When news came out Tuesday that Mississippi State was parting ways with head softball coach Vann Stuedeman, many were taken by surprise.
Neshoba Central graduate Aspen Wesley wasn’t among them. After signing with the Bulldogs in January, Wesley capped off her high school career in May with another MHSAA Class 5A state championship in fast-pitch, and she was looking forward to continuing her career under Stuedeman’s tutelage.
Associate head coach Samantha Ricketts contacted Wesley shortly before news got out to inform Wesley that Stuedeman was leaving MSU. The news left Wesley both surprised and disappointed.
“I was not expecting that call,” Wesley said. “I was in shock, really. I really liked Vann as a coach, and as a person, she’s awesome. I was hoping to learn a lot from her because she was a pitching coach also.”
Still, Wesley’s desire to get to Starkville and begin her college softball career hasn’t wavered, and she said she’s handling the coaching uncertainty as best she can.
“I don’t have a bad attitude toward it,” Wesley said. “When I get there, I’m going to do what I always wanted to do, new coach or not. But I am going to have to work much harder, because I have no idea what (the new coach will be) looking for, you know?”
As a senior for the Lady Rockets, Wesley sported a 0.23 earned-run average this past spring with 335 strikeouts in 154 innings of work. Offensively, Wesley hit .409 with a .457 on-base average along with four home runs and 36 RBIs. She was named the Premier Preps Softball Player of the Year and was also selected as the Gatorade Mississippi Softball Player of the Year for the fourth straight year.
Perhaps most impressive was how Wesley put up those numbers despite having to fight through a back injury that left her in visible pain late in the season. She chose to play through the injury to help Neshoba Central to its seventh-straight fast-pitch championship, but Stuedeman instructed Wesley not to partake in summer softball activities in order to give her back time to heal.
“She basically told me to chill out from that and to get ready and healthy for State,” Wesley explained.
Her only physical activities involve going to the gym to keep in shape, whereas in past summers she would play on a travel team.
“It was good having a break at first but now I’m really bored,” Wesley said with a laugh. “I do get to watch my cousins and give them pitching lessons, and doing that makes me really miss it and want to get back into it.”
Wesley will report to Starkville either Aug. 14 or 15, and she isn’t quite sure what to expect yet, though she’s eager to meet her new teammates.
“I can’t wait for the season to start,” Wesley said. “I’m super excited.”
Playing Division I softball has been a dream of Wesley’s ever since she was young, and it’s now beginning to sink in that she’ll have the chance to do so for an SEC school.
“It makes me tear up with happy tears,” Wesley said. “I’ve literally dreamt of this my whole life. I never thought this short little Choctaw girl would get a shot at a Division I school. My Papo (grandfather) — both of them — always told me I’d go play for a Division I school, so when I go out there on the mound and pitch, they’re the ones I think about because I would have loved for them to watch me play.”