FORT WALTON BEACH — When Kayla Rocha set out to find the school of her dreams, she didn’t have any particular university in mind.
A senior on the Choctaw softball team, she searched far and wide, digging up every lead like a line drive grounder to third alongside her parents. She wanted to find the school that best fit her, and she wouldn’t settle for anything less.
Rocha found that school in Converse College, and she signed on the dotted line Wednesday afternoon in the Choctaw High School media center surrounded by those who made her dream reality.
“Today was great,” Rocha said. “Just having all my friends, my family, my coaches, everyone that supported me along the way, it was just great. Of course I cried. I was emotional. It was a great feeling to know that so many people support me. It was great.”
Converse, located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, offered everything Rocha was looking for. Its academics were impressive. Its campus was beautiful, nestled in a town big enough to explore. And the team Rocha would tie herself to for the next four years was beyond welcoming.
“It really seemed like a home away from home, and that’s ultimately why I chose it,” Rocha said.
But perhaps most importantly, Converse wasn’t too far from home. Rocha’s second choice was located some 22 hours away in Minnesota. With as close as she is to her parents and younger brother, that was a nonstarter.
“When I was looking at schools, I didn’t really know where I wanted go,” she said. “Most people are like, ‘Oh, I want to stay in Florida,’ but I didn’t know. I knew that I would always go far, but seven or eight hours isn’t too far. I can visit my parents when I want to see them, and my parents are a big part of who I am. They’ve kinda molded me into them. And my little brother, I don’t know what I would do if he wasn’t there.”
Although, Rocha didn’t make her final choice until this past week, the decision almost seemed made for her after visiting Spartanburg in January.
“Meeting coach (Jen) George, she just made everything seem like it was gonna be OK,” Rocha said.
Playing primarily third base, Rocha slashed .237/.363/.263 this past year with 28 runs scored and 15 RBI, helping Choctaw to a 24-2 record, a region semifinal appearance and its first district championship of the fastpitch era. She also sported an .821 fielding percentage on 39 chances.
Converse sees her as utility player, Rocha said, though that suits her just fine. She’s ready to enjoy her last few months of high school, but she can’t wait to get to Converse where she plans to study psychology and chase down All-Academic and All-Conference honors with the Valkyries.
And then there’s the snow.
“I haven’t seen much snow, so I’m excited about that,” she said. “Spartanburg is a big town, so I’d like to explore it. I just wanna do everything. I can’t wait to meet new people, start my classes and can’t wait for school.
“I can’t wait to start my future and go see everything.”