Graduation Day Turns into Game Day for Techster Senior Duo
May 18, 2017
By Malcolm Butler
It was going to be their big day, one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments. Their names would be called in front of thousands of people as they walked across the stage of the Thomas Assembly Center in high heels and dresses to receive their diplomas as part of spring commencement exercises at Louisiana Tech.
Instead, Natalie and Tori will be performing on a different stage in a different venue in a different once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
They will be dressed up for this occasion too, just in a different type of attire.
After helping lead Louisiana Tech to the Conference USA championship title last weekend in Hattiesburg, Natalie and Tori earned a chance to join their 17 Lady Techster teammates in the Tuscaloosa Regional of the 2017 NCAA Softball Tournament.
So instead of walking before thousands at graduation in Ruston they will be playing before thousands at the University of Alabama’s Rhoads Stadium, one of the premier college softball venues in the country.
And although both young ladies understand what an amazing accomplishment it is to earn their college degree, they wouldn’t trade the opportunity to wear Louisiana Tech across the front of their jersey one last time.
“I would rather be playing in regionals because it's a great opportunity for not only me, but also the Louisiana Tech softball program,” said Natalie. “Although I will not be walking at graduation, representing Louisiana Tech University with my team on the field means so much more to me. My childhood dream has come true, and I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world.”
“I would much rather be playing in regionals,” said Tori. “It's kind of funny, because right now I'm in between two things that are ‘once in a lifetime.’ This is my senior year; it's my last chance to get the opportunity to play in regionals competing at the highest level possible. Softball has been my life since I was seven years old. Win or lose, playing in a regional will be so gratifying. I get to play with 18 of my best friends on the biggest stage in collegiate softball.”
These are words coming from two incredibly well-rounded student-athletes. Two of Louisiana Tech’s finest.
Natalie is a 4-time Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor roll, a 4-time C-USA Academic Medalist and the 2016 recipient of the C-USA Spirit of Service Award. She will graduate summa cum laude with a 3.91 in biology and will start medical school in California in a year.
The Covina, California native completed her last final on Tuesday, just over 24 hours before departing for Tuscaloosa with her teammates. She knows that her experiences on the college softball field at Louisiana Tech have as much to do with her maturation process as do the experiences in the classroom.
“To still be playing and making history my senior year means so much to me,” said Natalie, one of four team captains. “Looking back at the growth of our team and myself as an individual from my freshman year until now is unbelievable. The passion and commitment each one of us brings to the field every day has helped us get where we are today and has made the sky the limit.”
Tori’s stats in the classroom are just as impressive as her stats on the field. The Keller, Texas native is a 4-time Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll member and will graduate cum laude with a 3.50 grade point average in communications.
The multi-talented outfielder – who has finished in the top three in numerous Louisiana Tech talent shows due to her beautiful voice – will play this summer for the Great Britain Women’s National Softball team in the European Championships in France and Italy. Tori, who has dual citizenship in England and Canada, hopes to continue her education at Louisiana Tech, pursuing her master’s in business administration.
This weekend’s Tuscaloosa Regional is at the forefront of her mind though.
“There isn't really enough words to describe the feeling I have knowing I'm doing something with this team that hasn't been done since 2008,” said Tori. “It's just a passion for the game, when you give so much, it finally gives back. And that's what softball has done all my life, made me a better person and player. I'm so glad I get to be a part of a team that will only continue its success story once I leave.”
Natalie is happy. Tori is happy. Neither is concerned about missing the opportunity to walk across the stage in what will be a historic commencement ceremony Saturday where the 100,000th degree in the history of the University will be awarded.
But what about the girls’ families? Do they have a concern about graduation day turning into game day?
“It’s a tough one,” said Ian Charters, Tori’s dad who is driving with his wife Debra to Ruston Thursday before coming the rest of the way to Tuscaloosa early Friday morning. “I look at it as what is important to Tori. I know the degree is something that is very important to her. She has worked hard for it. She has met every expectation from an academic standpoint that we could have had for her. The whole family life has been around making sure she did well in school, but so much has been associated with softball, too. It has been a massive part of us as a family; all of the ups and downs that happen during that time.
“We all have a big investment in the softball side of things. For her to be playing in the NCAA Tournament at the end of her college career, well it’s the end of a fantastic journey and a tremendous way for her to exit and step into her new life. In a certain way this is really nice closure for us. It’s just a wonderful way for her to be paid back on all of the efforts and the sacrifices she has made through childhood and into college.”
Sacrifice. That’s a college course every student-athlete could ace. They know all about it, as do their parents.
Nita Moran and Charlie Moran, parents of Natalie, already had their tickets booked to Ruston for this weekend’s graduation. They are scheduled to arrive in Monroe Thursday and then will wait for Natalie’s brother Julian to arrive. But instead of staying in Ruston as originally planned, they will head down I-20 east towards Tuscaloosa late Thursday night.
“I am proud that Natalie was either going to walk or her softball career was extended,” said Nita, mother of Natalie. “As long as Natalie’s fine with it and happy with the decision, then we are too. Ultimately, we want our children to be successful, educated and want them to function in life. But above all of that, we want our kids to be happy. I know Natalie is so happy.
“Do I wish to see her walk as opposed to go to regionals? No. Whatever she desires to do. This is her journey. We were just there to support her as much as we can and let her know we are 100 percent behind her.”
Following this weekend’s regional, Moran and Charters will participate in a private graduation ceremony on Monday, joining six Bulldog baseball players who are also missing commencement this weekend due to their final regular season series at Middle Tennessee. They will receive their Louisiana Tech diplomas – something they have worked just as hard for since starting classes in September of 2013 – from Tech President Les Guice.
It will just be a few days later than their peers.
May 20, 2017 will still have significant meaning to the duo for the rest of their lives. However, the photos to remember it by will show Natalie and Tori in pinstripes and cleats instead of dresses and high heels.
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