During Christmas break in December, college students are mostly home with family to enjoy the holidays. Former Franklin High School (FHS) students and softball players, McKenzie Redoutey, and sisters Taylor and Tori Ensley, returned to Franklin last month to share what they have experienced while at college on softball scholarships.
Redoutey graduated from FHS in 2021 and attends Louisiana State University (LSU). The Ensley sisters both chose North Carolina State University (NC State) as their school; Taylor graduated from FHS in 2021, with Tori following in 2022.
While back home in Macon County, the young women lent their skills to a softball camp held at Macon Middle School, Dec. 30. Approximately 40 aspiring softballers showed up to learn from the former FHS stars.
In addition to attendees from Macon County, participants of the camp hailed from as far away as Charlotte, with other attending students from other towns in the region, such as Bryson City, Sylva, Highlands, and Cherokee. The college softballers hoped to impress upon younger athletes skills they have attained as well as encouragement to keep pushing toward becoming better players.
“What made this camp so enjoyable for me were the bonds created with the girls,” said Tori. “I knew some, but I didn’t know the majority. Getting to laugh, joke, and have fun with these young girls was a reminder of how softball should feel when I am playing it.”
However, prior to the camp, Redoutey and the Ensley sisters shared how and why they chose the colleges they did and how their time within their respective softball programs has progressed.
In Redoutey’s case, she knew early on that LSU was where she wanted to be. She committed during the summer break between eighth and ninth grade – an option that no longer exists as rules have changed. Students must now wait until at least their junior year in high school before signing at their choice of college or university.
“With my swing and technique, they [ LSU] taught the same swings and tools that I thought would make me successful,” said Redoutey. “When I went on one of my visits, I was hanging out with the girls and coach [Beth Torina-LSU head softball coach heading into her 13th year in 2024]. She was like a mother figure and it gave me comfort while being away from home.”
For the Ensley sisters, staying a bit closer to home was a priority. “It’s only five hours away … my parents can come visit me,” said Taylor.
When Taylor arrived on the NC State campus in 2021 the incumbent coaching staff was looking for someone with a “homerun swing,” she explained. “Homeruns are what I did the most … that’s just my thing.”
With her big sister already ensconced on the NC State campus and participating in the softball program, Tori was leaning toward the Raleigh-located university as well.
“[Taylor’s] my best friend so that played a part in my decision,” said Tori. “Whenever I visited, the campus was so pretty; there’s so much to do there. It’s a big academic school and I’m all about academics.”
As with most student athletes, achieving a degree is top priority as well as the sport being played. Few college athletes, statistically, go on to enjoy professional careers in sports. For Redoutey, sports administration and business make up her major/minor degree programs. And as far as envisioning a career, she admitted, “Now that I’m older, it’s [playing softball] hard on your body and I don’t think people realize that. I do want to continue being involved in sports though.”
Taylor expressed her desire to exercise her faith and be involved in counseling. “I chose social work as a major – that’s what God was calling me to do. I’ve been wanting to help people; that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
She also shared that she ran into issues with school officials finding her softball commitments interfering with social work demands. “Now I’m in applied education with a focus on social work. I’m hoping to get my guidance counselor degree,” she said.
As for Tori, she just finished her first semester and is still feeling out the process of life as a college student and athlete. “Currently I’m in exploratory studies, which is just finding out what I want to do. But ever since elementary school, I’ve always been passionate about special needs kids, so next year I intend to declare my major as special education.”
The softball culture and environments encountered by the young women differed significantly upon arrival at their respective schools. Redoutey joined a program at LSU that had a long, successful tradition. Coach Torina led the Lady Tigers to a #10 seeding in the 2023 NCAA Softball Tournament, which marked its 17th consecutive year participating.
On the other hand, Taylor found herself and teammates losing the coaching staff employed shortly after her arrival and starting over again in 2023. While the Tigers finished in the middle of the pack last year within the South East Conference (SEC), The Wolfpack of NC State were dead last in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
Reflecting back on what role growing up in Franklin played in their makeup and outlooks, the women had somewhat differing backgrounds.
