Nashville, Tenn. - Tennessee State head softball coach Jeff Dabney has announced the early signing of five high school seniors. The class of 2017 consists of Liz Stansberry from Palmyra, Mo., and four from Tennessee, Courtney Gearlds (Donelson), Alex Grace (Moss), Sydney Shoulders (Hartsville), and Lauren Woodard (Mt. Juliet).
"We were looking to get more athletic and build depth to create constant competition for positions," Dabney said. "We lose two of our better players to graduation and filling the void is going to be tough, so it was important that we brought in capable speed, power, and pitching to make sure the program continues to move forward with the most athletic kids possible."
IF/OF, Donelson, Tenn., McGavock HS/Worth 95
Gearlds is a four-year member of the McGavock High School team under head coach Alana Thomas and was named team MVP in her past two seasons. She is a three-time All-District recipient and was named to the All-Mid State Third Team as a sophomore and junior.
She has also been a member of the volleyball team for all four years and earned All-District distinctions during her junior and senior campaigns. As a senior, she also claimed a spot on the All-Region team.
Gearlds played travel ball for Charlie Gravat and Ricky Ritchie as a member of Worth 95. Her team qualified and competed in Birmingham, Ala., at the 2012 16-U ASA national championships.
Gearlds plans to study Dental Hygiene with aspirations for a career as a dentist.
Coach Dabney on Gearlds
"Courtney is a local kid from literally down the street at McGavock. Her initial impact she made with us was with her speed. I like people who can run. She put a ball in play and took off; I was interested. She came to camp and showed her athleticism and I liked what I saw. We sat down and talked with her and found out she is my kind of kid. She is competitive, but a really sweet and down to earth person."
Alexandria (Alex) Grace
UT, Moss, Tenn., Clay County HS/Diamond Stars
Grace is a four-year member of the softball team at Clay County High School under the tutelage of Richard Boswell and Randall Walker. She has been selected to the All-Conference and All-District teams in all three seasons heading into her senior year of play. Grace guided her team to three consecutive district championships.
As a freshman, she earned a letter in volleyball before joining the basketball squad as a junior and senior. In her first year with basketball, Clay County claimed the 2012 Tennessee State Championship.
Grace plays travel ball for the Diamond Stars and head coach Jerry Woodard. She is undecided in her potential major at TSU.
Coach Dabney on Grace
"She is a good find and I feel she has a big upside. She is a raw prospect with all the physical tools to play at this level, but just not the experience. She is a five-foot-ten kid with the ability to play all nine positions and switch hit. I look forward to see where she ends up during her four-years here. She will come in and will be a hard worker and compete. It will be interesting to see how good of a player she becomes as she progresses through our system."
IF, Hartsville, Tenn., Trousdale HS/Tennessee Xplosion Gold
Shoulders has competed for Cecelia Stricker and Trousdale County High School for the past three years. She has been named to the All-District team in all three of her seasons and selected to the district All-Tournament team in her sophomore and junior years.
Shoulders is also a three-year letter winner in basketball and earned the Offensive Award in each year with the team, as well as the defensive award as a junior. She claimed a spot on the district All-Tournament team as a freshman and sophomore and named All-District as a junior.
She was a Wendy's High School Heisman finalist and belongs to the Beta Club and the Interact Club. She serves on the student council and is a part of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Future Business Leaders of America. Her travel team, the Tennessee Xplosion, coached by Brian Drake and Murk Thurman, qualified and competed in the ASA 16-Under national tournament in 2012.
Shoulders intends to major in Nursing at TSU.
Coach Dabney on Shoulders
"She is a local kid and it was a high priority for us to put a stranglehold on local talent. I don't want to have to constantly run to the west coast to get everybody for our team. She is an athletic kid that plays shortstop for her summer team, as well as some outfield. She has a good arm, runs well and has power at the plate. She is also a great student and great students are easy to coach, in my opinion. She is also competitor and I just love everything she does on the field."
Elisabeth (Liz) Stansberry
Infield, Palmyra, Mo., Palmyra R-1 HS/Worth Prospects
Stansberry competed all four years for Palmyra R-1 High School and head coach Brian Wosman. She helped guide her squad to conference championships as a freshman and a senior, as well as four straight district championships. As a sophomore, her Palmyra team finished second at the state championships, before coming back the next year to become State Champions. Stansberry and her teammates returned to the state tournament in her season, completing her career with a fourth place finish.
From her sophomore to senior seasons, Stansberry was an All-Conference, All-District and All-Area selection. She was named to the All-Region team as a sophomore and a senior and was named to the Missouri All-State during her sophomore campaign.
Stansberry was selected as an All-Conference and All-District athlete for the discus as a member of three district championship track and field teams. She is in her fourth year as a member of the basketball team, which claimed a conference championship as a junior. She was also a member of the golf team as a sophomore
Stansberry plays for Cathy Weathered and the Worth Prospects during the summer and stays active as a member of the Future Business Leaders of America, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a member of the student council, where she has served as secretary and vice president. She is also a member of the National Honor Society, Society of Academic Achievment, FCCLA and is on the Principal Liaison Committee. Stansberry also volunteers at the Maple Lawn Nursing Home.
As an incoming freshman, she intends to major in Psychology.
Coach Dabney on Stansberry
"She is a Coach (Samantha) Buckner find. Buckner is a picky recruiter and Liz showed those intangibles that kept bringing her back. She is a ball player and at the end of the day, that's what you are looking for. We got the chance to actually be around her when she came to camp, to see what she was like as a person and that just sealed it for me. Coach Buckner gets all the credit for finding her talent wise, but Liz sealed the deal with me, because it is important to find good people for the program. She is a winner and a smart kid that plays the game hard."
P/Utility, Mt. Juliet, Tenn., Mount Juliet HS/Nashville Nighthawks
Woodard is entering her fourth year as a member of Brad Rowlette's Mount Juliet HS squad. She hit .333 as a freshman, but was used more as a pitcher as a sophomore as she tallied a 29-7 record. Woodard was used in both capacities as she finished 17-6 in the circle and hit .369 with three homeruns and 41 rbi.
The lefty utility player was selected as Rookie of the Year in 2010 at MJHS. Woodard was named to the All-District team in her sophomore and junior seasons as she guided her squad to back-to-back Sub-State Championships and berths to the TSSAA State Tournament.
Woodard also competed in volleyball in high school as a junior and currently plays her travel softball with Larry Spears and the Nashville Nighthawks. During the 2012 summer, her Illusions 16-U team, coached by Tonia Trrussell Martin, competed in the ASA National Championships in Birmingham. She is also a member of Fellowship Christian Athletes and is active in the community with The Bridge Fellowship.
Woodward intends to major in Special Education and hopes to work with children with special needs.
Coach Dabney on Woodard
"She is another local prospect, from Mt. Juliet HS. She brings a left handed bat with power potential and played first base, outfield and pitches. The ability to be versatile is important to a softball program. It also brings a different look to the pitching staff and you have to be different at the higher levels. You have to have pitching to compete and you have to have athletic kids to do special things on our field. Lauren brings all that to the table. She does have a lot of development left to go and has a great upside. We feel she hasn't even come close to reaching her full potential and look forward to watching her grow."
"They are all great students, which is important to us as a program," Dabney continued. "They all bring different intangibles to our team, but the main thing is they all fit the perimeters we are looking for in all of our classes; the ability to do multiple things."