By Maren Angus
During the week, Keagan Rothrock is an ordinary middle school student. She wakes up around 6 a.m., leaves the house around 7:15 and looks forward to English class.
“I try to read 30 books during the school year,” said Rothrock. “Last year, I read 34. I also like to write and English is my favorite subject. If you give me a prompt, I could probably write about it.”
It’s after school when the seventh grader turns into an above-average softball player. The 12-year-old from Whiteland, Indiana, recently became the second athlete her age to commit to the University of Florida. She tops out at 66 mph at practice and throws 62-64 mph consistently in a game. But she didn’t throw that hard overnight.
Laura Rothrock and her husband, Greg Rothrock, have always let their daughter be in charge of her career. Despite being a Tincher pitching instructor, Laura has never coached Keagan. On Wednesdays, the father-daughter duo drives two hours to meet Johnathan Hon, who also drives two hours, and they meet in the middle. Hon is also a Tincher instructor. They made the four-hour commute to Chicago for a couple years before Hon agreed to meet them. Greg also catches his daughter on Mondays and Fridays but Keagan makes the practice plan.
“I think I was six when I starting pitching in the backyard,” said Rothrock. “I love pitching. I love being in charge and striking people out.”
Her love for pitching and striking people out led her to watching Kelly Barnhill of the Florida Gators, a school that was on her radar for multiple reasons. She began her travel ball career with a team called the Indiana Gators. They were same colors and had the same scripted Gators across the front of their uniforms but it was the University of Florida College of Dentistry that called Rothrock’s name.
“For at least the last four years, her doctor will ask her what she wants to be when she grows up and she says she wants to be an orthodontist,” said Rothrock’s mother Laura Rothrock. “At first it was probably because that’s what mom does but as she has gone through some issues with her own teeth.”
Middle school is hard for a girl, that’s no secret. Wearing a retainer with teeth on the front doesn’t make it any easier.
“I’ve had a lot of work done on my teeth. I’m even missing teeth,” said Keagan. “It’s not fun and I want to be able help other kids who have the same problem.”
With that on her mind, Keagan has attended several camps at Florida over the years. Last year, she attended a pitching camp in Gainesville. She went through various drills measuring things like spin rate and speed. When it was her turn at the speed station, she introduced herself to head coach Tim Walton.
“He said he already knew me,” said Keagan. “He already knew a little bit about me from PGF Nationals the year before. He said he has a list of names on a clipboard with names highlighted in green and that I was one of them. I tried not to show any emotion so I just said okay.”
Walton was upfront with the family and told them he wanted Keagan to visit her top five schools before she made any kind of commitment. So she attended weekends at Oklahoma, Alabama, Missouri and Notre Dame.
“When she was offered back in October, Coach Walton wanted to make sure she knew what else was out there just in case she liked something better than Florida,” said Laura. “He pushed her and I have a lot of respect for him for telling her to visit other schools. He told her to take as much as time as she needed but that Florida would be right here.”
Keagan committed to Walton and the Gators back in December and when the news broke, she had to endure some interesting feedback. She has handled the negativity with grace and dignity, displaying wisdom well beyond her years.
“I kind of just laughed at it. These people don’t know me and they are making negative comments about someone they don’t know,” said Keagan. “I know what they say isn’t true so I’m laughing at them.”
Keagan is currently playing for the 14 and under Beverly Bandits, but the softball world will have to wait until spring of 2024 for her to make her debut at Katie Seashole Pressly Softball Stadium.