I knew about BYU, growing up in the church, but I also knew I didn't want to go there. Growing up where I did — it's all about the SEC and playing in that conference. BYU? Not really a thought, at all. —BYU's Libby Sugg
PROVO — Libby Sugg first came to BYU kicking and screaming, but has played an integral role since arriving. Now, as a junior, the Tennessee native is helping lead a new-look BYU softball team that hopes to continue the momentum gained the last few seasons.
Playing for the Cougars wasn't exactly on the forefront of Sugg's mind when she was rising to become a top prospect in her home of Franklin, Tennessee, or on any front, as it were. Although a member of the BYU-owned Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sugg held SEC Conference aspirations, and little else concerning her softball future.
"I knew about BYU, growing up in the church, but I also knew I didn't want to go there," Sugg said. "Growing up where I did — it's all about the SEC and playing in that conference. BYU? Not really a thought, at all."
That all changed when Sugg's mother, Denise Sugg, who attended BYU, forced her then 14-year old daughter to attend one week of BYU's camp. Libby's reaction to the prospect? Not exactly positive.
"I thought it was a complete waste of time for me, and no, I absolutely didn't want to come out to a place I'd never been, that I had no interest in, at all," Libby recalled. "I remember just taking the flight over, which was the first flight by myself, and just thinking of how I'm wasting a whole week of my summer. I wasn't happy about it, at all."
Libby had never been to the state of Utah before, much less to BYU's campus, and like many other LDS members, she quickly grew comfortable with the place.
"I remember thinking, 'Wow, there's sure a lot of Mormons out here,'" Libby recalled, with a laugh. "I loved it, almost immediately, and was very surprised that I did."
Libby also grew an instant connection with BYU coach Gordon Eakin, whom she said reminded her of her father, Chuck.
Upon returning home from her week at BYU's summer camp, thoughts of playing in the SEC conference weren't completely dashed, although the prospect of playing for the Cougars became a strong possibility. Libby played out the recruiting process, and ultimately rested on BYU, despite continued interest coming from SEC and other programs.
Libby arrived at BYU in time for the 2016 season and saw an immediate impact playing catcher, primarily. She slugged 18 home runs that year to lead the team in that category and hit for a .319 average. Since her first year, her home run total has gone down a bit, although her batting average rose to .356 as a sophomore and to .407 this season, through 40 games.
"Yeah, I don't hit as many home runs, but I'm producing more runs, which it's really all about," Libby, who already has 46 RBI this year, said.
She's also provided an important defensive role behind the plate, according to Eakin.
"She's a very good receiver, who understands how to work with our young pitching staff," Eakin said. "She's consistent and doesn't get overwhelmed by any of the teams we go against. But yeah, it's always a huge help to pitchers by simply putting up runs, which Libby has always done, and is doing better than ever this year."
As far as taking on tough opponents, which can prove overwhelming, BYU has faced a lot of them so far this season. The results, in playing top teams such as Washington, LSU, Tennessee and Oklahoma, haven't always been pretty and had the Cougars standing at 18-18 before beginning West Coast Conference play. But three-game sweep over Santa Clara to begin conference play has the Cougars off to a great start in hoping to repeat as conference champions.
"It really is like the start of a new season for us," Libby said. "Preseason was rough, but it's really because we just played really tough teams. But we're now prepared to tackle conference and improve every week. I'm happy with how things have come together, and I'm so thankful that I'm here and able to play an important role on this team."