For many student/athletes, surmising a player’s potential between the lines might be as simple as reading the cover of a book.
Say if any student/athlete has a 32-inch vertical leap in gym class, any physical education coach may be inclined to invite that athlete to the high jump pit or even better, the basketball team.
But other student/athletes have multiple layers – due to their various interests and innumerable skills.
Those types of players are harder to pigeonhole for the next level due to their versatility in many venues.
One such student/athlete locally is Hernando senior Ashley Hunter Sims.
In the simplest terms the 17-year-old Sims, who recently signed to play collegiate softball next fall for the Raiders of Seminole State College of Florida in Sanford, is a difficult read.
Don’t judge this book by its cover. The degree of difficulty lies with her extreme athletic ability.
To label the second oldest of four children of Brooksville’s Jason and Quana Sims “a softball player” would be an injustice.
Born and raised in Brooksville, Sims didn’t compete in athletics until third grade. Fortunately, for her fans and supporters, she hasn’t stopped.
She immersed herself in her first sport – softball – at 9 years old at the Dixie Youth League level and played for six years. She alternated between pitcher, catcher, third base, shortstop and outfield.
At age 9, she also played her initial season of soccer with the Brooksville United Soccer Association (BUSA). She enjoyed it so much, she played for five campaigns.
Next at nearby Parrott Middle School, Sims’ distinct overall capacity to shine began to morph.
She played a full rotation of volleyball for three seasons.
As a seventh- and eighth-grader she participated on the Lady Leopards’ track and field team. How solid was she? As a seventh-grader, she vividly remembers capturing the county championship in the one-mile and anchoring the winning leg of the 4x400 relay squad.
As an eighth-grader, she held down center field for Valerie Curren’s softball team.
After demonstrating her flexibility in middle school, she continued her prowess at Hernando. She earned four letters in volleyball (two varsity, two JV), primarily playing setter and outside hitter.
In soccer as a fleet-footed striker, Sims excelled at the varsity level as a freshman and sophomore. During that two-year period, she scored more goals (15), had more assists (eight) and more points (40) than any of her Purple and Gold teammates.
Though soccer offered her the canvass to showcase her skills – especially separating from defenders – the softball diamond at Tom Varn Park is where she stood out.
Sims is a rare four-year letterman. She has started for the Lady Leopards for 3 1/2 seasons under head coach Kevin Bittinger, or as she refers to him, “Coach B.”
Before last night, Sims’ softball teams – though talented individually – were just over .500 at 42-39 (.519). She yearns that this will be the team that fulfills its athletic destiny.
“What senior doesn’t want to go out on top?” queried Sims. “We have an amazing amount of talent here. In the past, there’s some been some cattiness, but we genuinely all get along. We back each other up. What I like most? We’re one heartbeat.”
Interestingly, Sims hasn’t always savored success on the diamond.
As a freshman she struggled. In 2010, Sims finished 13th on the team out of 13 players in batting average – collecting five hits in 28 at-bats, hitting .179.
But from that valley, the left-handed slap hitter literally climbed the mountain. The following season she led all 16 Lady Leopard batters in hitting behind a robust .377 average.
In 2012’s breakout junior campaign, Sims finished tied for fifth in the county in runs scored (25), finish eighth in the circuit in hitting (.397), and tied for 10th in hits (31).
Her improved coverage skills and arm strength permitted her to be named to her first All-County softball team. In a sense, Sims had arrived.
“Looking at her freshman year, she struggled splitting time in right field when Brittany Parker went down,” admitted Hernando’s eighth-year skipper Bittinger after last season. “I thought it was a shame (in 2011) that she didn’t make All-County. But in the long run, it really motivated her for (2012).
“She’s improved in every facet defensively. Her arm is so much better and what I like is she covers so much ground. … At the plate, she’s so quick; she puts a ton of pressure on opposing defenses. … She’s improving her base running and had something like 30 stolen bases.
“She’s definitely a leader on our team.”
“I want to put a (championship) ring on my finger,” stressed Sims on her goals for this year’s team. “We all have individual goals. I wish I could bat .500 all season, but really all I want to do is play well for the team. I practice for the big moments. I want to be up there with the bases loaded and the game tied.”
On why softball is her favorite sport, “I enjoy soccer a lot and I play volleyball for fun. In volleyball, you slam the ball to the court and play is over,” she described. “But in softball, there’s more adrenaline pumping. You have to be on your toes at the plate, running the bases and with the glove.
“I enjoy running a lot. I like being able to steal bases and being able to go from first to third on a gapper,” she said. “Running the bases well is like the game within the game.”
On playing solid defensively, “Everybody should take pride in backing up their pitcher,” noted Sims. “I take a lot of pride in hitting my cutoffs. You have to have your head in the game on every pitch. You have to anticipate the ball and what you’re going to do beforehand.”
“I like American history and current events,” she says.
According to Sims, she boiled her choice of college to Central Florida Community College in Marion County and Seminole State.
“It was really a hard choice,” recalled Sims, who would like to study either athletic training or sports management. “I loved both of the coaches. In the end, Seminole State offered more. I think Central Florida didn’t fit me as well as Seminole State did.”
On what she recalled, “The girls at Seminole State were so nice,” she said. “They made me feel very comfortable. It was like I was at home.”
On the Raiders’ sales pitch, “Coach Courtney (Miller) told it to me straight,” recalled Sims. “She said they were looking for outfielders and that I was on the top of their list. But she didn’t make any promises.
“I went out there for a tryout and she (19-year veteran skipper Miller) offered me (a scholarship),” recalled Sims. “I could get used to playing out there after so many years at Tom Varn.”
On what she would like to improve on, “As a player, you can’t ever be satisfied. I’m going to a whole different scenario with older girls in college. I have to suck it up, especially with my studies. Not only do I have to step my game up on the field, but I have to be even more dedicated to my studies,” said Sims.
Sims, who entered the week as a career .355 hitter at Hernando, added, “I don’t have the bootiness to drive the ball like some girls. I mostly hit the ball up the middle and to left field. I need to continue and work on my hitting.”
Her most memorable moment in a Lady Leopard uniform so far was winning last year’s 16-inning 5-4 marathon win at Springstead as Hernando clinched its first county crown since 2007.
“Of all my games here that’s the one that I remember the most,” she recalled. “It was the longest game I could remember. There was so much intensity that night. As a team, we weren’t going to give up until we got a ‘W.’”
On the opportunity to compete at the next level, “I owe so much to my parents,” explained Sims. “They’re the ones that allowed me to play so much travel ball. A lot of different coaches were able to see me play.
“I owe a lot to Coach B., too,” added Sims. “He’s the one that always found something positive after a poor at-bat or a poor game. I was really hard on myself as a freshman. I remember Coach B. building me up mentally. It was OK to screw up; just make it up on the next play.”
When she’s not playing ball or studying, Sims enjoys going duck or hog hunting with her father.
“There’s a lot of bonding involved and I love it,” smiled Sims. “It’s my hillbilly side, I guess.”
Despite her terrific athletic exploits Sims would like to be remembered for the simpler things.
“I don’t want to be remembered as a bossy little captain,” insisted Sims. “I want to be remembered not just as a captain but as a friend, who really cared about her teammates.
“I don’t want to be remembered as someone who let her teammates down,” she pointed out. “I’d rather be remembered as a good teammate and a good person.”