BROOKSVILLE - On the first day of the early signing period, Hernando High senior Tana McDaniel inked a National Letter of Intent with Morehead State University.
In a crowded room stocked full of family and friends Wednesday afternoon, the Lady Leopards' soon-to-be four-year starting shortstop accepted a full ride from the Division I Eagles, out of Morehead, Ky.
"It's exciting cause it's what I've been working for my whole life," McDaniel said. "I think I started playing when I was 10, and ever since then I wanted to play Division I softball."
McDaniel has been a .373 hitter over the past three years with the Lady Leopards, scoring 66 runs while driving in 65. She also has a combined 36 extra-base hits, including 25 doubles.
While teammate and reigning Hernando Today Player of the Year Courtney Riddle garners considerable attention for her work on the mound and at the plate, McDaniel is a three-time All-County selection in her own right.
This coming season, McDaniel could become the county's first fast-pitch player to reach the century mark in games played, runs scored, hits and runs batted in.
"It's so special," Hernando head coach Kevin Bittinger said. "To have Tana, what she's accomplished, how hard she's work, just everything. She's such a complete player. It goes to say that hard work pays off, and if anybody deserves this it's her.
"You look at what Ashley Sims was able to do for us last year graduating and then this senior class, Tana and Courtney especially being four-year starters. Now that's special. And those two have been every step of the way the last three years what we've accomplished, and who knows what we're able to accomplish this year?
"I can take very little credit for it. Those two are the girls that are working hard. They push the girls at practice, and those two mean everything to Hernando softball."
McDaniel also had offers from other schools such as Columbus State out of Georgia, the University of North Carolina at Willington, Tennessee State and Austin Peay State in Tennessee.
She emailed Morehead coach David Williams prior to a travel ball tournament back in November.
"In the first game I got hit in the mouth and broke my jaw," McDaniel said. "Then I went back and played and he saw me play, then I went up there for a hitting clinic and he offered me.
"It's really a small-town atmosphere, kind of like Brooksville, which I like cause I could not go to a huge school. But it's still D-I and in a good conference that's competitive."
A member of the Ohio Valley Conference, the Eagles went 24-25 this past season but made their first appearance in the conference tournament since 2010.
They recruited McDaniel as a middle infielder, though she said she'd be willing to play wherever the team wanted.
"You look at Tana, she's such a complete athlete," Bittinger said. "She can play second base, shortstop, third base, and if Morehead State needed an outfielder I guarantee you she's going to have one of the stronger arms. She gets a great jump on the ball in the outfield. She's such a versatile player I think she can play pretty much anywhere they needed her to."
McDaniel was also a three-year varsity player in volleyball, playing outside and middle hitter. She was a captain for the Lady Leopard squad that captured a district title last month.
Her volleyball days are behind her, however she still has some time left in her prep career both in weightlifting and softball.
The Lady Leopards are coming off a district championship and a trip to the Elite Eight in softball.
"I definitely want our team to go to the Final Four and I think we can do it definitely with the people we have and the people that are coming and how much better we've grown as a team," McDaniel said.
While in college, she plans to study exercise science because she wants to work with athletes.
That'll all be part of the new experience of being away from Brooksville, where she was born and raised, over the next four years.
"I'm scared to leave my parents but I think it's going to be OK because you have built-in friends when you have a team that you live with basically," McDaniel said.
"My freshman year I want to be Rookie of the Year for the OVC, but (her overall goal is) just to be successful."
By the numbers: Tana McDaniel
YR GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI .AVG
2011 22 61 16 20 2 3 0 8 .328
2012 25 81 18 34 12 2 2 30 .420
2013 30 91 32 33 11 2 2 27 .363
Totals 77 233 66 87 25 7 4 65 .373