Prep softball: Rockhold signs with Simpson

Feb. 26—OTTUMWA — Playing softball in any season wasn't anything but a certainty one year ago for Sydney Rockhold.

On Wednesday, the Ottumwa senior signed a letter that will guarantee the opportunity to play softball for another four years. Rockhold, less than one year removed from being medically cleared to compete after suffering a knee injury during her junior season, signed her letter of intent to play softball at Simpson College.

"Last year, I was trying to get back into running. Now, I'm here," Rockhold said after signing her college letter of intent. "It means a lot. I'm excited for this next step and see what it can take me.

"I always thought about playing softball at a collegiate level. I wanted to keep playing and not end it after this year."

Rockhold actually found herself torn between two rivals, so to speak. Her final decision came down to Central and Simpson, longtime foes in the current American Rivers Conference.

"I enjoyed the coach (Brent Matthias). He brought a lot of energy to our meeting," said Rockhold when discussing the reasons for choosing Simpson. "I also got to meet with some of the softball players and I got to talk with them about what it meant to be a Simpson athlete. One thing they really talked about how they became like a family. It's like a Simpson softball family."

It's a similar feeling to the one Rockhold currently gets playing for the Ottumwa Bulldog softball squad playing for current head coach and former OHS standout Mandi Moore. Preparing for her fifth season, Moore has guided Ottumwa to four consecutive winning seasons going 81-54 in that span with Rockhold playing several different roles over the past three seasons.

"She's going to be a great senior leader to have this season and she's going play a lot of positions, from pitching to playing somewhere in the field," Moore said of Rockhold. "She'll also be in the top five of our batting line-up. I'm excited to see what she can do fully healthy this year and see what her senior season holds for her."

Last year, Rockhold played in 30 of Ottumwa's 33 games, making 27 starts while connecting on 27 hits and driving in 18 runs at the plate. Rockhold also made 15 starts in the pitching circle, producing a 7-6 record throwing a career-high 76 innings.

All that came during a junior season for Rockhold that began with being cleared on the first day of practice after suffering a knee injury months earlier. Even after being cleared, Rockhold was still working her way back to full strength throughout the course of last season.

"Those first couple weeks of the season were pretty rough. It was actually my first time doing anything," Rockhold said. "I still had to go to physical therapy to stretch it out somewhat during the season. It started to feel better as the season went along."

Moore, who not only pitched at an all-state level for Ottumwa but also pitched collegiately at both Indian Hills and Iowa State, can certainly appreciate the hurdles Rockhold had to overcome last season.

"It's the worst thing you can hear when someone goes down with an injury that ultimately requires surgery," Moore said. "She worked as hard as she could every day to get back where she needed to be.

"It's tough being a pitcher with that type of injury because the lower half of your body takes the brunt of the delivery. She also played a big role at the plate and running the bases. We also had her in the outfield at the end of the season doing even more running, so it definitely took a toll on her body."

This year, Rockhold has had no injuries to deal with. Recently, the Ottumwa senior played throughout the Bulldog girls basketball season, making an appearance in 11 of Ottumwa's 21 games including a Senior Night start alongside Leah McKay in a 76-25 win over Des Moines East that clinched a share of the Iowa Alliance south division title.

"I've also been working on my pitching and I've been working a lot more preparing for the softball season," Rockhold said. "Our goal this season is to make it to the state tournament, maybe also a conference championship. I feel really good going into this season. I think it will be a good one.

"You could see at times last season that Sydney was basically coming into the season cold turkey. You could see she was a little hesitant just because she hadn't used that part for so long," Moore added. "She's a great senior to help lead the way. She's calm, cool and collected. Our girls have all been working with their coaches during winter ball. I'm excited to get my hands on them come May."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.