Up to her fifth-grade year, Emily Ridgell was a soccer player. But that fall, her mother suggested she try another sport too.
“I was tall for my age so my mom made me play (basketball),” she recalled on Thursday. “I played at a community center and I really didn’t take it too serious. I barely played.”
But she kept playing.
“I didn’t take it serious until seventh grade summer and I was actually doing workouts,” she continued. “Everybody was telling me about my potential. And it was getting easier, so I was like, ‘Hey, I kind of like this.’ And it started to become an everyday thing. It got to where it was what I was used to.”
With that increased interest came more opportunities to play.
“My eighth grade summer, I was playing with the Arkansas Mavericks,” she explained. “It was a big team, the name is big, and I knew I had to step up. I couldn’t be the bad one on a good team.”
The improvement that came with that mindset caught people’s attention and Ridgell began to think maybe she could play in high school and, perhaps, college.
“I actually started getting looks with that team and it was like, ‘I can do it,’” she related. “It gave me some hope.”
Well on Thursday, that hope became reality as Ridgell, the daughter of Trisha and Reggie Ridgell, signed a letter of intent to continue her basketball career and education at Central Baptist College in Conway.
After playing as a sophomore at Little Rock Central, Ridgell transferred to Bryant where she helped the Lady Hornets reach the Class 7A State Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time in years and, when there, win first-round games both seasons. As a senior, she averaged over 9 points and five rebounds a game despite missing time with a concussion. She earned all-conference honors.
“She definitely made an impact the last two years,” said Bryant head coach Brad Matthews. “At the State tournament her junior year, she made some big 3’s down the stretch to beat Bentonville. This year, she came into her own as the season went along.
“She can be a lockdown defender,” he noted. “Her on-the-ball defense can be really, really good. She’s a really good rebounder for her size, really a good competitor. Her offensive stuff is coming. She works on her game. Her offensive skills are coming. Obviously, her 31 points against Siloam kind of shows the potential she has to erupt offensively. So, as she continues to grow and feel more comfortable in her game, those things will continue to show in college.”
“We’re very excited to have Emily,” said CBC head coach Lyle Middleton. “From the coaching side of it, anybody can score points if you shoot it enough. It’s what she brings to the table on the defensive side. Just her intensity and her energy and her drive to be a competitor is what we’re excited about. We’re glad she’s going to be a Lady Mustang.”
Ridgell said she had other schools she considered.
“CBC is where I want to go because it’s close and I want to stay close to my family,” she explained. “There were other places I was thinking about but they were farther away.
“I found out about CBC through my AAU coach,” she mentioned, “but playing here (at Bryant) actually really helped me show my talents and get looks.”
Reflecting on the last two seasons, Ridgell said, “I think one of our best accomplishment this year was beating Russellville (the top team in Class 6A at the time). That was a big thing for us because the first time (Bryant played them), it was a struggle. I knew that we could beat them. So actually beating them in our gym was something.
“And I didn’t get to participate in it but being a part of the team and beating them was a big accomplishment,” she noted.
Asked about the concussion, Ridgell recalled, “Me and a girl were going for a ball and we ran into each other and I hit my head on the floor.”
But she battled back and helped Bryant reach State and, for the second year in a row, knock off Bentonville.
“It’s been great here and actually playing the teams that we’ve played and beating some of the teams that we beat,” she said. “And being able to beat Benton was pretty good.”
Indeed, the Lady Hornets beat the rival Lady Panthers in the Saline County Shootout in both of Ridgell’s seasons in Bryant.
“I’m really proud of her and happy for her and her family that she’s reached the point where she gets to play college basketball,” Matthews said. “Very few athletes in any sport get the opportunity to extend their career beyond high school. It’s quite an accomplishment when people get to do that.
“I think that just shows how hard she works, the seriousness with which she takes it,” he concluded. “This isn’t something that just happens overnight. It’s due to not only months, but years of work and dedication. It’s good to see that kind of work and dedication pay off.”
Ridgell said she plans to major in Sports Medicine with the goal of becoming a Physical Therapist.
“I’d like to thank Coach Matthews and everybody that helped me get to this point,” she said. “Thanks to my family for supporting me and my teammates and everybody for helping me come in here and feeling so welcome.”