Etowah ace overcomes torn ACL to sign scholarship


Photo: Etowah High School senior Sydney Simpson (pictured, seated), recently signed a softball scholarship with Northwest Florida State. Pictured, standing, from left: EHS head softball coach Ryan Carter, EHS assistant softball coach Ellie Jones, EHS assistant softball coach Meredith Jones, EHS assistant softball coach Steve West, EHS assistant softball coach Krislyn West, EHS assistant softball coach Caleb Ledbetter. (Not pictured: EHS assistant softball coach Kevin Horton)

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

A worldwide pandemic and a freak injury failed to deter Sydney Simpson in her quest for a college softball scholarship.
Despite missing most of her freshman year due to COVID-19 and most of her junior season due to a torn ACL, the Etowah High senior signed with Northwest Florida State last November, giving her the opportunity to continue her athletic career while working toward a degree in nursing.
“It felt really good, because I was behind in the recruiting process,” she said. “I basically missed out on all of my junior year, so I was like, ‘Where am I going to go and what am I going to do?’ So just knowing that I had a place to go [for college] took a lot of stress off me and gave me a sense of relief, mentally and physically.”
Simpson was nothing short of dominant her sophomore season of 2021, when the Lady Blue Devils went 35-11, finished runner-up at regionals and placed third at state. In 181 and two-third innings, she struck out 359 batters for an average of two strikeouts per inning while allowing only 72 hits, 23 earned runs and 63 walks. She went 23-6-1 with an earned run average of 0.88. Simpson also held her own at the plate with 43 hits, 32 RBI and a .341 batting average.
In the regional and state tournaments combined, Simpson started all 10 of Etowah’s games, six of which they won. In 53 innings, she allowed just 36 hits, 13 earned runs and 22 walks while fanning 93. She was named to the ASWA Class 4A All-State first team and was selected Player of the Year for the All-Messenger softball team following the season.
As a seventh grader, Simpson finished with 154 strikeouts. For her high school career, she has 701 strikeouts and a 2.09 earned run average.
Simpson suffered her injury in a travel ball game during the fall of 2021, ironically on the Northwest Florida campus.
“It was the first pitch of the game, and my knee completely tore,” she said. “I wasn’t in any pain; it just felt like my knee gave out. The therapist down there didn’t know [the knee] was torn until the MRI came back.”
During her rehab, Simpson’s doctor informed her that her recovery would be in direct proportion to the amount of work she was willing to put in.
“I knew that if I wanted to play college ball, or even get back to where I was, I had to push myself,” she said. “I knew I had to work hard every single day to get back. Even on the days that I didn’t have therapy, I was doing stuff on my own or with a trainer.”
Simpson returned to practice the same day she was medically cleared, then played in an area tournament game the following day. Etowah wound up qualifying for the regional tournament last season.
“I was still a little nervous about [my knee] since I was just six months out of surgery, but it held up pretty good,” she said. “I didn’t have all my confidence back, but I had to do what I had to do for my team.”
Simpson said Northwest Florida completed her checklist of the type of college she was looking for. The 2022 Lady Raiders went 40-14 overall and 11-8 in conference play.
“Coming off my injury, I didn’t want to go anywhere big. I wanted someplace that felt like home. I already knew [head softball] coach [And] Lee for a long time. After I tore my ACL, he called every week and asked how I was doing. I didn’t know if I wanted to go there until I took my visit, and it wound up being the exact place I wanted. I love it down there.”
Simpson has a quality travel ball resume, playing for the Bolts and the Hot Shots out of Birmingham and the E.C. Bullets out of Atlanta, Ga.
“I’m super excited for Sydney,” said EHS head softball coach Ryan Carter. “She’s been through a lot over the past few years, and she’s worked really hard to put herself in this position. She’s probably in the best shape that’s she’s ever been in, and that’s all because of her. We’re looking for her to have a really good season. [Northwest Florida] is getting a good player, a good leader, a good role model and a good student. Sydney does things the right way and will represent Etowah very well when she gets to the next level.”
Carter, who took over the program last August, was an assistant baseball coach for both Etowah and Westbrook Christian.
“Me and [EHS head baseball coach] Blake Bone always worked well together,” said Carter. “I’ve gotten his perspective on it, and I’ve talked with [former Westbrook baseball coach] Matt Kennedy. It’s always important to get good advice from great coaches, and you can’t find two better coaches around here than those two.
“Girls will do exactly what you tell them to do, and our girls have worked hard and bought into the process with no complaints. We’ve also got a super coaching staff, so it’s really been a lot of fun.”
Carter had an additional reason for switching from the baseball diamond to the softball circle.
“My nine-year-old daughter plays softball, so it’s a lot easier for her to spend more time with me at a softball field with a bunch of girls rather than a baseball field with a bunch of guys,” he said. “She’ll be able to hang out with the girls and go through some drills, and we can have our own bonding along the way.”
Simpson is looking forward to playing for Carter.
“He doesn’t make us stress out, which is the best part about it,” she said. “He’s doing a lot of fundamental stuff, which I think we need. If we don’t get something, he’ll go over it until we know it, so he’s helping to prepare us mentally. He doesn’t rush it, but at the end of the day, he expects us to know it.”
Simpson shared a specific goal she and her teammates have for the upcoming season.
“We want our last game to be in Oxford (at the AHSAA state tournament). All four of us seniors played (at the state tournament in 2021), and we want that to happened again, not only for us again but for the rest of the team.”

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