For 15 years, Brittany Barnhill’s world has revolved around a yellow, red-stitched sphere that took her across the country and allowed her to live out her dreams.
It took the Northwest product and Rhome resident to Texas’ biggest stage in high school, to the University of Texas and finally the University of Mississippi.
On May 8, the long journey ended with the final collegiate game of her career, a 10-1 loss to Alabama.
”It’s not sunk in yet,” said Barnhill, while in Denver to watch her younger sister play in a tournament. “You come to a point where you’ve done this all your life, and you’re sad it’s done, but it’s time to move on. Now, I get free time that I’ve never had.”
The Ole Miss senior is nine hours from graduating. While enjoying her new-found freedom away from softball, Barnhill is contemplating her future.
She is considering teaching and also remaining at Ole Miss to become a graduate assistant.
“I’m not trying to rush into real life,” Barnhill said.
Beginning in elementary school, athletics was the center of Barnhill’s universe. Along with softball, she played basketball and volleyball, often going from a workout or tournament of one kind to another.
“Sports dominated my life,” she recalls. “It was always fun, traveling and playing. I’m a busybody and have to be entertained.”
The pitching circle on a softball diamond is where she shined the brightest, led by a devastating fastball.
The 5-11 Barnhill corralled numerous awards, including the 2007 Class 5A Player of the Year, EA Sports All-American and Texas Gatorade High School Player of the Year, after posting a 29-3 record with a 0.06 ERA her senior year.
Barnhill set the state record with 1,715 strikeouts, while hitting .488.
Those feats still have her recognized by local youngsters, which puzzles Barnhill.
“I’ve had young girls come up and say, ‘You’re Brittany Barnhill?’ and ask for an autograph,” Barnhill said.
Along with her assortment of pitches and control, what truly made her a force was her competitive drive that takes over the usually laid-back Barnhill between the foul lines.
“I’m pretty laid-back, but when I’m playing, I’m definitely competitive,” Barnhill said. “I don’t like to lose.”
After her record-setting high school career, Barnhill took her talents to Austin to pitch for the University of Texas. She made what appeared to be a seamless transition to college softball. As a freshman, she struck out 94 batters in 114 innings and tossed a no-hitter against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
“Playing on the competitive gold level helped me,” she said. “I’d always played with older girls, and it helped me mature faster.”
As a sophomore, she went 26-14 with a 2.70 ERA to earn All-Big 12 honors, while helping Texas to a second NCAA tournament appearance in her time there.
While successful on the field, Barnhill wasn’t enjoying herself at Texas. She transferred after the season to Ole Miss.
“It was difficult going through with it,” she recalls. “But it was a good move for me. I wasn’t happy.”
At Ole Miss, she found a home.
“I’ve loved it,” Barnhill said. “I’ve met my best friends, and I’m happy.”
She posted a team-best 3.32 ERA and 10 wins for Ole Miss in 2010. Barnhill helped the Rebels stun No. 4 Florida with three hits, including a home run, and a solid eight innings in the pitcher’s circle.
As a senior, Barnhill posted only one win, with a 5.23 ERA. She hit .262 with three home runs.
“The SEC is tough,” Barnhill said. “Last season was not as great as it could have been.”
Off the field, Barnhill and her teammates impacted lives, raising money and presenting the Alabama softball team with a donation for the university’s tornado relief in the wake of the April storms. As a team captain, Barnhill led the effort.
“The tornadoes showed there’s more to life than just softball,” Barnhill said. “We may be rivals on the field, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help each other.”
The team was given the SEC Sportsmanship award June 15 and earned a nomination for the NCAA national sportmanship awards to be announced later this month.
Through her great journey, Barnhill has learned a lot and is proud of the trail she’s blazed.
“I’ve loved every second of it,” Barnhill said. “Even when I struggled, I remember my ultimate goal was to get school paid for and have fun.
“I worked hard to get where I was, and you don’t get there by sitting on your butt. But I had a blast.”