The United Christian Academy (UCA) Crusaders’ softball team headed to nationals in Tennessee this week, hoping to have a repeat of 2015 when they emerged as the D1 champion.
The ladies compete in the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) organization, and while they didn’t bring home the championship last year the team’s three seniors are excited to be making a return trip this year. They’ve played for the Crusaders since they were in sixth grade, though they’ve all three been at the school since elementary age.
“It’s really exciting to go back,” said KayLee Shipp, the second basemen who lives in Barboursville in Orange County.
Ruckersville pitcher Bridget Powell agreed saying, “Especially since it’s our last year. We’ve been doing this together since before we could even play for the school here.”
Short stop DeAnna Roach, also from Ruckersville, said the team is really strong this year. At presstime the team’s record was 7-1.
“When we beat teams in our conference, we usually beat them by a lot because have so much skill on our team and experience. We got lucky having three seniors on the team,” said Roach, who has two sisters on the team as well. “We’ve all played travel ball together and even in the summers we’re together playing softball somewhere.”
The trio plays three sports a year—volleyball, basketball and softball.
“I’m going to miss the coaches, Coach (Ray) Powell has been the best coach ever and he’s coached us since we were in sixth grade in every sport,” said Roach, who plans to attend Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) in the fall and transferring to become an educator. “He’s been a constant part of my day in academics and athletics.”
Ray Powell said the group of ladies on his team this spring is “pretty fantastic.”
“This season the girls are working hard and we’re looking forward to the tournament,” he said. “The NACA is a Christian organization and they have some amazing speakers and I’m super excited about the speakers,” said Bridget Powell, who will attend Liberty University in the fall on her way to becoming a youth pastor. “I enjoy seeing our team become a family and a sisterhood there, and creating memories that we’ll be able to take with us forever. All the years we’ve gone (to nationals), we’ve just grown together in that.”
Ray Powell said the national tournament includes “very, very strong teams from Texas to the East Coast.”
“It’s very good competition,” he said. “We will have to play our top ability. But we can win nationals; it’s not that we don’t have the talent to do it.”
Shipp, who plans to attend PVCC and its radiology program, said she’ll miss a lot after graduation.
“I’ll miss not seeing each other every day, we’ve just been together so long,” she said. “We basically grew up together. I’ll also miss the teachers, for sure; they’ve taught us so much.”
Bridget Powell said she’s going to miss the family atmosphere at UCA, as her aunt is the principal.
“It’s a family-oriented school, which I think is super cool,” she said. “It’s a Christ-centered education that doesn’t show as a rule, but as a relationship. It’s very cool to see.”
Roach said she’s never really leaving UCA.
“I’m planning to come back here to coach and teach,” she said. “I’m coming back this summer to do child care here. UCA is a big part of my heart.”
Bridget Powell said she wants students to know they don’t have to be Division I college bound athletes to play a sport.
“You can just love a sport and go out there and try to do your best,” she said. “You’ll have great memories and sports build a lot of character and discipline which is great to take with you for the rest of your life.”
All three agreed they thank their parents for getting them to where they are.
“It takes a lot of time money and effort to have your kids in a Christian environment and playing sports all year long,” Roach said. “Plus, travel ball and all the money and time they put in, parents deserve a big thank you.”
Win or lose, Shipp knows how it’s going to end.
“We come together at the end whether we lose or win,” she said. “We’re a big family and I’m really going to miss that.”