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North's Broome finds she has a Rebel heart

Staff Photo: John Bohn Brittany Broome is a North Gwinnett graduate who now plays softball at Ole Miss. Broome is studying education and has plans to teach special education.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Brittany Broome is a North Gwinnett graduate who now plays softball at Ole Miss. Broome is studying education and has plans to teach special education.

Brittany Broome was used to starting, and starring, at North Gwinnett.

The petite powerhouse was a three-time all-county outfielder and two-time Super Six softball selection.

Her freshman season at Ole Miss was a big departure. Broome didn't start and got to bat just 16 times. There were eight seniors on the team and four of them were outfielders.

But she was still able to do what she did best in high school.

Broome, who holds the Gwinnett County record for steals in a season (38) and a career (100), tied for second on the team by swiping 11 bases as a freshman. She also was third for the Rebels with 24 runs scored.

"When I did get to play, I was happy with my performance," said Broome, who is home for part of the summer and helped out with a camp put on by The Pitcher's Mound this week. "And it taught me a lot about how to handle my studies, with the travel and everything."

A year later, Broome was back to starting and starring.

"I had the starting position in left field and I ended up batting lead-off because one of our girls dislocated her shoulder and have to have surgery," Broome said. "I went from not playing at all to batting lead-off and starting left field, which was kind of a shock. But that was a great opportunity."

Broome started in 46 games as a sophomore and appeared in five others. She finished second on the team with a .313 batting average and 40 hits. She led the team with 26 runs scored.

But Ole Miss still wasn't having the team success necessary for coaches to keep their jobs.

After the season, the Rebels' head coach was fired and Windy Thees was hired.

"She really made me realize my love for the game and how much I could enjoy being there," said Broome, who has been playing softball since she was 3 and started going to her parents' slow-pitch games. "I felt bad that we lost a coach, but in the long run, it was a really great thing for our program.

"It's crazy how one person can just come in and be a motivator. She really is an inspiring coach. She really values family and tradition, which is something I value as well."

Ole Miss didn't fare that well in the difficult SEC this season, but Broome continued to steal bases (a team-high 20 on 22 attempts) and score runs (30). She also came up huge in the last game of the season. Broome slapped a walk-off RBI single through the gap between third and short to give the Rebels a 3-2 win over South Carolina. It completed the first SEC series sweep for the Rebels since 2008 -- when Broome was still in high school.

She also sees the team's growth and the potential for more. The Rebels have 10 recruits -- nearly half the roster -- coming in for the 2013 season.

"That is such a huge deal," Broome said. "I definitely trust Coach Thees' recruiting ability so I'm sure we will have a lot of bright new faces come in that are going to be awesome players.

"We're going to have a lot more depth with our pitching staff. Our hitting stats this year were wonderful, up there with everyone else in the SEC. We just struggled with pitching. So I think next year when we get some more depth, we will be just as successful as any other team in the SEC."

The class after that will include another North Gwinnett product. Rising senior Miranda Strother has verbally committed to the Rebels.

"When one North Gwinnett girl leaves, another takes her place," Broome said with a laugh. "I'm passing the torch on to her."

It wasn't that long ago, though, that Broome was making the same tough decision as Strother. Broome was helped a great deal by her coaches at The Pitcher's Mound, a training facility that's been developing some of the best softball talent in Gwinnett for the last 20 years.

"The whole recruiting process was probably one of the most stressful things I had to deal with in high school," Broome said. "I had all these schools recruiting me. You're a sophomore or a junior in high school and you don't know where you want to spend the next four years of your life or what you want to do (as a career).

"But they really talked me through what I was looking for in a school and what things I valued in a school. I ended up at a great place where I fit in wonderfully and it has a lot to do with them telling me what to look for -- not just the coach or something like that, but look at the school as a whole and academics."

Ole Miss was among her top five choices, which also included Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Mississippi State. But the Rebels were not frontrunners.

"I really loved Georgia Tech, but I want to be a teacher, so obviously that wouldn't work out," said Broome, an early childhood education major. "Then Georgia wasn't necessarily the best fit for me for softball because there weren't going to be a lot of opportunities for me to play. There were a lot of older girls."

She visited Mississippi State and decided the school just wasn't for her. In fact, Broome was going to cross Ole Miss off the list just based on that trip.

"I said, 'Dad, I'll tell you the truth, I don't even want you to take me back to Mississippi. I don't want to be in that state,'" Broome said with a remembering chuckle. "The next weekend I was at Ole Miss and I was like, 'OK, I'm coming here.'"

Broome found the right place for her in Oxford.

"I would not trade it for the world," she said. "It's funny what you think you don't want. If you asked me four years ago where I was going to go, I would not have said I would be going to Mississippi. But definitely God put me there for a reason. It's been a wonderful opportunity.

"We're definitely going through a transitional phase, but it's great to be a part of that. To see where we started and how far we've come in just three years. Every year the program is improving. It's something I've been really grateful to be a part of."