Two Lady Warriors commit to college
Two West Nassau softball players will continue on to play at the collegiate level next year.
Ariel McCullough and Hailey Wills celebrated their commitments March 1.
McCullough will pitch and hit at St. Johns River State College while Wills will cover first base and serve as a designated hitter at Columbia College in South Carolina.
“They needed a hitter and I needed a place to be, so it’s kind of perfect,” Wills said. “They’re very dedicated not only to women’s sports, but to their education as well.”
Columbia is a college for women with an enrollment of nearly 1,500. Wills found the school online and fell in love with the campus during a visit. She plans to major in physical therapy and minor in psychology.
She will receive a $4,000 scholarship for softball and recently interviewed for the Momentum Scholarship, which would provide full tuition if she’s selected. The college charges the same tuition for in-state and out-of-state students, which also lowers her cost.
Columbia Coach Taylor Johnson said she enjoyed Wills’ campus visit.
“She knew exactly what she wanted in a school and a softball program and I couldn’t be more thrilled that she chose us,” Johnson said. “I definitely think she will help us in the field but I have a great feeling she will help us tremendously with her bat. I loved her swing. Her family was also awesome on the visit – just an all-around great visit and family. I’m looking forward to working with her and having her as a part of our softball program.”
Nearby SJRSC continues to build its softball program with the aid of local softball standouts.
McCullough will join former Hilliard teammates Kearsten Holley and Hattie Baldwin at SJRSC. She’s eager to play at the collegiate level with them and already knows several of her teammates. The school was a perfect fit for her.
“It’s a small school and I love small schools,” McCullough said.
She transferred to WNHS because she wanted to play for the Lady Warriors. The team’s district win her sophomore year is her fondest memory.
“That was my first district win,” McCullough said. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, that just happened.’”
The Lady Warriors continued on to become state runners-up that year, but the district win that set the postseason in motion was the defining moment for her.
A non-softball injury found her benched for most of her junior season but she’s already pitching and hitting well in her final season with the Lady Warriors.
Wills also has a strong bat this year and is soaking up every minute she has left of high school softball.
“I love every moment I’ve been able to step on field with my team anywhere,” she said.
She began playing softball in Little League at age 6, continuing on to travel softball at age 10, playing for First Coast Fire through 2015 before acquiring a job. She works at Dick’s Sporting Goods, happily utilizing her employee discount.
Wills also stays busy with National Honor Society, Beta Club and volunteering at Callahan Elementary School. She helps first grade students strengthen their reading skills.
“I love to read and I love helping people, so I figured helping kids would be pretty cool,” she said.
She also formerly served on the Student Council and played JV volleyball freshman year. She thrives on staying busy.
“I’m never bored,” Wills said. “If I ever find myself bored, I figure I must be missing something.”
Wills, a Callahan resident, is the daughter of Tracey Wills and Cory Wills and older sister to Harmony.
McCullough, of Hilliard, is the daughter of Chanda McCullough and Richard McCullough. Her siblings include Desirea, Destiny, Trey and Nicholas.
She said SJRSC has plenty of opportunities nearby for her to continue her non-softball hobbies, which include fishing, hunting and mudding.
“I love it all,” she said.
She received a full scholarship to play softball for the two-year college and plans to utilize it to the fullest.
“I want to do my two years and see if I like it in college first,” McCullough said, adding she’s undecided whether she will study finance or law.
Her passion for softball began on a whim when she was 12 years old. Her best friend was a pitcher and McCullough loves to compete, so she picked up a ball and mitt.
“I started and never stopped,” she recalled, adding that she loves to pitch. “It keeps me more involved. I start the game; I have the ball.”
McCullough also played for First Coast Fire and noted that travel ball required hard work and effort.
“It all paid off,” she said. In 2011 she was named to the best players book for 14U softball.
Both girls credit their coaches for leading them to where they are now.
“Every single coach I’ve had has had some type of involvement in making me the player that I am today and I’m forever grateful for that,” Wills said.
They play for West Nassau under the guidance of Coach Randalyn Bryant.
“They are both captains this year … both are quieter leaders but will speak up when they need to,” Bryant said. “Hailey suffered an injury freshman year, but has fought to get back. She has worked very hard and I am happy to see her be able to go on and play. Ariel also suffered an injury, and has done well to recover. She transferred in sophomore year, and it was like she had been here all along. She just fits with us, and I also have a soft spot for the kids that choose to be Warriors. They go out of their way to be here, and I couldn’t be happier that both of them are Warriors.”