Howard Community College officially announced Tuesday afternoon the addition of softball as an official sport at the school for the 2021-22 academic year — and with it the first two signees for the program.
Two-time All-County pitcher Sam Hobert, a senior this spring at Howard High, and Centennial 2020 graduate Sarah Phelps each put pen to paper this week to solidify their commitments to join the Dragons.
“I’m excited to be coming in as one of the first players for the team and just as excited to get the chance to stay local,” said Hobert. “I had some offers to play other places, but being able to play close to home was important to me. I feel like it all just kind of fell right in line when I heard they were starting the team.
“Now I can focus on my senior season and getting back in the groove of softball after last year was canceled.”
The news regarding softball came with a corresponding announcement that Howard CC will be ending its women’s lacrosse program. The Dragons had several successful seasons over the last decade, including winning their first Region 20 Tournament championship in 2016 and making the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship game in 2017.
According to a release issued Tuesday by Howard CC, however, “participation has been down for women’s lacrosse across the NJCAA, making it increasingly more difficult to continue women’s lacrosse as a competitive program.”
On the flip side, Howard CC Director of Athletic Erin Foley said in a statement that she sees plenty of potential to build a thriving softball team.
“Howard County has a great reputation for producing talented softball players, and the Howard Community College program will capitalize on this existing strength,” she said.
The softball program will join NJCAA Division II in Region 20, making it the 17th community college in the region to field a softball team, and athletic scholarships will be able to be awarded to student athletes.
Hobert and Phelps represent a strong start to the goal of keeping some of the Howard County’s top talent close to home.
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Even without a junior campaign, Hobert brings quite the pedigree with her into her final high school season. She was a first-team selection as both a freshman and sophomore, helping lead Howard to a region championship in 2018 and a share of the county title in 2019.
As a sophomore, she finished as the county leader in ERA (1.75) and wins (10) while striking out 63 batters in 76 innings pitched in league play.
Phelps, meanwhile, was a multi-year starter in centerfield during her time in high school with the Eagles, boasting a strong arm and a disciplined approach at the plate. As a junior in 2019, she scored 15 runs, had nine RBI and stole seven bases.
Hobert is excited to see how the rest of the roster begins to fill out in the coming months.
“We are starting from scratch, but I really think we are going to be able to get some very strong players who are interested in trying to build the program,” Hobert said. “There aren’t going to be a lot of expectations because everything is brand new, which does take off some of the pressure. I know I’m coming in, though, with the expectation that we are going to compete right away.”
In a corresponding release sent out on Wednesday morning, Howard CC announced that Shannon Riley — who was the Glenelg varsity softball coach from 2019 thru 2020 — will be the new softball coach for the school. Riley already has experience working with the Dragons, joining the athletics department as an assistant to the athletic director in August 2018. She was later promoted to manager for student-athlete academic success, while serving as an assistant coach for the women’s soccer team.
“I am extremely happy to be given the chance to start the softball program at Howard Community College,” Riley said in a statement. “I would like to thank our Director of Athletics Erin Foley for trusting me to be the head coach for Howard Community College. For years, many Howard County softball players had to go out of county to continue their careers at the NJCAA level. I look forward to starting the process of building a prestigious program right here in Howard County.”