Glencoe softball star Courtney Clayton chooses UTEP over Portland State for her upcoming college career

Surrounded by loved ones last Thursday evening, Courtney Clayton put pen to paper and made it official.

The reigning Class 6A softball state player of the year, Clayton is now officially a Miner at the University of Texas at El Paso. About 70 family members, friends, coaches and teammates turned out to watch Clayton sign her national letter of intent in a ceremony at the Glencoe High School library. by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Glencoe senior Courtney Clayton, the reigning Class 6A player of the year, signed a letter of intent last week to play Division I college softball at UTEP next year.

Clayton will begin her college academic and softball careers at the west Texas school next fall on a full-ride scholarship.

The signing brought to an end a year-long journey in which Clayton originally gave a verbal commitment to Portland State. But after former PSU coach Tobin Echo-Hawk and members of her staff took jobs at UTEP in the spring, Clayton decided last month to change schools.

“It was a really, really hard decision for me, leaving Portland State, since that was the place that I originally picked and I thought was going to be my home,” Clayton noted.

But, she said, she had a couple of reasons for changing her mind. One of them was the coaches who recruited her at PSU — including Echo-Hawk — and then left for UTEP. The other was UTEP’s nursing program. PSU does not offer nursing, which is the field Clayton wants to study.

“At UTEP I can get it in four or five years, my nursing degree,” Clayton said. “And then at Portland State, I’d have to do the four years undergrad and then I’d have to do a couple extra years outside. So that was one of the big lures for me to go and visit there.

“Their facilities at UTEP are amazing, and also, who wouldn’t want to play an outside sport in the sun? That’s another definite plus to picking UTEP.”

In Clayton, the Miners are getting a player with plenty going for her. In addition to being a solid and steady defender in the middle infield, Clayton swings a pretty good HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZACK PALMER - Glencoe senior Courtney Clayton (center) celebrates with her teammates in the dugout during last season's Class 6A state championship game. Clayton recently signed a letter of intent to play college softball at UTEP.

As a junior this past spring, Clayton led the powerhouse Crimson Tide with team bests of 56 hits, 40 RBIs and a gaudy .523 batting average. She added 34 runs scored, a total of 23 extra-base hits and 17 doubles.

Impressively, she struck out just once all spring, when the Tide went 29-2, swept to their third Pacific Conference championship in a row and made a run all the way to the Class 6A state title game.

“Courtney exemplifies what you want in a student-athlete,” Glencoe coach Jacy Jukkala said. “She’s such a good person on and off the field. All the kids respect her and look up to her. It’s just been so fun to watch her grow up and become the person she is.”

Clayton has played both second base and shortstop for Glencoe and second base for her current club softball team, the Northwest Bullets. Her club coach, Tony Campos, expects that she will play second base for the Miners.

“We were just very excited about Courtney,” said Campos, whose daughter Brandy Campos is a graduate assistant coach with UTEP. “She came over (to the Bullets) when she was going to be a junior. Her goal was to play at the highest level. She wanted to play Division I softball. She came in, and she actually put in the time. This kid’s work ethic is incredible.”

Last Thursday night was about Clayton’s future, but it was also about her past. Coaches and family shared stories that spanned her softball career — from her playing in jean shorts as a youngster to working with her hitting coach for 10 years to growing up and blossoming into a top-notch softball player.

Both Clayton and her mom, Heidi, shed a few tears that night. But they were mostly happy tears, as Clayton’s future path is now set firmly in front of her.

“It’s definitely a relief, and you just feel so thankful, not only knowing where you’re going,” Clayton explained about signing. “I feel thankful that I get the opportunity to get to go and play at the next level.

“That’s been my dream since I was a little girl, is to go and play at the college level.”

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