“We went out [of Franklin] and played travel ball,” said Redoutey. “We played in Atlanta, and we went to big tournaments in California, Texas, and Oklahoma. It’s really about getting out there and out of Franklin to get more exposure. My dad and I would always talk and he’d ask, ‘Do you want to be the best in Franklin or do you want to be the best in the nation?’”
Taylor clearly knew what level she wanted to play at as well. “I wanted to go to the ACC or the SEC. I didn’t care. I knew that I was going to execute if I got to that level. I wasn’t worried if I was not the best player; I knew I was going to be in the top because of my work ethic. I rise to the occasion.”
Tori played infield while at FHS but admitted, “Since being at State, I’ve not taken a single ground ball and have been playing outfield. I feel like it fits me best for now and lets me get playing time.”
Taylor has always played infield but her coaches like her power hitting and need outfielders. “I’ll do whatever I can to play, I don’t care!”
Tori, in describing her acclimation to big campus life, was enthusiastic about the change she has experienced so far. “It’s been so great. When you transition to a larger city like Raleigh, you can do a new thing every night; you always have so much to do and so many places to go. There are so many more people, but after growing up in a small town, I enjoy it.”
“In Baton Rouge you can do anything,” said Redoutey. “And having a team, bonding with them, and getting to do stuff with my team every weekend … making memories with them is something I enjoy doing.”
She went on to explain that her coach does not have to encourage the team to bond. “We choose to do it ourselves because we are such a close team.”
Regarding practice and workout regimens in college compared to high school, Tori said, “It’s very different and much more demanding. In high school you have one-to-two hours of practice and weight lifting. Now we wake up early, go to conditioning, then lift weights for an hour, then have three or four hours of practice. You have to learn when to fuel your body and know what you need to eat.”
While she admits it is demanding, both mentally and physically, Tori also appreciates that “it is totally worth it; I know it’s pushing me and it is a hard adjustment, but it’s also good for me.”
As for the change in coaching staff, Taylor admitted, “I feel like a freshman again. The new coaches are more demanding, but it’s more rewarding because we are getting better. I learned to use the training room every day in getting recovery because I’m beginning to feel like an old person now.”
The three women agreed that time management is a major consideration due to the necessity to combine academic responsibilities with strict requirements for athletics.
“I feel like people don’t understand what student athletes have to go through each day,” said Redoutey. “School in the morning, practice four, sometimes five hours a day, weights, find time to eat, do homework; it’s a lot, but it is also rewarding.”
In Franklin, faith factored into Taylor and Tori’s daily lives. However, Taylor found the NC State environment more secular than she experienced back home; few students expressed interest in attending a Christian church with her.
“When I first got [to Raleigh], I would go to church by myself every Sunday. I felt different for a while. It’s hard when no one is around pushing you and you are by yourself,” she said. “But I really poured into Christ even more. One of my friends got baptized and she came to church with me and a couple other girls started coming to church, also.”
This past fall, when Tori arrived on the NC State campus, she and all the softball freshmen began attending church regularly. “We have a whole row now, and some volleyball players and baseball players also attend,” said Taylor. “Our coaches are all believers and our head coaches have come to church with us. They are big on love, which obviously is a big part of what Christ is about.”
Sharing at the skills camp was also about more than just softball. “Besides teaching the younger girls about softball, we also took the chance to talk about the importance of having a strong mentality when playing softball because it is a sport of failure,” said Tori. “When a girl would mess up, we wouldn’t jump all over them, but we would rather tell them it’s okay and you’ll get it next time.”
“It’s important to let someone know that you see them trying to do what you’re telling them,” added Tori. “Because at a young age it is easy to become flustered at yourself. Being able to help run the camp was such a blessing. When I was younger, I would’ve wanted to go to a camp with some of my favorite high school/college softball players. Knowing that we were able to give back to our community and make an impact on future Franklin athletics is so surreal to me.”