By Matt Goisman
SAVANNA — When Bryn Houlton joined Savanna’s high school softball team as a freshman in 2010, she quickly transformed the team. With her in the pitching circle, the Lady Bulldogs would win both the Pitt 8 Tournament and Conference all four of her years and take home multiple district and regional championships.
The Lady Dawgs also made three trips to the state tournament with Houlton as their ace, reaching the Class 2A state championship game in 2012 and 2013. Houlton said those trips to State are among her favorite memories as a Lady Dawg.
Houlton added another accolade to her long list Wednesday, becoming the first Savanna softball player to earn a Division I scholarship when she signed with the University of Kansas in a ceremony held at the Savanna High School cafeteria.
“I just could never imagine it, and now it’s here,” Houlton said. She added that playing college softball has been a dream for her since about the eighth grade.
Kansas competes in the Big 12, home of 2013 Women’s College World Series champion Oklahoma. Though the Sooners graduated pitching ace Keilani Ricketts, Houlton’s favorite player, last year, Houlton said she’s still excited by the idea of playing the defending champs.
The Jayhawks last won their conference in 2006, and KU has just one WCWS appearance and no titles in its history. The Big 12 may be the second-best softball conference behind the PAC-12, with at least one fifth-place finish or higher in seven of the last nine WCWS tournaments.
Ken Myers, Houlton’s coach on the Tulsa-based Oklahoma Diamond Girls travel softball team, called Houlton an “absolute pleasure to have on our team” and said he thought Houlton could start helping the Jayhawks as early as next season.
“They will expose her to more of a sophisticated style and approach to pitching,” Myers said. “Her strategy will not just be an overall game-strategy, it’ll be per batter. It’ll be out-by-out, player-by-player in the box. She’ll become sophisticated with reference to her repertoire of pitches, too. She’s just not going to throw a fastball and a change-up. She’s going to throw it all over and figure out a way to challenge the batters.”
Houlton said she verbally committed to KU about midway through her sophomore year. Both KU and the University of Tulsa had recruited her, she said, but she chose KU because “they just treated you like family and made you part of their softball team.”
With the university located in Lawrence, Houlton will spend her next four years in a town considerably larger than Savanna. She said she wants to add more power and speed to her pitches, and in school she plans to major in accounting.
“I like math, numbers,” Houlton said.
Both Myers and Savanna softball coach Angie Wilson spoke before Houlton signed. Houlton and Wilson’s daughter Jordin have been best friends and softball teammates for upwards of a decade, and Coach Wilson tearfully called Houlton “my kid.”
“It has been more fun than I can possibly tell you the last four years, coaching her and several of these other ones,” Coach Wilson said.
“They’re going to be all over the gym out there, banners flying high. Their names will be there for as long as this school’s here.”
Other attendees at the ceremony included Frink-Chambers coach Kris Mitchell, with whom Houlton won a state softball title in 2006; Savanna superintendent Gary Reeder; basketball coach Dianne Inman; track and field coach James Bond, several of Houlton’s teammates and members of her family. Though Houlton has in the past also played basketball and competed on the track and field team at SHS, she said this year she’ll stick with the Diamond Girls, whose season has already started.
Private pitching coach Larry Shanks, who started working with Houlton when she was 10, said Houlton’s work ethic has always been one of her strongest attributes.
“She had the heart and desire to do it; it’s just whoever wants to work the hardest to get to where they want to go,” Shanks said.
“She’s just a specimen. She’s just good. You could see right there she had all the physical attributes of being a great pitcher.”
Houlton is one of just two Division I athletes to come out of Savanna High School in any sport. Kelli Inman, who graduated SHS in 2002, earned a basketball scholarship to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.