When 18-year-old Brenna Zumbro first stepped onto the pitching mound as a fifth-grader, it was only because she wanted to emulate her older brother.
At the time, Bryan Zumbro, was an accomplished Payson Little League pitcher.
For Zumbro, what began as an act of admiring her brother's feats has turned into a college scholarship.
Last week, the Lady Longhorn hurling ace accepted an invitation to pitch next season for the Whitworth College Pirates in Spokane, Wash.
With the decision, Zumbro is breathing a sigh of relief.
The twisting, turning road to the scholarship was bumpy and seemingly unending. Since the beginning of her sophomore year, she's scoured the country trying to find the best fit for her academic and athletic interests.
"It was very tough keeping up with it all," she said. "But, I feel the most important thing is to visit the schools and really learn how the girls and coaches on the team treat one another."
Although the recruiting and scholarship process was grueling, it also was "priceless," Zumbro said.
She was beginning to believe a school that could meet her requirements might not exist, but last month, she traveled to Whitworth.
Prior to the visit, Zumbro admits she was little apprehensive about the Spokane school. But during the first few minutes of her stay, she knew the college was the place she wanted to continue her career.
"The softball team is like one big family," she said. "The coaches are awesome and they are so uplifting and encouraging to the players."
Currently the team is ranked No. 8 in Division III play and according to Zumbro, "are moving up."
When she phoned Pirate assistant coach, JuJu Predisik to tell her she would accept the Whitworth offer, it took only a few minutes for head coach Theresa Hansen to return the call and congratulate her on the choice.
"She told Brenna how excited they were to have her join the team," Zumbro's mother, Val, said.
Along with the tight-knit team, Zumbro said she was impressed by the students and teachers.
"Everyone there was very nice. It's a good environment for me," she said.
In addition to a good softball program, the school has a strong academic reputation in the northwest.
"It's ranked No. 2 in the region for academics," she said. "I feel I've made the right decision for both academics and softball."
She plans to major in business administration with a focus on accounting and management.
Wrapping up her prep career
Before she can begin focusing on her college career, Zumbro has some unfinished business on the Payson High School diamond.
The postseason Grand Canyon regional tournament begins tomorrow (Saturday) and much of the success of the team will hinge on her pitching ability.
As the team's No. 1 hurler, she'll receive the starting nod in tomorrow's tournament opener.
When she takes to the mound, Zumbro will be buoyed by four years of varsity experience and seven seasons of club ball.
Zumbro debuted on a club team as a 14-year-old pitcher on the 18-years-and-under Glendale Arizona Stars. The following season, she hooked up with the Arizona Outlaws 16-years-and-under team in Glendale.
She had two stints with the Peoria Xplosion -- on the 16-years-and-under version and the most recently on the 18-years-and under squad.
As a Lady Horn, she won four varsity letters, was on the all-2001 and 2002 state tournament teams and was second team all-Arizona in 2003. She also was named to the Class 3A All-East region first team the past two seasons.
Although she's had some outstanding years, Zumbro is certain her senior campaign will be the most rewarding.
"The best season is definitely this year," she said. "The girls on the team are so full of fun. We play as a team and that is the reason were are so successful."
In addition to softball, Zumbro started in soccer last season. At the conclusion of the campaign, she was named the Grand Canyon region's first team goal tender.
Last fall, she turned out for volleyball and showed a great deal of promise before having to step aside due to conflicts with club softball.
Once the softball season wraps up and Zumbro trades her Lady Horn uniform for a Pirate uniform, she will have a new set of goals.
"They are simple: I want to make a difference in the team and keep a 3.0 grade point average," she said.
She will graduate next month with the PHS class of 2004.