Courtney Clayton has known most of her life that she wanted to play softball.
She started playing T-ball at age 4, and that was when she decided to follow in her family’s footsteps and play softball.
“I absolutely loved it,” Clayton said. “Pretty much my whole family is a softball family. Both my aunt and my mom played in college. My grandpa played baseball (in college) and was amazing. I was always on the tractor with him at the games, dragging the field. I’ve been around softball my whole life, but the cool thing is I never felt pressured to play. It was always just a love that I’ve always had.”
That love for the game – and hard work – helped her earn a Division I athletic scholarship to play second base on the UTEP softball team. She’s now gearing up for her senior season.
UTEP almost didn’t get Clayton except for a twist of fate, and having a top-notch nursing program.
Tobin Echo-Hawk, then the head coach at Portland State, recruited Clayton, who had chosen Portland State mostly because she would be 20 minutes from home. Echo-Hawk then took the job at UTEP and Clayton wasn’t sure about following her.
“I didn’t even know where El Paso was at that point,” Clayton said. “I was just so overwhelmed with emotions.”
She began visiting UTEP’s website and eventually decided to visit El Paso and UTEP on a recruiting visit.
She instantly fell in love with the city and its supportive fans after running into a few of them at a local eatery. It also helped that UTEP has a nursing program and Portland State did not.
“I just felt like my heart was so warm,” Clayton said of El Paso and its Miners fans. “They were just so sweet and made me feel so welcome. I think that’s one of the biggest things that still to this day is so unique about El Paso. You go anywhere and have sports stuff on and you get loved on by everyone.”
Once she took the field for the Miners, Clayton made her impact felt. As a sophomore, she was named C-USA Player of the Year.
“I couldn’t think of a more deserving kid,” Echo-Hawk said. “She has definitely put in the work, so it is nice to see it pay off.”
And her success has only continued since then. As a Miner, she set multiple single-season records in 2016 with 79 hits, 21 doubles, 190 at bats and 28 multiple-hit games. For her junior season she hit .416, third best in program history, and scored 45 runs, fourth best in program history.
She also has been named to several year-end teams along the way:
- 2016 All-C-USA first team, NFCA All-Region South third team
- 2016 C-USA All-Academic team
- C-USA Academic Medalist (2015, 2016), NFCA Scholar-Athlete (2014-15, 2015-16)
- 2015 All-C-USA freshman team
Off the field, Clayton is working toward a degree in health promotions with an eye toward a master’s in nursing. Originally she wanted to be a veterinarian until a high school health project and a One Direction music video impacted her.
“I came across a video of a pediatric oncology unit and they did this video to ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ by One Direction,” Clayton said. “It’s about your inner beauty, and they had these children who had cancer dance in the video. It’s a fun video but it really hit me in a way that made me say, ‘I want to do that. I want to be a part of that. I want to work with children who have cancer.’ It was an epiphany moment for me.”
She is grateful for the opportunities UTEP’s Division I scholarship has offered her.
Attending UTEP has allowed her to grow. She says she is naturally a homebody, and being thrown into a new place by herself made her grow and experience things that she might never have experienced if she had not left home.
“I’ve met amazing people here and I’ve had the opportunity to play the sport that I love and get my education paid for,” Clayton said. “It’s definitely something that would have been hard for me to do on a single income if I wouldn’t have gotten a scholarship. I’m so incredibly thankful.”
Raise the Pick: This is the fourth article in a series about UTEP student-athletes who share their unique stories and how athletic scholarships have made a difference in their lives. Each of these students reflects on the value of their UTEP experiences and the opportunities they create for the future.
Visit minerathleticclub.com to read more about how student-athletes Raise the Pick and how you can make a difference.
Author: Leonard Martinez – UTEP Communications