By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, Nov. 17 — One week prior to Thanksgiving, senior Jocelyne Rinker added her signature to a growing list of Panthers who have continued their softball careers beyond Page County High School.
“We put in a lot of work,” PCHS head coach Alan Knight modestly and simply sums up the success of his softball program, which seems to consistently produce collegiate talent year after year.
“I’m not doing anything special, I’m just doing the same thing I’ve done forever and ever,” Knight added, “and I’ve had some great help.”
Fans all across the collegiate softball world know of the accomplishments of PCHS alum Kate Gordon who broke nearly every hitting record at James Madison University before leading the Dukes to their first World Series appearance and a shocking win over No.1-ranked Oklahoma in their first game. She has now advanced to the professional ranks of softball and most recently served as an outfielder for the Smash It Sports Vipers
When Rinker was just 11 years old, she was a member of the 12U Shenandoah All-Stars that won the Babe Ruth 12U World Series in Florida. One of her teammates, Kate’s younger sister, Maddie Gordon, signed two seasons ago to play Division I softball at Penn State. Another member of that World Series team, Taylor Umberger, signed last year to play for Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg.
On Nov. 17, Rinker joined the club, as she inked her National Letter of Intent to play Division I softball for the Highlanders of Radford University.
“We recognize that this isn’t just an athletic accomplishment, but also an academic one. Despite the stressors that came with completing her freshman and sophomore years through a pandemic and in untraditional means, Jocelyne is in the top 20 percent of her class, currently holding a 3.7 grade point average,” PCHS Athletic Director Bill Simmons said at the start of the Nov. 17 signing ceremony. “She has taken numerous dual enrolled courses and shown her ability to excel not only on the playing field, but also in the classroom. Jocelyne is also an active member of the PCHS FFA…without a doubt, Radford University is not only getting a great softball player, but they are also getting a great person.”
Rinker will finish our her high school career in her third year on the Panther’s varsity squad after earning first team All-District, first team All-Region, and second team All-State last spring when Page County finished as the Class 2 state runner-ups. The first baseman batted .475 in her junior year with 19 extra base hits and seven home runs.
“She is a tremendous hitter,” Coach Knight said. “She can hit to all fields. She understands the strike zone. And she played great defense at first base for not a lot of experience. It’s a great opportunity and she’s put in a lot of hard work, and it’s paying off.”
In addition to playing volleyball and basketball at PCHS, Rinker also plays softball nearly year round. Three years ago she started playing for an elite travel team called “Team Virginia” — a squad that travels from Georgia to California to play as many as a half dozen games in a weekend. They play in every season except winter, and use those months for indoor workouts. Coach Sue Harrington’s team has a 100-percent graduation rate to the collegiate level, mostly Division I.
“That team got me to be where I am, and that team got me seen by Radford,” Rinker said after signing her letter of intent. “We spend so much time together, it becomes like a family. The coaching and the atmosphere is so great, and the things that we work on as players, make you better as a player and a person.”
Rinker received nearly a half dozen offers to play collegiate softball, mostly from Division II and III schools both in and out of state. The Highlanders sent an email in late summer as the only Division I interest. Although she was already certain of her immediate verbal commitment to Radford, Rinker’s official visit to campus in late October really sealed the deal.
“We toured campus, got the feel for things, watched practice and went out to eat with the players,” Rinker remembers of her visit among a recruiting class of seven.
Head coach Alisa Tasler hopes to improve the Highlanders’ 2022 season record of 12-15, as Radford finished in the middle of the pack in the Big South Conference. Rinker looks forward to what she can learn from Coach Tasler at the collegiate level next season, but she appreciates what Coach Knight has taught her over the past two seasons.
“He’s pushed me to be a better person and player. He really pushed me,” Rinker said. “It’s the way he pushes his kids to be better…off the field he’s a friend, but on the field he’s tough.”
Coach Knight noted that “subtle changes” made after the first eight games last season lead to improvements that carried the Panthers all the way to the state championship with a relatively young team. Rinker has high hopes for her senior year.
“I feel good [about the spring season],” Rinker said. “We did a lot of work last year that should carry over to this year.”
But for a moment, Rinker puts aside her senior season to relish in the moment. Her dreams of playing collegiate softball have come true, and she focuses on those that got her here.
“I love softball so much,” she said. “I’ve put in a lot of work to get to this point, but I have to thank my coaches…and I want to thank my parents…I wanted to excel because of them.”
For more on Radford University softball, visit their website.