From Wolfpack to Bluejay
That one word summarized Saren Croker's recruitment throughout her high school career.
Croker had her eyes on one school and one school only, the Creighton University Bluejays. It might've took a few years, but Croker was focused on becoming a Bluejay and she finally reached her end goal.
"I told the head coach of Creighton's softball team that I was going to be on his team when I graduated high school," Croker said. "I wasn't interested in any other school. I just wanted to be a Bluejay."
Her journey to Creighton didn't start in high school, as her softball career started at the age of eight with tee-ball. The year of tee-ball was boring for Croker, but she said she met Tony Young and he gave her that spark into the future.
Young became one of her coaches and helped her on mechanics as well as the mental side of the game. He coached her in softball and basketball throughout her childhood, which allowed him to notice little details in her work ethic and focus that would make her a great athlete.
"[She] never left my side," Young said. "Saren brought an energy to practices and games that rubbed onto other players. It's been exciting to watch her grow."
Croker continued playing basketball and softball each year, but knew the dream was to make it on the Park softball team. She started watching the varsity team with her friends, and later teammates, at 12 years old and made it a goal to reach that varsity team.
"Park softball has a strong tradition of winning and excelling in the sport," Croker said. "I wanted to be part of that success."
That dream became a reality in her freshman year as she earned a spot on the varsity team for the season. She became the starting catcher in her sophomore year.
The first two seasons ended in the first round of the state tournament, but this past season Croker and the Wolfpack were able to reach the state finals.
The team eventually lost to Stillwater, but Croker understands she has one more year left before her graduation. Therefore, her goal is the same as everyone else on the team and that's to bring a state softball title to Cottage Grove and Park High School.
Croker was talking to her other coach, Julie Standering, and Standering told her that she could see Croker playing at Creighton in the future. At that moment Corker said she wasn't thinking about college, but said she became excited about Standering's comments.
"I went to a Creighton softball game during the spring of my sophomore year and I fell in love," Croker said. "I fell in love with the facilities, the fans, the players, the campus and the overall feeling of Creighton."
After that game, Croker was determined to become a Bluejay at the end of her senior year. Throughout her entire high school career, that became her goal. She received the number of Creighton softball head coachBrent Vigness and began to text him at different moments throughout her junior year.
Croker didn't receive many texts in response and Young said that was due to NCAA rules on college coaches contacting high school players. Vigness couldn't contact Croker, but she continued to go to Creighton at different times to keep her face in front of Vigness.
Croker attended a camp at Creighton during the winter of her junior year. Once the camp finished and she returned home, Croker received a text from a senior on the Creighton team. That made her excited and built some confidence that her goal could still be attained.
"It was a hard time in the recruiting process," Croker said. "Once I got the text from the Creighton player, it brought my confidence and optimism back up."
After the winter camp, Croker started paying all of her attention to the Park softball season because she knew this team had the capability to go to state and compete. She wasn't as focused on Creighton, but that topic came up just before Park started its state tournament run.
Croker received a text from Vigness just before the first game at state wishing her luck. That simple message brought a smile to her face and she said it made her work harder as a catcher and as a player to capture the state title.
Park came up just short of that goal, which made Croker even more focused for this upcoming season as a senior and leader for the Wolfpack.
Tears of joy
After the tournament ended, Croker went back down to Creighton for another game as well as a camp. During the camp, Croker was brought into the coach's office.
"I knew when I went in there, I was going to be crying either way afterwards," Croker said. "I would either cry of happiness because I received an offer or I would be crying because I wouldn't reach my goal."
After a small conversation with Vigness and the Creighton softball staff, Croker came out of the office crying with joy. She just received a scholarship to play softball at Creighton University, a dream come true for her.
"It was a huge relief committing to Creighton," Croker said. "It was probably one of the best moments of my life."
There were two people that Croker contacted after receiving the offer and they were Young and Standering. Both of them congratulated her and told her how proud they were of her accomplishments.
"Once she said 'Hi Tony' on the phone, I knew it was good news," Young said. "I'm proud as heck of her because she worked so hard for it."
Now, Croker can focus on her final season as catcher for Park softball. She's hoping to build her skills as a catcher since that's where she'll likely play at Creighton. She said it was perfect timing to receive the offer because she can head into her senior year knowing she'll be a Bluejay afterwards.
Whether it's a practice session in the morning or afternoon, Croker said she can't thank Young and Standering enough for their commitment to her as a softball player and as a person. She said she couldn't have reached this point without those two, as well as Park coaches like Bob Loshek and Brittany Huback and the long list of coaches she's had throughout her childhood.
She said she hopes people understand that anyone can decide their future if they stay persistent and stay on the coaches' minds. It doesn't have to be a coach coming and finding a player, it can be the opposite way if that individual wants it badly enough.
"I know [Saren] is not going to stop working," Young said. "There are not many players out there like her.
"I'm just happy and proud to have coached her along the way."