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From Rivals To Teammates

Former high school softball standouts Hannah Norris from Casa Grande Union, left, and Danielle Wheeler from Vista Grande are in their sophomore seasons for Central Arizona College.
Former high school softball standouts Hannah Norris from Casa Grande Union, left, and Danielle Wheeler from Vista Grande are in their sophomore seasons for Central Arizona College.

Maria Vasquez-Pinal central

SIGNAL PEAK

It's not very common that two athletes from the same town end up at the same school after high school.

Things tend to get a little stranger when those two athletes come from rival schools, but that's exactly what happened to Hannah Norris and Danielle Wheeler at Central Arizona College.

"We were rivals, I didn't even like her," Wheeler said. "I told my mom, 'I can't do it, that's a rival, I can't do it.' Then [Norris] made it a lot easier, she wrote me during the summer and we talked a lot, then we started hanging out and now we're best friends."

Both former standouts at their respective schools, Norris was a multi-sport athlete at Casa Grande Union and Wheeler was a force behind the plate for Vista Grande.

Ending up at CAC was mostly due in part to having two free years with the Promise for the Future Scholarship and softball head coach Shelby Davis.

"We got two free years and I was playing club ball at the time, so Coach Davis gave me the opportunity to come here and play softball," Norris said. "I definitely wanted to play at the next level, so I decided to come here."

Wheeler had already committed to Scottsdale Community College and was hesitant because she wanted the full college experience of being away from home.

"[Davis] contacted me and said that since I already had two free years, she would pay for my dorm, and I thought that was an offer that I just couldn't turn down," Wheeler said.

Both Norris and Wheeler were pivotal in the Cougars' and Spartans' success and saw a lot of playing time during their senior seasons. Everything changed for them once they got to CAC.

"It was like a culture shock, but in a different kind of way," Norris said. "From being someone to count on in high school and just being put out there every time. I worked hard in high school, but I think I'm working even harder here to earn my spot and to keep it. It's been kind of difficult, but I'm mentally tough and I'm OK with where I'm at right now."

While Norris has mostly been used as a pinch runner in her two years, Wheeler has seen her fair share of time behind the plate despite having limited time in the batter's box. Among those limited at-bats is the only home run of her CAC career that came at the perfect moment last season to send the Vaqueras to the NJCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years.

"Coach told me to bunt if the girl in front of me got on," Wheeler said. "Then the girl got out, so I was like 'This is my time' and then when I hit it and it was whatever, I just hit a home run. I started running and it didn't cross my mind until I rounded second and I was like, 'Holy crap, I just walked this off.' I was in so much shock. That's the best experience I've had."

Now as their time winds down on the field and in the classroom both sophomores are ready for the next chapter of their lives.

"I'm definitely looking forward to getting my education and starting at ASU to do speech pathology, but if the opportunity was given to me I think I'd take it to play at the next level," Norris said.

"I'm excited to get my life started," Wheeler said. "I've decided I'm going to hang up the cleats and I'm going to move to Tempe to go to Carrington and become an X-ray technician. I played for a long time, and now I'm just ready to get my life on track and get it started."

CAC has exceeded their expectations both on the field and in the classroom.

"I was apprehensive of coming here because I thought that it was going to be exactly like high school, with the same people and it wasn't going to be very challenging," Norris said. "But coming here surprised me. The classes are hard, and you meet new people from all over the world which is a great experience. JUCO is not a bad thing. Everybody might talk about it thinking it's a bad thing, but it's great."

With a little over a month left in the regular season, the Vaqueras are currently seventh in the ACCAC standings. Norris and Wheeler feel some added pressure after the great season the team had last year and with being returning players, but they strongly believe CAC can make another playoff run this year.

"I think all the teams in our conference are looking at us like we're the team to beat," Norris said. "We definitely have the talent to go to nationals and beat everybody there. Last year we saw who was there and we had the talent to win, it just didn't go the way we wanted it to. This year I think we have even more talent and more perseverance to win."

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