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Maryville’s Emma Blankenship signs with Maryville College softball while surrounded by family and friends on Wednesday at John Sevier Elementary School.

Before Emma Blankenship was old enough to hit a softball, she already had a desire to play thanks to her sister, Skylar.

Growing up watching Skylar play led to her own interest in taking up the sport and as soon as she was physically able to play herself, she did.

“I’ve always watched my sister play since before I could walk,” Blankenship told The Daily Times. “As soon as I could pick up a bat and swing at a ball, I was playing. (I’ve played) pretty much my whole life.”

That love for the game led to years of competing on travel teams, year-round practice and preparation and becoming a standout player for the Maryville Lady Rebels softball team.

It also led to her signing with Maryville College to continue that career at the collegiate level.

Blankenship inked with the Scots on Wednesday just outside of the dugout at the Lady Rebels’ field at John Sevier Elementary where friends, family, teammates and coaches were there to witness the momentous occasion on the same turf they’ve witnessed her abilities for the last four years.

“It feels amazing,” Blankenship said. “It’s like everything has been put into one. I’ve been so stressed out and so much pressure I feel like has been put on me and then today, it’s just lifted off my shoulders. It just feels amazing.”

Blankenship chose to stay close to home and play at MC because of her close relationship with the school’s eighth-year head coach, Leah Kelly.

The two met three years ago when Blankenship was using the batting cages at The Shop hitting facility in Maryville.

Their relationship flourished, leading to Blankenship not being able to see herself playing for anyone else.

“My dad owns The Shop hitting facility and I’ve always been in there, you know, joking around with Coach Kelly and I’ve done camps with her,” Blankenship said. “She just always stuck out as a person. I realized that I really like her and I like the way she coaches and everything that she puts into the program. I wanted to play for her because she’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a coach.”

As for Blankenship’s current coach, first-year Lady Rebels coach Joe Michalski who was hired by the program this past offseason, it didn’t take him long to find out the kind of player and person she was.

In his limited experience with Blankenship as one of his players, Michalski is also looking forward to getting to work with her this spring as the lone senior for Maryville.

“I would say the first thing that comes to mind (about Blankenship) is ‘friendly,’” Michalski said. “She always shows up with a big smile. She’s one of those people that every day seems the same when I see her. She’s happy, she’s ready to go, she’s excited about what’s coming up. She brings that energy to practice. She’s just very fun to be around.

“I’m super excited (to have her this season). She’s fast, she’s strong. We’ve been in the weight room since August. She’s super dedicated to that part of the game and it really shows up.”

For Blankenship, having the weight of a college commitment off her shoulders has already allowed her to put all of her focus on the 2022 Lady Rebels’ season as they look to improve off of a 13-22 campaign last year.

“I’m just so excited (for this season),” Blankenship said. “I cannot wait for this season with a new coach and to just play with my teammates and then to get into college and play for Coach Kelly.”

Follow @ByNoahTaylor on Twitter for more from sports reporter Noah Taylor.

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