Tonganoxie’s Gray signs to play softball for Highland Scotties
Lauren Gray initially envisioned playing softball at a four-year university, but she is making one more stop before making that decision.
Gray celebrated signing with Highland Community College during a reception Friday at the Chieftain Room on the Tonganoxie High School campus.
The three-sport THS standout will join the Scotties after her prep career concludes in the spring.
“I wanted to go to a four-year university, but then decided I wanted to go to a junior college and commit fully two years and give them everything I had and see where I want to go from there,” Gray said.
The senior had looked at playing at Washburn, Kansas City Kansas Community College offered her a scholarship and Hutchinson Community College also was interested, as were Central Methodist and Johnson County Community College.
The list grew, but so did Gray’s love for a particular school: Highland Community College.
“When I got there, it just immediately felt like a family atmosphere and I enjoyed how large it was,” Gray said. “It wouldn’t be that much of a jump from Tonganoxie to Highland.”
Gray will go from Tonganoxie’s population of more than 5,000 to Highland, population just above 1,000 and college enrollment of about 650.
The THS senior said her interaction with players during her recruiting trip and a family member’s experience also were selling points.
“I got to talk to the girls,” Gray said about current HCC players. “They were super sweet and inviting.
“And also, my cousin went there a few years ago and also loved it, so that also helped me in my decisions to go there.”
Gray’s cousin Konner Patterson is an HCC softball alum.
The three-time all-state selection from McLouth gave Highland high marks from her time as a Scottie softball player.
Gray, who is a three-sport athlete at THS (volleyball, basketball, softball), has registered a standout career so far.
She was a Lawrence Journal-World all-area selection twice as a second baseman and her junior year as a catcher.
Gray also was honorable mention all-Frontier League as a catcher this past year and all-state second base as a sophomore.
THS coach Stephanie Wittman got emotional when talking about Gray at the ceremony. Wittman said coaches and catchers always have a special relationship, and that was no different with her current catcher.
“She is something special,” Wittman said. “She protects me at the plate.”
Wittman also spoke about Gray’s unselfish nature.
“I could say you are batting the first game and ninth the next and she would say ‘OK, coach,’” Wittman explained.
The THS coach went on to say that Gray makes everyone around her better.
“We love you, Lauren Gray,” Wittman said.
Tonganoxie has advanced to the regional championship the first three seasons of Gray’s career at THS. The team went 13-6 this past year and 18-4 during her sophomore year. That season was Tonganoxie’s best in program history, as the Chieftains placed third at state, their first Class 4A state appearance in 12 years.
Gray hopes to add another state appearance to that resume this spring and then continue with more success at Highland.
HCC coach Heidi Jordan has guided the Scotties to the national tournament seven times, including this past year when HCC placed in the Top 6 in the NJCAA Division II national tournament and finished the season 35-12. The team also was district runner-up with a 34-9 record in 2018 and went 35-12 in 2017.
Jordan came on as head coach in 2005 and notched her 400th victory during the 2016 season. She hit the 500-win mark this past season.
The HCC coach also was on hand at the signing and sang her future player’s praises, both on and off the field.
“We have had our eye on her for awhile,” Jordan said. “We can’t wait to be part of her future the next two years.”
Gray has played various positions for THS, but has enjoyed her move to catcher.
She said it wasn’t a difficult transition moving from second base to catcher.
She also said she likes catching because it allows her to be the leader on the field and see everything that’s going on.
“I get to manage what is going on on the field, just because I get to see plays develop and things like that,” she said. “And also get the umpires to be my friends.”
While at Highland, Gray plans to get her general studies out they way while going into nursing.
She already is on her way in the field, as she has been studying phlebotomy at Washburn Tech. Phlebotomy is the drawing of blood for testing, research, donations and transfusions.
“I just really love being in the health care field,” Gray said.
The senior stays busy with various extracurricular activities.
She also is in HOSA, which is Future Health Professionals for high school students, Big Red pep club, Girls Letter Club and National Honor Society. She also is a Kansas Honor scholar.
At her signing ceremony, Gray wrapped up the speeches with some words of appreciation.
“I thank every single one of you,” she said, speaking additionally to her teammates in all three sports. “You make me a better person. I love you guys.”