HUNTLAND, Tenn. (BVM) — Athletes struggle with injuries now and again. And any of those injuries can be challenging for them to overcome. Despite a torn ACL, one of softball’s top prospects, Ashtyn Danley, is continuing to work hard and preparing for the next step in her softball career.
Almost two years ago, one of the country’s premier pitching prospects had surgery on her knee. Danley, now a Huntland School rising senior, suffered a knee injury during her freshman year on the basketball court, playing against rival Moore County High School.
“My best friend Anna Stevenson and I were pressing,” Danley said. “I tipped the ball, and I was running down the court, and I tried to stop and catch the ball. When I did, it just tore. I remembered looking at my dad, and I could see his face [and his expression]. I didn’t know what was wrong; I just knew I was in a lot of pain.”
Danley knew she most likely tore her ACL, but she wasn’t going to give in so easily. She was ready to take the court in the second half, but her toes went numb. That is never a good sign for someone who has suffered a knee injury. That day marked what would become a long road to recovery.
“He [the doctor] told me I was going to be out for nine months,” Danley said. “I remembered [thinking to myself], ‘What if I never get to play softball again?’ We scheduled surgery not long after that. Then COVID hit. I remember being so defeated, not knowing what I was going to do.”
For something like this to happen to an up-and-coming athlete may be seen as unfair. And Danley felt that way for a bit, but with so many great people in her corner, she was able to push through it.
“My dad had plenty of talks with me; my hitting coaches and all these coaches would call and talk me through it, letting me know I’m not the only one who’s torn [their ACL],” Danley said.
From then on, Danley gained a new perspective on sports and how she competed.
“I went to every single tournament we had, and watching everyone play was eye-opening to me, Danley said. “Sometimes you go out there and play like it’s another game. But it really [showed] me you have to play every game like it’s your last.”
Everyone she knew wanted to help her through her recovery. And whether they made a direct impact or not, Danley is thankful for them. However, only one person could make this recovery happen the way it did. That’s Danley and her drive to be the best. And that drive those see today was instilled in her from an early age.
“I started when I was 6 and played t-ball here locally,” Danley said. “My older sister, who was the catcher on our high school team, wanted to be a pitcher. So, me, wanting to be like [my] big sister, wanted to pitch too. From there, I started working more at it.”
Danley would go to pitching lessons and work from home to better herself. And better yet, her dad ran a local softball team named Explosion. Her father, Michael Danley, played baseball through the college ranks and played professionally in an independent league. Having Michael, there would prove to be instrumental in Ashtyn’s development.
Not soon after, Ashtyn began to turn heads locally. Those in and around Huntland knew she had the potential to be great.
“I first saw Ashtyn on the softball field when she was 8 years old,” Huntland head softball coach Daniel Wiggs said. “I could see she had the potential to be the best player in our area. Of course, she took it to the next level because of her dedication to the game.”
Danley would be rewarded for her efforts following her junior season as she was awarded Gatorade Tennessee Softball Player of the Year. She helped lead the Hornets to a 25-7 overall record and to a Class A state championship. In 154⅔ innings pitched, Danley struck out 217 batters, had a 0.41 ERA and accumulated a 20-4 record.
“She’s the best player I’ve ever coached,” Wiggs said. “Boys [or] girls, and she’s the most talented player I’ve ever coached along with the work ethic. She just works and works to try and hone her skills. I’ve never seen any kid dedicated to what she does [more than Ashtyn].”
As a dominant force in the circle, Danley was a powerhouse in the batter’s box. She batted .659, hit 15 home runs and finished with a whopping OPS of 2.114.
Posting those types of numbers can draw the attention of well-known collegiate softball programs. Still, Ashtyn’s recruitment process was different from that of athletes, as she had already decided where to continue her collegiate career.
“I gave my verbal commitment [to Florida State] in the seventh grade,” Danley said. “[It was] different than anywhere else I’d been. They invited me back for an unofficial visit, and I fell in love with everything about it. On Sept. 1, the first day of my junior year, when they called, it was a surreal moment.”
Along with her commitment to FSU, Danley finds her as the No. 7 overall softball prospect in the Class of 2023, according to Extra Inning Softball. She’ll likely live up to the ranking when she reaches Tallahassee in 2023.
Whatever happens down the road, Seminole and softball fans alike better believe when Ashtyn will be prepared to leave it all out on the field. Because if it weren’t for softball, Ashtyn might not be where she is today.
“My mom was actually a pitcher [too],” Danley said. “I feel like softball teaches you lessons, and it teaches you so much about yourself. You have to push yourself within the game. It teaches you how to fail, how to succeed and how to interact with people. Softball is so important to me because it’s taught so many life lessons. I don’t think I would be the person I am today if it wasn’t for everything I’ve been through with softball.”