Arnold proving herself at the collegiate level

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- This time of year, surfers everywhere start heading to the beach to surf the waves.
   But for the last several seasons, East Tennessee State softball player April Arnold has been making waves.
   The former Johnson County standout is a senior for the second-year program that has become a force to be reckoned with in the Southern Conference.
   Arnold's former coach, Johnson County head coach Dana Smith, believes Arnold is a one of a kind athlete.
   "There's only been one of April that has come through our doors," Smith said at Saturday's ETSU-Furman softball doubleheader. "We've had a lot of good athletes, but none like her. She was a strong player, and a strong captain all four years. She started all four years.
   "The whole program is very proud of her. When she graduated we retired her number and retired her jersey. She's the only girl athlete that's been done for."
   On Saturday afternoon, Arnold gave coach Smith even more to cheer about.
   Arnold came into pinch-run in the seventh inning of Saturday's second game with Furman, and she showed her amazing speed by scoring the game-winning run on a hit by Rhea Holler to give the Bucs a 5-4 victory.
   "I just knew Rhea was going to hit it in after Melanie (Collins) got me on," Arnold said. "We really came to play today at the plate."
   Running the bases is something Arnold likes to do, and as she showed Saturday, the former Longhorn is very good at it.
   "I like to go in," Arnold said. "Usually when our pitcher Tiffany (Vandergriff) pitches, Mel bats for me and I know she is going to get a hit so I can run for her."
   Arnold is also one of the top defensive players on the ETSU team.
   Arnold plays second base, and she comes up with the big play when needed.
   "I try to be really solid, and be a leader in the infield," Arnold said. "Keeping everybody up and keeping everybody on their toes. That was my job this year."
   Arnold has definitely been a leader for the Bucs the past two seasons, just like she was at Johnson County High School.
   Arnold had never played softball until she was a freshman in high school, but she picked it up quick.
   "My dad was a baseball coach, so he always wanted me to play," Arnold said. "I did other things, then played my freshman year. Pitched the rest of the time, then came here and played second base.
   Arnold had a stellar career in Mountain City. She set an Appalachian Conference record for strikeouts in a single season with 255, and was ranked among the top-20 players in the state her senior year by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association.
   Arnold treasured her career at Johnson County, and also playing for Coach Smith.
   "I had a very good career there," Arnold said. "I was a pitcher, pitched every game for three years. Coach Smith is like the most influential person in my life. She really pushed me. Even though there weren't many athletes coming out of Johnson County she always said that I could do it, and that I could go Division I if I wanted it."
   Arnold ended up traveling a little bit before arriving in Johnson City, as she made stops at Lee University and Roane State Community College.
   "I went to Lee University the first year, and I just didn't like the atmosphere. I didn't like the school, so I decided to transfer. I went to a very good community college, and then the next year we got a program here."
   When Arnold made the transfer to East Tennessee State, she made a little history.
   "She's the only one," Smith said when asked if she was the only Division I athlete to ever come through Johnson County. "She's worked hard, and she continues to work hard. That's what it takes."
   Arnold is very happy with the fact that she has set the bar high for other Johnson County athletes.
   "It was a very big deal for me to make a statement for softball players in Johnson County knowing that you can go to a high level to play softball," Arnold said.
   April isn't the only athlete in her family. Jon Arnold, April's brother, is a star baseball player for the Longhorns.
   Arnold hopes to set a good example for her brother and other Longhorn athletes.
   "We have some young players that have an opportunity to go play," Arnold said. I want to show them that they can come and play. My brother is a junior and I want to set an example for him. He's doing very well, and he said a lot of it has to do with me going and playing coming from Johnson County."
   And if the younger players follow Arnold's example, chances are we will see more Longhorns making it to the top.