Riggs Still Leaving Mark in Greenville
March 3, 2011
By Sam Hickman
Head softball coach Tracey Kee has signed players from all across the country during her tenure at East Carolina.
The 2011 roster includes eight student-athletes from California, four from Hawai'i and one from Delaware in addition to four in-state players. However, in 2007, the 15th-year head coach would not need a trip over the Pacific Ocean or to The Golden State to land current Pirate slugger Suzanne Riggs. Riggs, a native of Greenville and a former D.H. Conley High School standout from 2004-2007, quickly caught Kee's eye.
"For us, we always look immediately in this county at the local high schools," Kee stated. "At the time, Suzanne had proven herself as one of the best all-around athletes in the area in my opinion. We knew other schools were recruiting her but we also knew she had strong ties to Greenville and ECU.
"During the recruitment, for us it was just a matter of whether or not Suzanne would decide if staying at home would be the best thing for her."
Born and raised in Greenville, Riggs opted to remain home and signed a National Letter-of-Intent to play ball for the Pirates. The right-handed left fielder noted there were several other schools which offered her scholarships, but staying put seemed like the best option.
"Other schools showed interest," Riggs said, smiling as she tried to recollect the details of the recruiting process. "Appalachian State, UNC Greensboro, and Charleston Southern offered me. Growing up, I never really had a specific school in mind that I wanted to play for, but being from this town and East Carolina being right here - it just kind of fell in my lap. It worked out great."
Riggs thought about other places, but never really had a desire to move away from home to continue her softball career. After all, enjoying the comfort of the town where she spent the first 18 years of her life certainly has its advantages.
The junior believes the biggest advantage of playing so close to home for her is the fact her family and friends would be able to hop in the car, drive down the road for a few miles and watch her compete, just as they had done her entire softball life.
"My family has always come to my games," she beamed. "It's great because my grandparents, mom, dad and brother can come watch me play. It's always nice to have a strong support system and it means a lot to me seeing them there."
The uniqueness of her situation is not solely based on her family's attendance, however. Riggs mentioned another plus to being such a short distance away - home-cooked meals, a hot commodity for college students everywhere. When asked how often she chooses to indulge in the gratification that comes with a hot dish prepared by someone else, Riggs laughed and said she does not take the privilege for granted.
"I love it. I had a home-cooked meal today. I really did." she chuckled. "It was leftovers but it was still good."
Coach Kee remarked one of the most intriguing aspects of Riggs' situation is her ability to help the out-of-state players during their adjustment process, while learning about lifestyles and cultures different than her own. Of course, not many collegiate athletic teams consist of players from North Carolina, Hawai'i, California, and Delaware.
"When the in-state kids and out-of-state kids mix, it's a win-win situation for both," Kee said. "The locals learn things about areas they have no idea about and, at the same time, help our out-of-state kids settle rather quickly. It's all about team dynamics and team chemistry. Last year in Hawai'i (the Pirates competed in the Bank of Hawai'i Invitational Tournament last March), Riggs got to experience and appreciate it with all of our Hawaiian players. It's a give-and-take relationship from that standpoint with this team."
Riggs shared the same sentiments as her coach. "It's really a neat experience. At first, you had to learn everybody's different quirks and I had to deal with them always picking on my accent," she laughed. "But we've gotten along well. It's great to learn about their culture and introduce our own culture to them."
However, it has not always been perfect for Riggs throughout her career as a Pirate. After spending much of her freshman year in the pitcher's circle and only recording six plate appearances, she suffered a series of injuries which forced her to sit out the entire 2009 campaign. Riggs admitted the setbacks created an emotional whirlwind she had to learn how to cope with it.
"If you ask anyone who has been injured and sat out an entire year, they'll say there are a lot of different emotions that come with it," she expressed. "Frustration was one of them, but learning how to deal with that helped me grow as a person. I think it was tougher for me mentally than physically."
Riggs was awarded a redshirt year due to the injury-riddled 2009 season. After experiencing action in 32 games in 2010 and starting nine of those contests, she began to regain confidence. Finally healthy enough to practice and play on a consistent basis, Riggs headed into 2011 with big expectations.
So far, she has reached those goals. Through 16 games, Riggs has posted a .388 batting average while leading the team in most offensive categories including hits (19), home runs (2), and runs batted in (15).
Associate head coach Natalie Kozlowski, who handles most of the offensive duties for the Pirate coaching staff, lauded Riggs for maintaining focus and working hard when times got tough.
"I think progress is the key word for her," Kozlowski explained. "Her focus, maturity and improved swing are big reasons why she's hitting well. Her hard work has paid off and she's where she needs to be right now. We're just glad she's producing for us."
Kee was also adamant in her praise for Riggs' development both on and off the diamond.
"Physically, what she's been able to do moving through the adversity and pain is impressive," Kee said. "Riggs has worked very hard and paid her dues. I'm happy for her and I know Coach Koz is too. You always love to see kids that are loyal to your program succeed."
As for Riggs, she attributes the success she has experienced in 2011 to starting the season with a clean slate.
"It was a new year, a fresh start," she added. "Hopefully, the good results will continue."
Following a short absence, Riggs is quickly returning to her role as `Hometown Hero.'
Better yet, her family is here to witness it.