STERLING – A Golden Warrior infielder will be patrolling the softball diamond for Eastern Illinois in the spring of 2022.
Sterling's Riley Dittmar announced that the Panthers would be her college choice via Twitter.
"I went down to their campus in the winter and really loved it," she said. "I've been talking to the coach consistently this spring and summer, and she was able to watch the livestreams during my travel season, and we talked a lot and got in a lot of Zooms, and she decided she wanted to give me the opportunity to be a part of turning around their softball organization."
Tara Archibald was named the head coach at Eastern Illinois in August and led the Panthers to an 11-10 record before the season came to a premature end this year. Before her time at EIU, Archibald was the pitching coach at Illinois State and spent some time as an assistant at Georgia before that.
She took over a team that had gone 16-39 in 2019 and was looking to reinvent itself. While that reinvention was put on pause, Dittmar is excited to be a part of it.
Dittmar lost her junior season at Sterling to a global pandemic, coming off a sophomore season in 2019 in which she found an everyday home for the Golden Warriors at second base and at the top of the lineup as a left-handed hitter.
"She is very smart on the base paths," Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said. "She is going to get you good at bats, competitive at bats. She has really matured as a hitter and worked on her weaknesses. She's a student of the game."
Dittmar may find herself moving around a bit defensively the next few years. A second baseman in 2019, Edmondson is not ruling out moving Dittmar over to shortstop in 2021 to step in for the now-graduated Grace Gould.
Once she gets to college, Dittmar might be faced with yet another move. When COVID-19 shut down the 2020 season at the college level, the NCAA offered seniors a chance to come back for a fifth season, potentially causing roster logjams down the road. Dittmar expects to have to spend some time in the outfield at EIU early on before returning to her more natural spot on the infield later in her career.
Even with Dittmar being kept off the field by global events in the spring, Edmondson does not thing she will miss a beat once games begin again.
"She's a very good student academically and she also applies the same amount of time and dedication to her studies of softball as she does her studies," Edmondson said. "So not having the ability to see her in the spring, I don't have any fear or worries that she has regressed in any way because she'll spend outside of the house doing stuff, she'll spend time going to lessons."
Edmondson is also expecting a lot of growth mentally from Dittmar, who is about to start her senior year at Sterling. She would have been one of the captains had the Warriors been able to take the field in the spring, and should be one of the team's senior leaders when they are able to get back on the field.
Even losing her junior year at Sterling, Dittmar has been able to take the field for the summer as part of the Peoria Sluggers 16U Gold.
She knows she has work to put in both in her fall softball season in travel ball and with the Warriors.
"I'm hoping to improve my glovework and my fielding, and improve my swing overall," she said. "I want to be at my top when I get to college so I can help my team the most."