These kind of opportunities weren't always there, something Megan Wiggins appreciates.
Fastpitch softball's rise to prominence has unfolded in her lifetime, offering chances to play the sport well beyond the college level. Even the college game is more popular these days, with its Women's College World Series and other events.
"In the last decade, maybe the last half-decade, (fastpitch softball) has become popular," the Shiloh graduate said. "I'm right in the middle of it, it seems like, with NPF (National Pro Fastpitch), college games on TV. The popularity of softball seems to increase year by year."
Wiggins, 22, plans to take advantage of every opportunity before she hangs up her spikes.
The three-time All-SEC selection at Georgia played last summer with NPF's Chicago Bandits and leaves later this month for a stint with Team Denso in Japan. She plays with her Japanese team through June, when she returns to play for the Bandits, then rejoins Team Denso in late August through November.
While she's excited about the latest opportunity, Wiggins also some uncertainty - it's her first-ever trip overseas.
"I feel a little bit of everything," Wiggins said. "I'm nervous because it's so far away and it's a different culture, a different language. But I'm excited, too, because I've heard from everybody that has played in Japan that it's an awesome experience."
An around-the-clock translator will help Wiggins and her only American teammate, former Michigan pitcher Jordan Taylor, break through the language barrier. She's eager to see a new place, as well as interested to see the differences in softball overseas.
"I think it will be an amazing experience," she said.
Wiggins found the opportunity in Japan after a standout rookie season in NPF that saw her earn first-team all-league honors after tallying eight home runs and 22 RBIs in the summer league. Selected eighth overall by the Bandits in the 2011 NPF Draft, she hit .357 in the postseason as Chicago won the league championship.
The outfielder recently signed a two-year deal that keeps her with the Bandits through the 2013 season.
"Megan is going to be a special player in this league," Bandits general manager Aaron Moore said. "She reminds me of (former NPF MVP) Kristen Zaleski with the way she plays and the skills she has out there. We are fortunate to have her in a Bandits uniform for the next two seasons."
Wiggins graduated from UGA in December with a sociology degree, which she hoped to use to become an FBI agent. But she also recently started her own travel softball team, the 16-and-under Wiggins Wolfpack, that has her thinking about a possible career in coaching.
But all of that is way down the road.
"I'm focused on playing right now," Wiggins said. "I want to play as long as I can. As long as my body will let me."
Hartry tops 1,000-point mark
Parkview grad Sczeny Hartry topped the 1,000-point mark for her college career last Saturday during Valdosta State's 62-44 win over Christian Brothers.
Hartry scored 13 points in the win, upping her career total to 1,006, including 11 points in the first half. She is the first Valdosta State women's player to reach the 1,000-point mark since another Parkview grad, Carley Peterson, did it during the 2007-08 season.
Norcross grad Tiffany Clarke scored a game-high 23 points Thursday night, leading Vanderbilt to a 93-79 upset of 11th-ranked Tennessee. It was the Commodores' first win over the Volunteers since 2009. ... Anderson (S.C.) guard Denzail Jones, a Norcross grad, scored 29 points (on 10 of 18 shooting) Wednesday night in a 96-71 win over Newberry. The 5-foot-9 guard also had six rebounds, five assists and three steals. ... Greater Atlanta Christian's Trent Wiedeman had 17 points and 17 rebounds in College of Charleston's recent loss to Elon, then had 14 points, five rebounds and three blocks in a win over Appalachian State.
Adams transfers to Portland State
Former Maryland running back D.J. Adams, a Norcross grad, has transferred to Portland State, an FCS school in Oregon. He can play immediately at his new school, where he will have two seasons of eligibility left.
The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder rushed for 11 touchdowns as a Maryland freshman in 2010, but saw his playing time decrease under new head coach Randy Edsall's staff in 2011. He carried 40 times for 174 yards and four scores last season.
SoCon coaches honor Miles, Ennis
Georgia Southern teammates Allie Miles (a Dacula grad) and Hanna Ennis (South Gwinnett) were voted onto the coaches' preseason All-Southern Conference Team this week.
Miles, a sophomore pitcher, was selected as the preseason pitcher of the year, as well as a first-team selection. She struck out a league-best 170 batters as a freshman and had a 2.74 ERA.
Ennis, a senior second baseman, was a second-team selection. She hit .306 last season with six home runs and 12 doubles.
Heffley on first team
Brookwood grad Ross Heffley, a junior second baseman at Western Carolina, was a first-team preseason all-conference selection this week by the Southern Conference baseball coaches.
Heffley was a Louisville Slugger All-American last season when he hit .419 with 11 home runs and 65 RBIs.
Baker called up by England
Parkview grad Ashley Baker, a junior goalkeeper at Georgia, has been called up to England's Under-23 National Team for the Four Nations Tournament in La Manga, Spain. It's the second straight year she has been selected for the event.
Baker and her English teammates will compete with Sweden, Norway and the U.S. at the Feb. 26-March 1 tourney. She's one of 18 players on the roster, but the only college player in the group.
Baker also is on England's "long list" of candidates for the 2012 Olympics.
West Georgia pair honored
Gwinnett grads Randy Sides (Grayson) and Robert Fenesterer (Peachtree Ridge), athletes at West Georgia, were selected to the All-Gulf South Conference Academic Team for the fall semester.
Sides, a senior football player and a four-time academic honor roll selection, has a 3.33 GPA in biology. Fenesterer, a junior cross country runner, has a 3.44 GPA in history and made the academic team for a third straight year.
Hunt gets academic honor
Cumberland University (Tenn.) wrestler Zeke Hunt, a Dacula grad, was named to the Mid-South Conference Scholar-Athlete list last weekend.
Hunt maintains a 3.78 GPA in engineering science.
Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to email@example.com.