Ask Mari Robbins how the COVID-19 crisis has affected her college softball recruitment, and her answer will be bittersweet.
The rising senior, one of Monroe County’s best softball players, has been getting looks from college programs for a while now. The world’s current state of affairs, though, has switched up some of recruiting’s traditional methods.
“Recruitment sure has slowed down some,” Robbins told The Advocate & Democrat. “Not just for me, but (for) the whole softball world. Tournament directors are now hosting tournaments that are live streamed. Instead of emailing college coaches about what field my team will be playing on, we have to reach out and let them know what time our game will be live streamed.
“Coaches who were supposed to attend the showcase tournaments still watch the live feed, but it is just not the same. Coaches now spend most of their time on their computers reading emails, watching recruit videos and looking at player profiles because they are not allowed at the fields.”
That switch to online scouting is where the positives come in for Robbins.
“A total of 94 colleges have expressed interest in my profile,” Robbins said. “Interest has increased due to COVID-19.”
It’s not as if college programs needed a reason to scout Robbins. She established herself as one of the county’s top players early in her career and her momentum hasn’t halted since.
Robbins was named the 2019 All-County Co-MVP following a sophomore campaign that saw her notch a .616 batting average, 11 home runs and 41 RBIs. Both her power at the plate and her speed on the bases have been potent for the Lady Wildcats.
Those kinds of stats inevitably lead to college offers, and Robbins has a mental picture of her ideal program at the next level.
“When I think about what I would like to see in a softball program, I think about having fun,” Robbins said. “Softball has always been my getaway. I do not want to join a program that makes me feel like playing softball is a full-time job. I just want a program that always reminds me of my love for the game.”
Robbins has support in her family as she sifts through programs. Her father, Charlie Robbins, is an assistant coach with the Sweetwater softball team, and they share the same ideas about what to look for in a school.
“Another huge quality I look for is the education aspect,” Robbins said. “My family and I value education very much, and I know they want me to get the most out of my studies as possible while doing what I love on and off the field.
“When weighing options between softball programs, we look for team GPAs and player retention throughout the years to get a feel for how much the teams value education.”
The two biggest schools to offer Robbins so far are Middle Tennessee State University and East Tennessee State University. She has also been offered by NCAA Division II schools Young Harris College and Carson-Newman University.
Despite the excitement of being recruited by college teams, though, Robbins’ recent softball career has played out just like that hypothetical answer: bittersweet.
She and her teammates lost a season of eligibility when COVID-19 forced the TSSAA to cancel spring sports. Sweetwater had barely begun its regular season schedule before schools suspended indefinitely, halting play.
“The current situation we are all in has everything out of the norm,” Robbins said. “Not being able to play my junior year of softball was very upsetting. It feels weird to say that I will not be playing a whole four years of softball. I think (Sweetwater) would have gone far this year.”
As Robbins now looks to juggle planning her college softball future with making the most of her final season at Sweetwater, she hopes there will be no more bittersweet about it.
She wants all sweet and no bitter.
“My plan for next year is to just pick up where we left off,” Robbins said. “It sure will be hard to do without Emily (Barnes) and Addie (Lowe), but I have confidence in my team. It is my time to step up. I hope I can fill their shoes. As soon as school gets going again, it is go time.
“I cannot wait till I get to play the game I love, with the people I love, for the city I love.”