ENGLEWOOD - Surprises can be either good or bad - but McMinn Central High School's Caitlyn Casteel, a starter on the Chargerettes basketball team, couldn't be happier with the eye-opening news she received from Tennessee Wesleyan College, recently.
"I had gone to register for classes this fall - to see how much money I would need," said the Central senior. "They told me there was a notation in my file that I would be playing basketball on a scholarship - I was somewhat surprised, but excited."
TWC women's basketball Coach Jeff Rice said it was just a matter of miscommunication.
"I knew Caitlyn wanted to come and we were looking forward to her being a part of our program - I thought it was a done deal and all we lacked was getting down to specifics," said Rice. "Anytime you have an opportunity to sign a player out of the McMInn Central stable of talent, it's a no-brainer. We're happy to have her."
Rice said it wasn't a matter of "why" they wanted Casteel, but more a sense of "why not?'
"Caitlyn is just the kind of student-athlete any program would be proud to have," Rice said of Casteel, who carries a 3.84 grade-point average. "Outside of her basketball skills, she is strong academically, comes from a very supportive family and is just a quality person.
"On the court, she will need some time, as most incoming freshmen do, to make that transition from the high school to college level," he added. "But anytime you can shoot the 3-ball the way she does, the opportunity to earn playing time is there."
"I wouldn't mind red-shirting my first year - that would give me time to work on my game," said Casteel. "There are good players in high school, but, in college, everybody can play and I know there are adjustments I'll need to make."
Casteel averaged 5.5 points, hitting 33 3-point baskets, and collected two rebounds per game in helping Central post a 25-8 record this past season as the Chargerettes advanced to the Class AA state tournament. She was named to The Daily Post-Athenian All-Area Team, the regular season All-District 5-AA Team and was selected to the All-Region 3-AA Tournament Team.
Coach Johnny Morgan said Central's liberal substitution philosophy tends to skew player's statistics.
"We play a lot of people and statistics often don't reflect a player's true contribution," said Morgan. "Caitlyn was always willing to do what was asked of her and accepted her role within the team concept. She made great strides this year, especially over the last six weeks, and will do well at Tennessee Wesleyan College.
"I think that applies both on and off the court," he added. "She's a good athlete and even better person."
In her four-year career, Central had a 126-13 overall record; won four District 5-AA regular season and tournament titles; three Region 3-AA tournament crowns, four sectional sub-state games and advanced to the Class AA State Tournament four times, finishing runnerup her sophomore year (2010) and winning the school's first-ever state championship as a junior (2011).
Going from one winning program to another suits Casteel just fine. The Lady Bulldogs have qualified for the NAIA Division II national tournament the past three years.
"It's like a dream come true - playing at Wesleyan is something I've always wanted to do," said Casteel, who plans to go into teaching following graduation. "The chance to play close to home in front of friends and family is a great feeling. I'm excited about the opportunity."