SENATOBIA, Miss. (WREG) — The Northwest Rangers took home the NJCAA Region 23 title for the first time in program history.
“I sit back and I’m just like, wow, this is really happening,” said Rangers coach Chelsea Bramlett. “I knew they were going to be competitive. I knew they had some grit and grind to them, but I didn’t know they were going to gel as well as they have.
“Playing with these girls right here, like they all want it,” Rangers outfielder and former Southaven standout Saige Koczka said. “And the fight and the love for the game is just really special to be around.”
This Rangers team has broken nearly every record here Northwest and they have to credit a lot of their success to Bramlett, who’s broken a few records of her own.
“Just a lot of blood, sweat, tears and dedication,” said Bramlett on the success she had playing softball.
The former FACS standout, etched her name in the Mississippi State record books. She’s one of just two players in SEC history to be named an All-American all four years.
The 3x National Catcher of the Year went on to play for Team USA before getting into coaching.
“I just knew that I couldn’t get out of it,” Bramlett said. “Pro ball wasn’t paying anything and I knew the best way for me to do it was to go into teaching and coaching and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to get into strictly coaching now. So softball is all I do all day every day.”
Bramlett started her coaching career at Briarcrest before earning a stint at Lewisburg, coaching against a few of her star players, like Koczka and former Center Hill standout Laila Armstrong.
“We didn’t really like Lewisburg, because they were just so good,” Armstrong laughed. “So I already knew about [Bramlett], I knew how good of a coach she was. In her college career, I knew she stole many bases. She was very fast, a slapper, kind of like me. So I knew that I’d be under good hands with her.”
“It’s fun talking about how we used to go head to head against each other,” said Rangers pitcher and former Lewisburg standout Gaby Dickerson. “And now we’re like a family out on the field playing together.”
And in just two seasons at Northwest, Bramlett has put her mark on this Rangers program.
“She’s turned it all around, like from my freshman year to now,” Koczka said. “It’s a big difference.”
“It’s always a little bit hard to come from playing to coaching,” said Bramlett. “And so finding that happy medium of how can I get the most out of them and still have them trust me and respect me and play for me. But, you know, with this group, it really wasn’t that hard. They came in, they wanted to win, they wanted to do it. And they were willing to do about whatever it took to get it done.”
Now this group has their eyes set on a national title.
“We have a thing called ‘pull the rope’ and we want to make sure we keep pulling that rope all together,” Armstrong said. “If one person does happen to give up or slack a little bit in the rope, we’re going to pull it hard for them and we just play for each other.”
Regardless of the outcome of this already historic season, seeing her girls sign to play at the next level has been the most rewarding for Bramlett.
“Seeing them that next letter of intent has really been one of my proudest moments.”
The Rangers will open the NJCAA Division II softball championship as a No. 5 seed and will take on 12th-seeded Jackson College (Mich.) in the first round.
The matchup is set for on Tuesday, May 24 at 2 p.m. CST.
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