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BLOOMFIELD — Thalia O’Neil’s softball career at Bloomfield High School has been nothing short of great, and now the recent graduate will continue her career at the collegiate level after signing a letter of intent to play for Western New Mexico University.

O’Neil was initially leaning toward playing for New Mexico Highlands University, but after meeting with Western head coach Angela Corliss, who is originally from Bloomfield, she was sold on Western’s program.

“(Corliss) seemed really excited about meeting me and it felt right going there. I felt connected with her,” O’Neil said. “I was going to commit to Highlands, but the coach didn’t really talk to me, so I figured I’d go somewhere I felt wanted.”

Western is an NCAA Division II program located in Silver City. Western competed in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference since 2006, but will join the Lone Star Conference at the start of the 2016-17 season. The team finished last season 21-34.

O’Neil, a five-year varsity player for the Lady Bobcats, also received offers from Colorado’s Trinidad State Junior College and Bacone College in Oklahoma, where teammates Kristen Espinosa and Daysha Smith recently signed, but the academic opportunities at Western were a better fit for her, as well.

O’Neil said she’ll major in chemistry, which has been her passion in the classroom since her freshman year.

“My chemistry teacher freshman year, Mr. (Hank) Starr, he gave me that passion about chemistry. I have the same passion for chemistry that I do for softball,” O’Neil said, who will be attending Western on a full scholarship.

O’Neil was Bloomfield’s top pitcher for the last three seasons. Bloomfield head coach Andi Clark, who resigned following the 2016 season, credited former Bloomfield coach Don Higgins, who continued to help with the program after retiring, for O’Neil’s development as a pitcher.

“Last year, he couldn’t help us as much, and this year, he couldn’t help us at all. I think if he would have still been here, there’s no telling what she could have done,” Clark said. “It’s going to be big shoes to fill, not only pitching, but with her bat. She was batting .560 going into the state tournament.”

At this year’s state tournament, the Lady Bobcats uncharacteristically exited after two losses on the first day while O’Neil failed to get on base in the two games.

That early exit will remain with O’Neil at the next level. Throughout her high school career, her goal was to win a state title. She’ll still get to play softball, but said that it won’t be the same as chasing the blue trophy.

“I’m a bit of a psycho and was probably the only one who memorized every game that we lost, how every game went and the score. People would ask why I did that, and it’s because I care so much,” O’Neil said. “I wanted to be a state champion, and it sucked not winning one. I tried, but I felt like I came up short for the team.”

Western is set to return 14 players for the 2016-17 season, and Corliss gave O’Neil the impression that she’ll be able to play right away. But where she’ll be playing may be up in the air.

“I’ll be pitching, but (Corliss) said she might try me in the outfield,” O’Neil said. “I don’t care. As long as I’m getting a full ride to get an education and play softball, what more can I ask for?”

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.

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