Class of 2022 rising star Atalyia Rijo is a true student of the sport. Her mother Audrey played softball at UNC Wilmington and her dad Fernando Rijo was drafted by Major League Baseball out of the Dominican Republic at just sixteen years old.
“I don't think she feels pressure, this is hard to explain but when your family is in the business of softball/baseball it’s just what you do; the Rijo's live for this game every day,” Coach Nate Eaton said. “In a good way, they study the sport.”
When Eaton asked Rijo what she was getting for Christmas, her response was a trip this summer to PGF Nationals and that her Mom was going to take her to a coaches clinic where she thought Coach Weekly from Tennessee would be speaking.
“What 14-year old asked to go to a coaches clinic for her Christmas present,” he pondered. “They are students of the game. I have found that athletes who's parents played at the highest level, they just do things differently in their families.”
Rijo started playing softball when she was five years old with her mom as her tee ball coach. When she was eight she started to play for a local travel 10U team called the Lady Bandits and has always played, “bigger than her body”.
“I have played many sports growing up such as gymnastics starting at the age of 3, and then soccer, basketball and currently track which have helped me become the player I am today,” she said. “Growing up, my mom has helped me with the mental side of athletics and life. My dad has helped me with the physical aspects of the game.”
Although she attends Corning Painted-Post High School in Corning, New York, her travel ball team Team North Carolina - Eaton is located over 500 miles south. The youngster and her family researched the best 14U teams in North Carolina and were able to meet with Coach Nate Eaton during the beginning of 2018. Following a workout, Eaton offered her a spot on one of the top travel teams in the nation. She isn’t the only non-Tarheel State athlete on the roster. Half of the team comes from over two hours away as well as two from West Virginia and two from South Carolina.
“We take our team practices very seriously and we do it every chance we get. It is common for us to practice the same day as tournament days to get the work in together. We will do it before or after games when we can,” Eaton explained.
In addition to Rijo, Eaton’s squad is loaded with talent including three class of 2022 girls committed to DI schools including fellow middle infielder Janelle Illacqua. Illacqua is committed to Virginia Tech and touted as one of the best defensive middle infielders in the nation.
“I told Janelle just this week that Atalyia is the best thing that has happened to her and conversely Janelle is great for Atalyia as they love to compete for everything,” he said. “These two push each other and that is one of our teams biggest strengths is our middle Infield. I haven't seen a combination better than Rijo and Ilacqua. “
Rijo echoed this sentiment. She knows working with her teammates has helped her improve as a player because they are all the same age, set the bar for each other, and allow no excuses for poor work ethics.
“As a team, we have succeeded because we work together to accomplish our goals for winning,” she told us. “We hold each other accountable in everything we do. We feed off of each other's successes. We all have similar goals of playing softball in college.”
Although softball comes with its sacrifices, the opportunity to play travel ball on Team North Carolina - Eaton has given her exposure to some of the top coaches and universities in the country.
“Throughout all of the traveling I have been able to play against very good competition while competing on main fields at tournaments that allow college coaches to watch me and my team,” she noted. “I have learned more about the southern states, seen and toured several college campuses, and have met new people that helped shape me as a person.”
Over the past year, Rijo has spent a lot of time improving her swing to make it more powerful and efficient and has seen a large improvement in her offensive game. Defensively, she notes her strengths are with her strong arm and glove skills.
“My quickness helps me read balls well,” she said. “I will also continue to improve my leadership skills.”
The new recruiting rules have forced her to wait two years until she can select a school, but it hasn’t stopped one of the best in the class of 2022 from researching her options. She has attended prospect camps at James Madison, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and has two other SEC powers on her radar.
“There are other schools on my list to visit such as Florida and Alabama and more in the near future,” Rijo told us. “I look forward to attending more camps of interest and getting to know the coaching staffs and school facilities!”
“She told me she wants to play in the South and to WIN,” Eaton added. “She is a savvy player defensively with a BIG arm that loves to be at the plate when the team needs her to deliver. She is a 5-tool player and that is extremely hard to find.”
So what are her future plans?
“My school ball goal is to increase all of my skills for travel ball season, also for our team to win a state championship,” she exclaimed. “My travel ball goal includes winning 2019 PGF Nationals! In the future, I would like to major in business. I would either like to play on a national team after college or become a college coach.”
High School: Corning High School
Club Team: Team North Carolina-Eaton
Position: Middle Infield
Which shows are you currently binge watching on Netflix?
What are your favorite pump up songs?
Not Afraid by Eminem
Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up”. - Babe Ruth
Do you have any pet peeves or superstitions?
My hair always has to be in a braid and my visor on when I play even if it’s dark! My pet peeve is people chewing loudly.
What athletes do you look up to?
Jessie Warren. She shows up to play in big games and gives it her all! Her passion for the game on display when I watch her on TV. Inky Johnson is my daily social media motivator.
Do you have a favorite memory during your travel ball and high school career?
Hitting my first official over the fence home run at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at D9 this fall!
What do you love most about playing shortstop?
The action, the importance of the position, the anticipation of what I may be doing next. Being involved in a lot of plays.