Ask Braden River High junior Jada Phillips when she's free, and she will have to get back to you.
Her schedule quickly fills up.
Phillips is a softball player first and foremost. That has been the case since she was 8 years old.
After watching her brother, Samuel Phillips, play baseball, Jada Phillips wanted to have a similar experience. Her father, Gary Phillips, convinced her to give softball a shot instead. It worked out. Phillips is ranked by Extra Inning Softball as the No. 6 catcher in the national class of 2024.
Phillips committed to Louisiana State University in October. She said the Tigers were interested in her for the way she plays the game — hard, with no wasted motion.
Phillips said she puts her all into every step and every swing she takes. Her stats back that up. In 2022, she hit .479 with 13 doubles, seven triples, six home runs and 31 RBIs, and held a .989 fielding percentage while primarily playing shortstop instead of catcher.
She said LSU Head Coach Beth Torina and her staff made her feel immediately welcome, and added that LSU's willingness to promote its women's sports programs on social media and elsewhere just as much as its men's programs made committing an easy call — as did LSU's track record of success. The Tigers went 34-23 in 2022 and reached the regional stage of the NCAA Tournament before being eliminated by Cal State Fullerton.
Lately, though, softball has not been the only sport in her life. In an effort to get stronger for softball, Phillips started lifting weights with former Pirates strength coach Richard Lansky, who is now at Manatee High. The idea wasn't new to her because she has been lifting weights since she was 11. That started at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA.
Phillips said Lansky, who was named the 2022 High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, helped her change her perspective on weightlifting. It was helping her in softball, yes, but it was also something valuable on its own, something that could be taken just as seriously as anything else.
"It wasn't a chore anymore," Phillips said. "He made it fun to compete."
Soon after, Phillips started partaking in Olympic-style weightlifting competitions in her spare time. Now, as a member of Team Florida Gulf Coast weightlifting, she's nearly as competitive about it as she is softball. On March 2, Phillips traveled with her team to Columbus, Ohio, to compete in the 2023 North American Open Series 1 against other top weightlifters.
In her open weight category — competing mainly against adults as a 17-year-old — Phillips finished 34th out of 100 participants, completing a snatch of 62 kilograms (136 pounds, 11 ounces) and a clean and jerk of 85 kilograms (187 pounds, 6 ounces).
She's not yet satisfied with her results.
"If I'm good at something, it only drives me to do it more," Phillips said.
Phillips plays travel softball with Lady Lightning Gold, a national club. She travels the country to play in tournaments with them each summer and occasionally travels to the team's home base of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to get in some practice at minicamps.
Phillips said her LLG coach, John Corn, asked her to participate in more travel events this year, including some in the spring, to get more work against top competition. That, plus former Braden River softball coach Melissa Dowling stepping down after the 2022 season, led to Phillips' decision to not play high school softball in 2023.
It wasn't an easy decision, Phillips said, but it's the right one for her. That does not mean she is taking it easy this spring. Far from it. Phillips said she joined the school's track and field team this year to increase her speed, and it is less of a commitment than softball would be. If she has to miss a meet to fly to a travel ball tournament, she can do that. So far, Philips has not competed in any official meets, but she's been practicing the 100- and 200-meter dashes as well as those events' relays.
She's also intrigued by the long jump. That event wouldn't have any benefit to her as a softball player, she said, but it looks fun.
On the rare afternoons when Phillips has nothing on her schedule, she said, she's likely to be found in bed, sleeping. It's necessary recovery after going so hard with training so consistently. The heavy load of her schedule can be a lot, she said, but the long-term benefits are worth any in-the-moment stress.
"Some days it does get a little draining," Phillips said. "I'll say to myself, 'Oh, I do not want to be doing this right now.' But once I actually get into the practice, the joy of it comes back. I remember why I'm doing it. I don't know what I would do if I wasn't able to compete in something for a while."
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.