Choosing which college to attend while still in high school can be an unnerving experience for any student-athlete. Location, facilities, education and family all factor into a decision that is going to impact the rest of their lives.
For one Ohio State softball player, the decision became more personal than she could have ever imagined.
Buckeye first baseman Evelyn Carrillo started playing softball at the age of 5 when her dad, Jose, bought her a bat and ball, and she has been hooked on the sport ever since. At Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Corona, Calif., Carrillo was a four-year captain.
College softball coaches across the country began taking notice of Carrillo’s presence on the softball field. She started receiving numerous scholarship offers from colleges, including OSU.
As the coach of the Miami (Ohio) softball team from 2006-12, OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said she had her eye on Carrillo at a very young age. There was just something special about the way she carried herself, Schoenly said.
“As a high school kid, she just had that presence you don’t see out of 15 year olds. She owned the field,” Schoenly said. “I would have loved to recruit her out of high school, I thought she was a phenomenal athlete.”
Carrillo also carried her mature presence off the field. Between playing softball full-time, being an honor roll student and traveling to prospective colleges, Carrillo’s responsibilities were consuming.
Evelyn’s mother, Angela, said her daughter’s schedule was always full with softball practices and tournaments.
“Evelyn was so committed to softball all her life. We had no Christmases with family, we had no Thanksgiving with family, there was no Easter Sunday because we were out at her tournaments,” Angela Carrillo said.
In fall 2008, the time for Evelyn to pick a college was rapidly approaching. She said she wondered what it would be like to move away from California for the first time in her life.
While her mind was set on the possibility of moving away from home, something troubling began within her house.
For five months, Angela Carrillo visited doctors regarding a lump growing on her head. After repeatedly being told it was only a cyst, Angela Carrillo convinced doctors to surgically remove the lump. Awake and on local anesthesia, she began to bleed profusely during the surgery. After being rushed to another operating room, doctors were able to control the bleeding and performed a biopsy.
During the next two weeks, the Carrillo family prepared for Evelyn’s quinceañera — a Spanish rite of passage and celebration when a female turns 15 — as her mom’s conditioned worsened. After getting no responses from doctors despite frequent phone calls, Evelyn’s parents drove to the hospital to find anyone who would talk to them.
The news they received was heart-wrenching.
Angela Carrillo was diagnosed with brain cancer on Oct. 3, 2008. She was told the tumor was resistant to chemotherapy and that surgery would give her a 50-50 chance of survival.
“I was diagnosed October the third, Evelyn’s Quinceañera was October 18, so it was a big event for us. I was like, ‘Should we stop that? Put everything aside? I don’t even think I’m going to make it that far out,’” Angela Carrillo said.
Just as Evelyn Carrillo was mapping out her future, her mother’s diagnosis flipped her entire life upside down.
“I think that was very devastating to her. Evelyn is like the second mom to my kids, she had a lot of stuff going on. She was getting all these offers from colleges, playing for her travel ball, she received such notice and it really hit hard on her,” Angela Carrillo said.
Angela Carrillo remembers her daughter staying strong around the family, especially for her three younger siblings.
“She has always been a strong girl. Somehow when Evelyn was in front of me, she was always saying, ‘You’re going to be OK, Mom. This is just another stone on the road and you’re going to be fine,’” Angela Carrillo said.
Fed up with how her doctors handled the diagnosis, Angela Carrillo said she decided to seek a second opinion at a different hospital. She was referred to Dr. Brian Pikul, a 1991 graduate of OSU’s College of Medicine.
At her first appointment with Pikul, Angela Carrillo said she was smitten with his bedside manner. After his initial evaluation, Pikul said he thought she had a 90 percent chance of walking away from the surgery if he was the one who performed it.
When Evelyn Carrillo and her father heard the news, they felt it was destiny that she had a scholarship offer from OSU.
“The minute Evelyn and my husband found out, Evelyn said, ‘I’m going to Ohio.’ And within minutes, she made that phone call and she was committed to Ohio State,” Angela Carrillo said. “My husband was like, ‘This is a sign you’re going to be OK, and this is a sign that Ohio State is the school for our daughter and that she’s going to be OK if she commits out there.’”
Evelyn Carrillo had made her decision: she would be going to school at the alma mater of the doctor that would save her mother’s life.
“It was a tough decision for me whether I wanted to stay close to home and stay with my family during those hard times or go out and explore a whole new world and know that everything is going to be OK,” Evelyn Carrillo said. “I had a lot of faith that my mom’s neurosurgeon was going to get it done for her.”
Pikul performed a nine-hour surgery on Oct. 28, 2008, removing 95 percent of Angela’s tumor. The remainder was treated with radiation. Angela Carrillo required an eight additional surgeries to address complications from the first procedure, but she is now living a healthy life.
“Thank God she’s here with us,” Evelyn Carrillo said. “Dr. Pikul is like part of the family now. He’s done so much for my mom and I cannot thank him enough for it.”
Although Angela struggled with the transition after Evelyn Carrillo moved to Columbus, she said everything has worked out in the end.
“I never doubted the school because Dr. Pikul had also spoke very highly of the school, I think it was just the distance (that) was hard for me,” Angela Carrillo said. “But when I saw her dressed up in the Ohio (State) practice uniform playing at the Buckeye Field, I knew it was the best thing for her. I knew Evelyn had made a great choice.”
Now in her final season with the Buckeyes, Evelyn is leaving her mark in the history books of the OSU softball team. Currently ranked 11th all time in hits with 198 and fifth all-time in RBIs with 142, Carrillo is becoming one of OSU’s best sluggers ever.
But perhaps most importantly, she has emerged as an emotional leader for the team, just as she has done in her family for years. Sophomore outfielder and catcher Cammi Prantl said Carrillo’s strength is evident on and off the field.
“You can always look up to Evelyn and know she’ll be there. She’s just a great leader,” Prantl said. “She’s that girl that you look to to pump you up.”
With graduation right around the corner, Evelyn is at yet another crossroads in her life.
“Now being a senior, I look back and I know I’m going to miss it all. I’m already having withdrawals (from) playing and it’s not even over yet,” Evelyn Carrillo said. “It’s been a great experience for me in Ohio and I’m really going to miss it.”
With everything changing in Evelyn Carrillo’s life once again, Angela said she expects her daughter to handle any future adversity with the maturity she has always had.
“She’s definitely looking forward to graduating, getting her bachelor’s degree, coming out here and experiencing the world,” Angela Carrillo said. “She’s ready to close this chapter and move on and see what life is really about.”