Haeger to become a Gator

Lauren Haeger is only a 16-year-old sophomore, but is already ahead of the game.

Haeger has committed to play college ball at the University of Florida, following the 2011 softball season.

"It's weird to be a sophomore and already know what college I'll go to," admitted Haeger who plays for Deer Valley (Glendale, Ariz.) High School and the Hotshots club team.

Although it may seem that Haeger rushed to choose a college, she did her homework and made sure she found the right fit. She took trips to top programs including: Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Florida.

"I literally looked at everything possible when I compared the schools," said Haeger. "I looked at the coaches, the team, the weather, the town and environment of the schoolÂ… everything."

With many teams chasing her this soon, it would have been easy for Haeger to be overwhelmed by the recruiting process. However, Haeger doesn't crack under pressure often.

"I didn't think it was stressful until the very end," she said. "Then it was really hard to make that final tough decision."

In the end, Florida was the school that most suited Haeger. She knew after her trip that she wanted to be a Gator.

"I wanted to go somewhere that would make the best that I could be," said Haeger. "I looked at the girls at Florida and I saw how they focused on school and softball and how they were always improving and had found success. That is what I wanted."

She continued, "Everyone gets along and the coaches are so down to earth and easy to talk to. The kids all have fun there, it's not just about softball."

So far this season, Haeger has backed up the recruiting attention. She is batting .441, carries a 0.61 ERA for Deer Valley and has accumulated 120 strikeouts in only 69 innings pitched.

Last year, as a freshman, Haeger kept her ERA to a low 0.90 and recorded 136 strikeouts in 78 innings pitched. She also batted .448 for the Skyhawks in her first year on varsity. Despite all her success, Haeger was somehow surprised to be recruited at such a young age.

"When my club coach first told me there were schools interested in me, I thought, 'Wow. I was barely a sophomore, I hadn't even thought about it.'"

Much of her success can be credited to her mental maturity on the mound.

"It doesn't matter who we play, I always pitch the same," said Haeger. "I am always focused and never let down. I don't show the other team any emotion. I focus on what I'm doing and have fun doing it."

Her competitive nature has come in handy for many aspects of her life, especially since she also plays basketball and volleyball.

"I set a goal last year to make varsity in all three sports and I'm really proud to have accomplished that goal," Hager said.

Despite favoring softball, Haeger's does not slack off on her other sports.

"I never have trouble giving as much to other sports as I do to softball," Haeger shared. "It doesn't matter what I'm playing because I'm really competitive and I go all out for everything. I hate losing!"

With that said, Haeger's mind is never far from the softball diamond.

"I have been playing softball the longest and have the most experience playing. I guess I'm probably better at softball, too. I love it so much, I don't know what I would do without it."

With two more years before she makes the move to Gainesville, Haeger is setting goals to prepare for the college game.

"I just want to do better every year," she said. "I want to keep improving in my hitting and pitching. I really want to hit 67 mph this year."

Despite her best attempts to focus on the present, college ball seems just around the corner and it is hard not to look forward in playing at the next level.

"I'm just really excited and I feel lucky to have done this at such a young age," said Haeger. "I'm looking forward to playing the sport I love for a long time at a competitive level."

Garland Cooper covers high school softball for ESPN RISE.