Chelsea Thomas and Ashley Fleming return to watch one who watched them
MOKANE, MO - Missouri Tiger softball fans grew used to seeing stars Chelsea Thomas and Ashley Fleming on the diamond, but now they are back in mid-Missouri. However, they are the ones doing the watching now.
"I was watching Chelsea Thomas and Ashley Fleming when they were at Mizzou, and now they were watching me. I couldn't believe this was happening. It was surreal," South Callaway Pitcher Konnor Arrowood said.
Arrowood dominated this season for the Bulldogs both from the plate and from the mound as her play helped lead South Callaway. Her skills caught the attention of a former pitcher in Thomas. Both Thomas and Fleming are now coaches at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill. after taking the job in 2015, and they have been captivated by Arrowood's talent.
"I was really impressed with just her size and raw athletic ability, and I saw a little of myself in her. She's raw and not that polished pitcher yet with so much potential. I like to go after those types of recruits, because they remind me of myself." Thomas said.
The Arrowood and Thomas connection on the mound seemed to take hold early in Arrowood's life as she plays with the number 18, Thomas's number at Missouri, because she too hoped to be like Thomas one day.
"It happened when I was young. I think I was 12, and I had to pick a new number. I was like you know what, I want to be just like Chelsea Thomas and she pitches at Mizzou, and she wears number 18. Form there it kind of just stuck."
For the new Bearcats coaching duo, Arrowood caught on with them as well.
Fleming said, "I fell in love with her and what she is like on the field, and she was just kind of somebody I kept in my back pocket until I got a head coaching job."
After months of scouting and tough decisions. That dream became a reality on Nov. 11 as Arrowood officially signed her commitment to play for McKendree next year.
"It felt amazing. Growing up everyone wants to hit like coach Fleming, and everyone wants like Chelsea Thomas. All my dreams are coming true," Arrowood said as she smiled ear to ear.
"She's worked really hard. It's always been a dream of hers, and we are just fortunate it is working out," her father, Ryan Arrowood said, "I can remember when she was little and taking her to watch the games and taking her to every came that the then players were participating in. To now have them sitting across the table telling Konnor how much they wanted her was pretty special."
Arrowood wanted to play for Thomas and Fleming, but she also wanted to make sure something else was all hers as well.
Thomas said, "She's like 'is 18 open I really want number 18,' and I was like you know what we can definitely keep that open for you."
It's not every day you get a chance to play for your childhood idol, someone you looked up to all those years, but Arrowood says she is taking it in stride.
"It's like holy crap you know. It's kind of scary, but at the same time I want to show them it was worth it," Arrowood said.
"Has she opened up more than when she first stepped on campus here? Definitely, and I think she is really going to find her rhythm on this team," Fleming said.
For Fleming and Thomas, they said their connection to mid-Missouri will be a positive for finding and connecting to other softball recruits in Missouri in the future.
"That's something I think that stands out to people in Missouri that we both came from a high division-one program of Mizzou that's obviously been in the past few years a top team in the country. So, I think a lot of people are seeing we are doing a lot of those same things, and they want to be a part of that," Fleming said.
For Arrowood, she will be a starting pitcher for McKendree as well as play a big role hitting.
"We're going to want someone that says 'I want the ball,' and I think that is Konnor," Thomas said.