Girls fastpitch softball is an extremely popular and competitive sport these days. Of the 40 million people that played softball last year from recreational leagues to the professional level, roughly 9.5 million of them were registered players in competitive associations in the United States. With nine positions on the field, to be in the top 10 in the country at any one of them would definitely be considered as an elite player.
Sequoyah Lady Chief sophomore Olivia Underwood, known nationally as “Big O," has reached that elite status by being ranked the 29th best player in the country and the number four ranked catcher in the 2021 class by Flosoftball.
Not sure I’ve seen many athletes in recent years in Monroe County ranked nationally, but definitely not in the top five at their position or in the upper third of all players in the sport in her age group.
"Big O" was already drawing attention of most colleges in the United States, but with the high ranking and her being one of only four players in the top 30 and the only catcher in the top five, not committed to a school, she is in demand from a high number of colleges, including schools in the power five conferences.
Underwood has been playing softball since she was 4 years old and has been training with local softball instructor Steve Cooper since she was 7.
“Steve has invested a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on Olivia over the last eight years. Everyone knows what kind of player she is, but nobody understands the amount of time and dedication it takes to play at this level”, says her dad, Daryl. “All the locals know 'Big O' and see her on the local fields constantly doing her workouts, which are on top of the high school’s practices, hitting, and catching lessons.”
That includes high school basketball practice, as well. When the team is done with basketball practice, 'O' still has to get in a softball workout before the day is done.
“The kid works and takes instruction like nobody else,” said Cooper. “She has such a drive in her. It doesn’t come from mom or dad or me. It comes from within. You can’t coach that. I push my kids. I push ‘em, and push ‘em but with 'O' I don’t have to as much because she’s pushing herself. She’s a perfectionist."
"Big O" started receiving attention from Super A level travel teams while playing 10U (10 and under) ball. These teams gave her exposure to college coaches, which now include teams in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, and Big 10.
She currently plays for the EC Bullets-Biele and this year, the team was ranked sixth in the nation taking on top-ranked teams from coast to coast. In 2016, they won the ASA-USA National Championship in addition to a second-place finish at Triple Crown Nationals and a seventh place at PGF 14U Premier Nationals. The National Championship prompted invites to prospect camps, which increased her visibility to college coaches even more.
'O'’s first year with the Lady Chiefs not only saw her bring her incredible defensive catching skills to the high-school level, but also showed she is a terror swinging the bat as well. She earned All State honors with a .490 batting average, 10 home runs, and 44 RBI’s as a freshman.
When asked if there were ever any days she regrets devoting so much time to softball, Underwood said, “No. I hate missing my friends’ birthday parties and things like that (because of travel) but it’s all worth it.”
“I just want to be the best," she said while standing in a batting cage on a Sunday afternoon during Thanksgiving break.
To be the best, even holiday weekends involve putting in the work.