Elizabeth Novelli had a solid idea about her college future.
She could attend Tennessee-Chattanooga as a student and put softball in the rear-view mirror.
Or she could try to combine education and athletics at either University of the South in Sewanee or Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tenn.
Novelli, a 17-year-old senior at Ooltewah High, picked TWC and will sign a scholarship to play softball for the Lady Bulldogs on Monday.
“A major factor in my decision was that I wanted to play softball,” Novelli said. “If I went to UTC I wouldn’t have played softball. Sewanee and TWC gave me the opportunity to continue playing softball and the decision came down to whether I could play softball, be accepted in school and which school was the best fit for me.”
On a visit to TWC two weeks ago Novelli worked out with the Lady Bulldogs, who have already started their 2013-14 season, and impressed coach Toby Brooks with her skills.
“I came home and thought about it,” Novelli said. “I narrowed my decision to TWC and Sewanee and decided TWC had everything I wanted. I love the small hometown feeling up there. I’m so excited because it’s like a dream. You grow up to play T-ball, high school ball and pretty soon it’s time for college.”
TWC is an NAIA school that competes in the Appalachian Athletic Conference. The Lady Bulldogs went 23-18 and 11-7 in the AAC, just behind regular-season champion Reinhardt and Virginia Intermont, both of which qualified for the NAIA national tournament.
A first baseman/pitcher, Novelli batted .344, drove in 15 runs and collected seven doubles, two triples and a pair of home runs.
“Elizabeth has got some power and we’re going to be relying heavily on her this season,” said Lady Owls first-year coach Jon Massey said. “She batted fifth in the lineup last year and that’s right for her. She’s going to get some doubles, triples and home runs.”
A 4.0 student, Novelli will take a solid student-athlete background to Athens and at the same time join another former Lady Owls player, Calli Cross, who signed with the Lady Bulldogs in July 2013.
Novelli, who has played softball since the age of 7, enrolled at Ooltewah as a sophomore after moving with her family from LaGrange, Ga. She has played extensively with travel teams, most recently with Chattanooga Force 97.
“Most of the time we played in exposure tournaments, hoping to get colleges to look at us,” Novelli said. “I’ve played travel ball off and on about four years.”
Currently, Novelli is focused on her senior year with the Lady Owls, who are making a fresh start under Massey, who was chosen to replace long-time coach Norma Nelson.
Nelson was dismissed after the 2013 season following a 25-year career with the Ooltewah softball program, including the 19 as head coach. She has since been hired to lead the East Hamilton program.
East Hamilton and Ooltewah compete in District 5-AAA.
Those two rivals open the district schedule on March 11 at 4:30 p.m. at East Hamilton. The Lady Owls actually start the 2014 season a day earlier, hosting Rhea County at 5:30 p.m.
Novelli wants to make the most of her final year at Ooltewah.
“I want to do the best I can and hope we’re the best team in the district,” she said. “We have a lot of young girls, but all of them have played travel ball. I feel like we’ll be really good this year.”
Ooltewah won state championships in 1982, 1990, 1992 and 2008.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)