PEMBROKE — The county’s reigning freshman of the year in softball already has the University of North Carolina at Pembroke on her radar.
This week, MariJo Wilkes has an opportunity to catch the attention of the Braves’ coaching staff at the team’s summer camp — the first of two camp sessions this summer.
“I want to come here when I’m older for a veterinary program, so I want them to look at me,” Wilkes said.
The Purnell Swett utility player said it was nerve-wracking being one of the youngest players in a field of more than 20 athletes at the camp.
“I hope I look at me and see that despite how small I am, I’m better than what they imagined,” Wilkes said.
Wilkes hit .271 at the plate with 13 runs scored and three doubles in her first season with the Lady Rams. She played in the outfield primarily and also pitched three innings.
The Lady Rams graduated six seniors this season, including four of their top five batters. As one of two rising sophomores with varsity experience, Wilkes will have an opportunity to fill a more significant role for the Lady Rams.
“I need to improve on my hitting because it was good at the beginning of the season and then it fell off,” she said. “I need to work on just getting my head in the game more.”
Wilkes participated in the first of two camps held by UNCP head coach Brittany Bennett and her staff this summer. The events, which feature two days of skills training and instruction, help the Braves identify talent throughout the region.
“Being able to recruit these kids out of this camp is really what it’s all about,” Bennett said. “I’ve got a bunch of kids that are hustling, moving through stations, making adjustments and improving. Through our first four-hour session, I already have kids that are better than when they started.”
UNCP softball players were on hand to guide the campers through workout stations and give them advice.
“I think one of the coolest things as a coach is being able to watch your players coach,” Bennett said. “When you watch your players teach, you know that they understand the game. They believe in your strategy because they’re teaching that to the younger generation.
“The interaction of these kids being able to work with college athletes is a high-end experience all the way through.”
Six seniors, including All-American third baseman Jamie Johnson, wrapped up their final collegiate campaign with the Braves in April. The summer camps allow high school players in the area to see if following in the footsteps of those seniors is the right move for them.
Bennett said the ratio of instructors to campers is ideal for helping the athletes to receive individual attention.
“You’re getting on our campus and you’re seeing what a college atmosphere feels like,” she said. “You’re also getting some philosophy. You can come here and somewhere else and compare your experiences. You can say “I like this, this is for me,” or “No, I don’t like this,”. Having kids get different perspectives on coaching opens them up to forming opinions.”
The camp’s second session will take place on July 11 to 12. Individuals can preregister for $150 or register on the day of the camp for for $175.