INA – Two sophomore softball players at Rend Lake College will be slugging for the Lady Bearcats of Lebanon in the fall.
Taylee Spicuzza signed her national letter of intent to McKendree University on Monday and Natalie Rujawitz is expected to complete her commitment days from now. Both met with MU softball coach Evelyn Bean on Monday during Spicuzza’s signing engagement at RLC. The event was also attended by the rest of the RLC softball team, head coach Dave Ellingsworth and Spicuzza’s parents, Charlie and Tonya Spicuzza.
Spicuzza, a 20-year-old secondary education major from Dahlgren, helped lead the Lady Warriors to a second-place showing at the Region 24 Championships last year from right field and at the top of the batting order. She hit 3.59 in fall ball this season – substantially up from 2.46 last fall and 3.06 last spring – and she scored 23 out of the 93 times she came to the plate in 26 games this past fall.
Known for quickly reading balls off the bat, Spicuzza is a bit of a heartbreaker on the diamond, according to Ellingsworth.
“Taylee will break a hitter’s heart,” he said. “She’ll climb the fence going after a ball. I’m sure they are going to use Taylee in the outfield. She’s ready for the next level.”
Bean explained that her program will graduate both an outfielder and infielder this season, leaving room for Spicuzza and Rujawitz to move in if things work out. She is looking for them to come in and make an immediate impact both offensively and defensively, she said.
Rujawitz, a 20-year-old secondary education major and third baseman, was also an integral part of the Lady Warriors’ abbreviated bid for a Region XXIV championship last year. This past fall, she had a 2.57 average with 19 hits and 12 runs scored in 74 at-bats.
“Natalee has the quickness to play the left side of the infield at third base,” Ellingsworth said. “They’re going to be fine. Both of these kids know how to elevate to the level of competition.”
Rujawitz and Spicuzza said their games have greatly improved under Ellingsworth’s coaching.
“Dave is doing a great job with fundamentals,” Bean said. “His players are hard working.”
“I’ve learned more in my two years here than in my entire time playing softball before coming to Rend Lake,” Spicuzza said.
“You pretty much live, eat and breath softball,” Rujawitz added.
“You play because you are getting paid to play,” Spicuzza said regarding her athletic scholarship for RLC softball. “You have fun, but it is work.”
Her advice to high school players is “start at a JUCO and work your way up.”
The two are joining a history of RLC softball players who have continued their career at McKendree. Colene Pogue, a Bonnie native, continued her pitching career with MU in 2006. Pogue was named to the American Midwest Conference’s First Team after the Lady Bearcats took the AMC crown from Hannibal LaGrange College last season. MU signed Lady Warrior catcher Angela Berry a few years prior to Pogue joining the team.
A poll released Wednesday has McKendree University among the top 20 NAIA softball programs across the country. Bean’s Lady Bearcats went 41-14 last year.
Bean estimated that each scholarship will cover 75 percent of the $29,000 annual tuition to McKendree – a private university and the oldest college in the state at 180 years.
Both players said they plan to major in secondary education at McKendree.
“We are happy to be able to continue playing together,” Rujawitz said.
“I never thought I would get this far,” Spicuzza added. “I am so excited.”
Spicuzza likes the small town atmosphere of the McKendree campus (student pop. 1,200) and Lebanon (pop. 4,000), as well as the close interaction with instructors due to a low student-teacher ratio. Rujawitz also likes that she will be able to live at her parents’ home in O’Fallon while going to MU.
They agreed that being student-athletes has been a difficult balancing act. And they agreed the act will not change, just the stage.
“It’s another life challenge,” Spicuzza said. “But, I’m so up to it.”
“We are really excited for her,” Charlie Spicuzza said. “It’s an excellent opportunity for her to continue her education and keep playing softball.”
An All-Conference pitcher for the Warriors under RLC Sports Hall of Fame Coach Mike McClure from 1979-81, he and Tonya are also excited that, because of Lebanon’s proximity to Dahlgren, they will be able to attend Taylee’s games. He said the fact that his daughter and Rujawitz are able to go together is “extra special.”
For additional information about this release, one may contact Ellingsworth at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1309.