Paige Murphy reached the end of her collegiate softball career last spring, forcing her to hang up her cleats as an EKU softball player only for her to pick up a pair of basketball shoes less than six months later.
The Louisville native came to EKU to play softball after being offered the opportunity to play at the Division I level. In her four years, Murphy had much success in her softball career, including winning an Ohio Valley Conference championship her senior year, being named an All-American and being awarded the OVC Female Athlete of the Year Award. However, when she was presented with the opportunity to continue her collegiate athletic career, she decided she wasn’t quite done yet.
“I just kind of had to hop on the ride and hang on,” Murphy said. “I went from being that ‘star’ on the softball team, to now, I might be that last person on the basketball team.”
But it wasn’t always that way. For Murphy, she grew up playing many different sports, but basketball and softball were always her two favorites. She said she remembered almost always being at a sporting event or playing in a game.
“I never stopped. I still haven’t stopped,” Murphy said. “Whatever I played, I loved doing it.”
Up until her senior year of high school, she was still playing both sports and enjoying them equally. Murphy said she had options to play both at some Division II level schools but could not find one that was competitive enough in both sports. It was until the last second that she had to make a decision, she said, that she was still weighing the option of playing both in college.
After finally deciding that she was going to play softball in college, she never stopped playing or thinking about basketball, even throughout her softball career at EKU.
“I would always want to go over to the rec and play. I would come to the girls’ games and the guys’ games. I would come and watch practice. I would go to open gyms and still play over the summertime,” Murphy said. “It was always in the back of my mind.”
Once softball season ended, Murphy decided to pursue her master’s degree at EKU, which led her to finding a graduate assistant position with the women’s basketball team.
It was right then, said Stacy May-Johnson, softball assistant coach, that she and the other softball coaches thought that it was definitely a possibility that the basketball coaches would offer her a chance to play for the team.
“The thing about Paige is that she really is a freak athlete,” May-Johnson said. “That’s really to me, at the end of the day, why she transitions into a sport that she hasn’t played for four years. It’s because she’s so athletically gifted. I’m sure she’s had to pick up or relearn some of the skills along the way, but the athleticism – that never left her.”
May-Johnson said that although it is somewhat strange seeing Murphy on the basketball court instead of the softball field, she thinks it has been a great opportunity for her to grow stronger as a person. Throughout student-athletes’ careers, she said, they gain maturity and try to reach the peak of their abilities. For Murphy, that’s exactly what her senior season represented, she said.
“For her, I’d have to imagine that the element of struggling in this second sport, in a way that she didn’t struggle in softball was a great opportunity for her to grow as a person,” May-Johnson said. “To me, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. She’s going to be tougher and better.”
And it was who she is as a person that impacted her teammates the most.
Carly Robinson, one of Murphy’s softball teammates, said Murphy was always passionate about the game and consistently worked hard.
Most importantly, Robinson said, Murphy showed her what a good teammate and friend looked like the moment she arrived on campus. With Murphy being a senior when Robinson was a freshman, Robinson said that Murphy immediately took her under her wing and that their friendship began right away.
One of the biggest lessons Robinson learned from Murphy, she said, was that she should never give up when times got tough because that makes a person stronger. It was because of those lessons, Robinson said, that her legacy will live on at EKU, not just as a softball or basketball player, but simply as a person.
“She’s a joy to be around,” May-Johnson said. “As great of a player a softball player and a basketball player – that she is, I think that her personal impact has been just as powerful."