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RIJO'S GATORADE PLAYER OF THE YEAR AWARD LATEST HONOR FOR ONE OF SECTION 4'S ALL-TIME GREATS (2022-06-17)

By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
It was a regular season home game against Elmira. With a runner on second a ball got hit to short and as Atalyia Rijo fielded the ball the runner took a few steps off the base, threatening to run on the throw to first.

Rijo stared down the runner, took a few steps toward second to back her up to the base and then turned quick and gunned down the runner on her way to first.

Most high school players would have quickly gathered and fired, hoping to get the throw to first in time. But, most players don’t have the arm strength, or confidence, that Rijo exhibits at shortstop.

It’s that awareness, that arm strength, that defensive ability that helped make Rijo the Gatorade New York State Softball Player of the Year.

“I think its awesome, it just adds to all the other accomplishments I have had from this year,” Rijo said.

Rijo ends her career as one of the most accomplished players to ever come out of Section 4. She’s a state champion, a multiple-time all-state selection, a top 10-ranked player nationally by some recruiting series, an Arkansas commit and now the Gatorade Player of the Year.

For Rijo all of this is stuff she will really be able to appreciate when she’s older, but it hasn’t all sunk in yet.

“I think it’s something I’ll reflect on when I get older looking back,” Rijo said.

In the future when Rijo heads back to Corning she’ll see her accomplishments on the walls. She was part of a state title, and her Gatorade Player of the Year award will be up on a banner she was told.

“I think it’s going to be one of those things that’s just a proud moment,” Rijo said of coming back when she’s older and seeing the accomplishments on the wall. “Being able to come back and see my name still there.”

There really isn’t anything Rijo can’t do when she plays softball. She’s an elite fielder, with a good lefty swing and a ton of speed. And, while she bats leadoff she has a lot of power, which included a three-home run game earlier this year.

“It’s definitely something I’ve never done before, so that’s a first really,” Rijo said of the three-home run game. “It’s a great feeling going up there and just playing my game.”

Rijo feels like sometimes she may catch people off guard with the power.

“I feel like the teams that haven’t scouted us, it’s a surprise the first time, but some seem to catch on,” Rijo said.

The thing that was crazy was that Rijo’s three-home run game came during a game at the Mary Testa Tournament. In the other game of the doubleheader Ellie DeRosa had a three-home run game, the rare time you’ll ever see two players from the same team have three home run games on the same day.

“That was pretty cool. When I posted it on social media there were so many people wowed by how many home runs we hit,” Rijo said. “Including Kelsey (Booker0 and Payton (Sullivan) who hit some that day.”

All the great bats in the lineup makes Rijo’s life easier as teams can’t really pitch around her.

“They definitely helped having other good hitters around me,” Rijo said. “Especially as a leadoff hitter, knowing my job was to get on base and having them clean up and hit me back in.”

And, as one player would hit home runs the others would match them all year.

“It was awesome, we started a little competition, so we would all compete with each other and just being able to celebrate each others successes was amazing,” Rijo said.

All this success this year came after two years impacted by Covid. For Rijo it was different going from a state title to not having normal sophomore and junior years.

“It was definitely heartbreaking hearing the news of our season being canceled my sophomore year and not having a postseason junior year was upsetting,” Rijo said. “But, it was motivation to come back senior year.”

Those two years dealing with Covid just made the Gatorade Player of the Year honor that much more special.

“I would say so,” Rijo said. “Since with Covid there weren’t all the awards and accomplishments, seeing all the hard work pay off is great.”

For Rijo she had a big role freshman year when the Hawks won a state title. She saw players in the state earn honors like Gatorade Player of the Year and looked up to those older players.

“Coming from my freshman year, being a younger girls on the team, I definitely did look up to those who had one,” Rijo said. “And, being a winner myself of the award, it is really a great feeling.”

While Corning won a state title in Rijo’s freshman year, no Hawks player had ever earned Gatorade Player of the Year until now.

For Rijo it’s something she hopes motivates girls in the future to strive for some of the same accomplishments.

“I think I have definitely started something for everybody to look up to at Corning,” Rijo said.

Rijo has heard from younger girls on the team how they looked up to her and she hopes she left a good legacy for them.

“In our end of the season messages to each other we debriefed on the season and a lot of the younger girls messaged me directly and said they looked up to me and wanted to keep in touch,” Rijosaid.

And Rijo has seen little kids at their games looking up the varsity girls.

“At our home games, outside the fences I do notice there are some younger girls there looking up to us,” Rijo said.

For Rijo she hopes she gets a chance one day to tell the future Hawks players what they might be able to accomplish.

“I would love to have the opportunity to let them know what could be ahead of them,” Rijo said.

For Rijo what is ahead is playing at Arkansas, and she already spent a lot of time this year watching Arkansas games and imaging what next year will be like.

“Seeing Arkansas play in their regional game on their home field, it was getting me super excited about what we have the opportunity to do, especially with the incoming class we have and how special we could be,” Rijo said. “Just seeing them and knowing they are my teammates making the special plays on the special days, I’m lucky to go to a program like that with a coach like coach (Courtney) Deifel and the special players she calls hers.

“Knowing their names and everything and reading from their bios, it was really exciting when you’d see them make a play and get a hit and personally being able to say I know her and cheering her on by name.”

Rijo is excited to get to college and be able to leave her mark there like she did at Corning.

“I am super excited to be able to leave my mark,” Rijo said.

This season didn’t have the perfect ending for the Hawks as they fell in the sectional final to rival Horseheads. Right after that game it was literally right back to work for the Hawks star.

“I’d say the day after,” Rijo said of how fast she was back at work.

For Rijo the hardest part of the season ending was saying goodbye to her teammates.

“It was quite emotional, but we all agreed we’d stay in touch and make the most of the time we have together,” Rijo said.

While she’s in college next year Rijo can’t wait to keep an eye on her teammates games and watch them in college. Two of the other seniors — Ellie DeRosa (George Mason) and Kellie Zoerb (Towson) — will be going Division I as well.

“I can’t wait to see what they are going to go to their programs and offer them,” Rijo said. “I know we have our subscriptions ready and we will keep a lookout on what their schedules are and hopefully make it to a game and watch.”

Rijo will be leaving for Arkansas in early August, and until then she’s playing down in North Carolina on a travel team with the Lady Dukes, making for a busy summer.

“I will barely be home this summer,” Rijo said.

This summer Rijo will get a good taste of what it will be like in college as she plays with some of her future teammates on a nationally ranked travel team.

“With our team nationally ranked, I believe we are second as of the past rankings, I’m going to be seeing most of the girls I’ll be seeing in college and playing with and against them. I have quite a few of my teammates on my travel team that are incoming freshman at Arkansas.”

In the future when Rijo is back at Corning she may be watching her two younger brothers, who are three-sport athletes, who consider baseball their main sport.

“I think I have definitely set the standard for them,” Rijo said.

And, Rijo feels like there may be a little family competition as her brothers get older and try and match what their sister did. Rijo would love to see a day when her brothers eclipse even what she did.

“I think it’s definitely going to be a competition, but I would love to come back and exceed what I set,” she said.

Rijo comes from a family that knows all about high level softball/baseball. Her mom played Division I softball and her dad played minor league baseball. For Rijo that means they are a great support system.

“Their backgrounds make them one of the best supporters I have and best coaches,” Rijo said.
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STSR FILE PHOTO.


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