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Adam Fondren, Deseret News
After her solo home run in the bottom of the fifth, Utah infielder Ryley Ball (9) is lifted into the air by her teammates as the University of Utah Utes host the Brigham Young Cougars at Duke Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY – In nearly two decades as a college softball coach, Utah head coach Amy Hogue has worked with a lot of teenage athletes.

But she’d never met one quite like Ryley Ball.

“She was the most mature 18-year-old, and when I was recruiting her, the most mature 16-year-old, I’ve ever recruited,” Hogue said of the Fremont High School alum. “She had a plan. She was on a mission. … Utah was just part of her plan.”

Ball was a two-sport standout, who could just as easily have pursued basketball as softball. She was being offered scholarship money to several schools including Salt Lake Community College, but she felt like she needed to be at Utah to become the player she felt she could be.

“I knew coming in as a freshman I wouldn’t get that much playing time, but I did get a chance to run the bases,” said the senior, who started nearly every game last year in left field for the Utes. “It’s definitely harder than what I thought. The level of competition is way different than high school or even travel ball.”

" Probably one of the character traits that I’ve learned is bouncing back from failure. That can apply to many things in life. "
Ryley Ball

That decision, Hogue said, helped both Ball and the Utes in their pursuit of excellence.

“Coming in, like a lot of Utah kids, she hasn’t seen a lot of high-level pitching,” Hogue said. “That was the challenge from day one, to catch up with some of the pitching, to develop as a hitter. Defensively, we used her right from the get-go.”

Ball, who is the only native Utahn on the Utes softball roster, was willing to do what a lot of players are not. She chose to work on her hitting at practices, taking on her teammates and Utah’s staff, rather than trying to improve her hitting in games at a Junior College.

“She just grew leaps and bounds,” Hogue said of Ball, who eventually earned scholarship money from Utah because of her commitment and contributions to the team. “I had an idea (of what she could become) because she is a fighter. She’s just determined. She’s resilient. … She turned down other offers because she wanted to play here.”

In 2018, Ball played in 38 games, starting 13 of them. She hit the first home run of her career in Utah’s rivalry game against BYU.

The Utes will need both her offense and defense as they travel to Florida this weekend for the 2019 SPC Elite Invite hosted by ESPN, in which the team will take on some of the country’s top teams Friday (vs. No. 18 Kentucky and No. 17 Oklahoma State), Saturday (vs. No. 23 Ohio State and No. 6 Tennessee), as well as Sunday (vs. Hofstra)

Ball said she isn’t just a better softball player because she chose Utah.

Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Utah infielder Ryley Ball (9) hits a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth as the University of Utah Utes host the Brigham Young Cougars at Duke Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

“Probably one of the character traits that I’ve learned is bouncing back from failure,” she said. “That can apply to many things in life.”

She discusses working on drag bunts in a recent practice and how “getting them down on the first strike” was frustratingly difficult at first. But with commitment and a willingness to learn from mistakes, “you learn how to fix things, how to get things done.”

“In life, you kind of have to do the same thing,” she said. “You’ve got to bounce back from the hard times you have.”

Ball’s goal this year is to be a better, more uplifting teammate. She said reveling in the success of others lifts her own spirits, while also building stronger bonds with her teammates.

Hogue said this year’s team embraces the grind.

“This team is full of a bunch of workers,” she said. “Whatever you ask them to do, they’ll do it. They’re not creative, self-starters, but they do everything you ask them to do. … They have never let us down, as far as getting the work done.”

In fact, Hogue said her players showed up ready and committed this January, and it led to a productive winter start.

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“I was impressed with January more than ever,” she said. “We’ve had the injury bug, some kids transfer, so we’ve had to have a few kids move around at the last minute. With that said, if we tell them what’s expected, what they need to do, they put their nose down and grind.”

Utah started the season 4-1 at a tournament in Hawaii. They have several other tournaments between now and their season-opening Pac-12 home stand on March 15 when they host Cal Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Ball said this year’s team is more aggressive than in the past.

“We’re going after it this year instead of laying back and letting things happen,” she said. “We’re starting things and doing them, getting them done.”