Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — For quite some time now, Wheelersburg’s softball program has been the sport’s crown jewel in Southeast Ohio.
Year in and year out, the Pirates have made deep tournament runs and are consistently ranked in the state’s AP polls.
Players like Laney Eller are a huge reason why.
Eller, a senior and the team’s shortstop, has spent her career near the top of the team’s batting order and anchoring the infield. Consistency has basically been her middle name during that time.
This week, Eller made the decision to continue her academic and athletic careers at Ashland University, becoming the latest member of her team to announce a college choice.
“I chose Ashland after visiting the campus multiple times and getting to see what it was all about,” Eller said. “I loved the small university feel it had and of course I love the coaches. Coach [Emlyn] Knerem and coach [Anna] Kirk were super helpful in answering the questions I had and showing me what they were about.”
During Eller’s sophomore year, the Pirates finished the year at 21-3 with conference and sectional titles in hand. Their eventual end of the line came in a loss to Fairfield in a Division III district final.
The conference title was the program’s fifth consecutive crown. Eller was at the center of that accomplishment.
“The recruiting process is fun but also a grind. A lot of work goes into it and having my family there with me, helping me, was huge,” Eller said. “I have had friends and teammates who recently went through the process, as well as my coaches, who helped in setting up contacts and preparing me for it. I couldn’t thank all of them enough.”
In 2019, Ashland finished 33-23 overall with an 18-14 mark in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Before COVID-19 suspended their season in 2020, the Eagles were 6-7.
“I am looking forward to the new environment, and getting to know new people,” Eller said. “Going three hours away will always help me become my own independent person. Being a college athlete is a huge step in what I’ve been trying to accomplish. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play the game with my teammates and showcasing myself at the next level. It will be tough competition, but I feel like the coaches can get me ready to compete with anyone.”
But first, there’s one year left to chase a state title. That’s always the expectation at ‘Burg.
Eller will be welcomed back in the spring alongside the likes of teammates Boo Sturgill, Rylie Hughes, Macee Eaton, and a cast of veterans and new faces.
“We have a lot of unfinished business coming up for softball and, while we have some new faces, the expectations are the same,” Eller said. “It is my senior year and myself and the other seniors around me want to experience the success that prior classes have had. We will work together and I think we can be very successful.”