By: Caitlin Haworth
For senior Tori Clarke, second baseman for CNU Softball, life isn’t complete without sports. Growing up in Denville, New Jersey, Tori can only remember a childhood filled with various sports and activities. But her journey into collegiate athletics is a bit different from the norm. Being the only out-of-state athlete on the CNU Softball team, Tori faced many decisions that ultimately landed her at Captains Park. One different choice made four, seven, or twelve years ago could have landed Tori in a much different place.
Up until high school, Tori could be found on a baseball field alongside other pre-teen boys competing just as hard as anyone else in uniform that day. When it came time to enter into the world of high school athletics, Tori was faced with her first decision. “Although the baseball coach wanted me to try out for his team, I decided to switch over to softball full-time. I believed it would be the better choice for the rest of my athletic career.” During her time at Morris Knolls High School, Tori played varsity softball for four years earning over 100 career hits, one state championship title in her sophomore year, and first team all-conference three years in a row. “Winning the state championship is my greatest memory,” says Tori, “I loved everything about that day including the coaches, teammates, and families that we got to share our success with.”
As each school year ended, Tori would continue her softball success with a summer club team, the NJ Thunderbolts. In the summer of 2012, the Thunderbolts won the Myrtle Beach National Championship. With the Thunderbolts, Tori was faced with another decision. “I knew that I wanted to play collegiate softball when I joined the NJ Thunderbolts at the conclusion of my freshman year. Everyone on that team was looking to be recruited and continue their passion for the game in the years to come.” Through her stellar performances with the Golden Eagles of Morris Knolls and the NJ Thunderbolts, Tori began her search for the next place to share her talents.
During the search, Tori knew she wanted to play at a Division 3 level due to the characteristics of the types of schools that were often D3. “I knew the smaller campus and class sizes would be an environment I could succeed in,” she mentioned. Ultimately, Tori looked for a nationally ranked softball team yet a school with academics that were just as successful. “I knew I would be challenged both academically and athletically [at CNU] – not just one or the other. The CNU softball team has been nationally ranked since I was first introduced to it. On the other hand, I knew CNU had a great business program, so I was also very attracted to that,” explains Clarke. Coincidentally, another competitor in the search for schools was Salisbury University in Maryland, “which is ironic because we’re such bitter rivals,” she joked. In the end, the decision was simple. After a conversation with a high school teacher Tori was asked, “If you didn’t play sports, what college would you get the most out of?” Tori knew with the Presidents Leadership Program as well as the Luter School of Business, CNU was strides above any other option.
Although the decision to attend CNU might have been simple, the transition into Division 3 athletics took time. “I’m definitely proud of the time I spent here, but if I could go back I would do something different,” notes Clarke. Being from a close family, Tori assumed the being so far would be a lot easier than it was. “I thought I would adjust,” says Clarke, “and I have, but that doesn’t make it less tough.” Additionally, unlike Division 1 athletes, all of the time and energy that is put into Division 3 athletics is purely for the love of the game; there are no monetary stipends. “D3 teams aren’t allowed to offer athletic scholarships to their athletes,” she adds, but it is tough to look at from a financial perspective given the amount of work we put into the sport.” Tori mentioned if she could go back in time, she would consider bigger schools where she would have been eligible for scholarship money.
However, with each negative point, Tori was sure to accompany it with a positive. She always considered what she would have missed out on at CNU has she chosen to go somewhere else. “If I decided to attend Rutgers University in New Jersey, because it’s closer to home, I would have never met [former teammate] Sabrina Hill who is one of my greatest blessings and someone I look up to as an older sister,” she reflected. Additionally she points out on the other perks she had here at CNU. “I’ve had the opportunity to compete on a nationally-ranked softball team, be challenged academically in the classroom, and make lifelong friendships. I may have frustrations at times, but I wouldn’t have had it in any other way,” she concluded.
Looking towards the future, Tori is headed to an exciting full-time position with Avis Budget Group, a company that she has interned with the last few years, after graduating with two majors in Accounting and Finance and a minor in Leadership Studies. Still concentrated on the current softball season, Tori is leaving all she has on the field at Captain’s Park as she plays for her fourth championship ring.
“Every college athlete wants the same things out of school,” she adds, “to win, to earn a degree, and to make meaningful friendships along the way.” Luckily for Tori, she got all three. A string of decisions made along the way allowed her to cross the stage at graduation with no empty spaces, no regrets and endless accomplishments.