. Softball swing isn’t a whole lot different than baseball other than timing. I feel like that prepared me.”
However, Rea credits a lot of her growth as a softball player to her time in club softball with the The Aces Fastpitch Club. Free State pitcher Tatum Clopton, who signed to Oklahoma State on Wednesday, is also on the same club team.
“It’s crazy to even think I’m playing with some of the best in the sport,” Rea said. “I honestly couldn’t feel more prepared with the coaching staff that we have.”
Rea has been a member of the Aces for the last two-plus years, although it came with a position change. Rea, who normally played outfielder or first baseman, was told by her coaching staff to give catcher a try on the first day of practice.
For most of that first year, Rea used a first baseman’s glove while playing behind the dish. Now, Rea is completely comfortable with the position and it has brought her even more joy while playing this sport.
“(It made me) honestly fall in love with the game again,” Rea said. “It is just a new perspective. It is definitely challenging, which I really enjoy.”
The position change opened up even more opportunities for Rea to continue her softball career at the next level. Her strong arm is a major plus as a catcher. Rea also has plenty of speed, which she showed by leading Free State with 10 stolen bases in 2019.
Rea also paced the Firebirds in hits (42), doubles (12) and batting average (.500) during her sophomore season. Free State won state titles in 2018 and 2019, but had its 2020 campaign canceled.
Even without a junior season, Rea garnered plenty of interest from college softball programs this past summer. Rea’s entire recruiting process was actually done online, but it was an assist from her club coach that helped her land with WIU.
Aces’ head coach Ryan Taylor is friends with Alisa Goler, who became the head coach of Western Illinois softball on June 23, 2020. When Goler asked about potential prospects, Taylor immediately gave her Rea’s number.
The initial phone conversation between Rea and her future coach took place shortly after that, and it lasted about 90 minutes. It was really difficult for Rea to not commit on the spot after that.
“It was like talking to my best friend that I haven’t even met yet,” Rea said of Goler. “She told me on that call, ‘I want to build this program around you. I’m not looking at anyone else and I’m not going to move forward until you say yes.'”
Rea eventually verbally committed on Aug. 22 before making things official this past week. Rea still hasn’t even met Goler in person, but she can’t wait to arrive on campus in 2021.
For now, though, Rea is focused on making her final year count with the Firebirds if they end up being able to play in the spring.
“We had our first softball signup meeting last week and I could not be more ecstatic,” Rea said. “I want to go out at Free State with a bang and something to remember that is fresh in everyone’s minds.”