MISSOULA — The distance from Montana to Ohio is nothing compared to Morgan Ray’s next adventure.

The former Frenchtown softball star who wrapped up her college career at Ohio State in May will continue her playing days on the professional level in Europe.

Ray will be approximately 5,000 miles from Frenchtown when she suits up in the Czech Republic starting in July. She’ll be playing for the Kunovice Snails, who are in the Euroleague, which features teams from Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

Ray won’t be on her own, heading over to play with former Ohio State teammate Shelby McCombs. It’s an experience the pioneering Ray is looking forward to as she gets to discover foreign lands while continuing to play the game she loves.

“I was going to definitely try to play overseas,” Ray said. “I thought about entering the (National Pro Fastpitch) draft. I did have that opportunity, but I didn’t think that was something that I wanted to do. If I had the opportunity to go overseas, I definitely wanted to explore that first.

“If this wouldn’t have worked out, I think I probably would have just been done and maybe gave a few pitching lessons or something. I’m excited that at least I got this opportunity because I know a lot of people struggle with their lives after being a student-athlete for so long and trying to figure out their identity. So, I’m glad that I don’t have to give that up yet.”

Ray’s pro playing days will be the continuation of a college career in which she helped Ohio State reach the NCAA Tournament for four consecutive years, a first in program history. The right-handed ace on the staff, she posted a team-best 18 wins for the second year in a row and became the first Buckeye in 12 years to throw multiple no-hitters in the same season.

However, Ray’s collegiate playing days weren’t filled with constant success, like when she was at Frenchtown and won three Montana Gatorade player of the year awards and three state titles. The 5-foot-9 pitcher fought to a 3-2 record and 4.00 ERA as a freshman and a 6-5 mark with a 2.35 ERA in her second year, but she refused to let those struggles keep her down.

“You always go into it thinking that it’ll be perfect and thinking that you’ll be the star,” Ray said. “My freshman year, I think I got a little bit of a rain check. It’s a big difference in the level of play that I’ve always played at. I think it was cool. It was really humbling and it taught me a lot about who I am and my mental strength and everything. Obviously, I would’ve loved to be a four-time All-American. Everyone wishes that. But I know that I gained a lot from this experience.”

Ray was forced to grow up quick while living on her own. No longer was she in Montana where cars and houses could be left unlocked. There were adjustments to the compactness of dorm life, far different than the vastness of the Montana landscape. Then there was the balance of being a full-time athlete and student.

Ray leaned on her teammates, getting help from and learning alongside them because many of them were in a similar situation. None of her teammates, however, came from Montana, so Ray found herself quizzing them about wildlife — finding out her roommate couldn’t recognize a bison or moose — and dispelling their belief that she rode a horse to school growing up.

Over her four years at Ohio State, the lessons she learned and growth she experienced should be valuable going forward.

“You learn who your real friends are and you learn that it’s really important to be your true self,” Ray said. “I think integrity is a big thing, and that’s something you recognize kind of at this age. So that’s probably one of the bigger lessons. I think also perseverance is a big thing that you learn, especially as a college athlete.

“Being proud of yourself is a big thing too. It’s OK to be proud of yourself. That’s something that I’ve learned because it takes a lot to move across the country away from everyone you know. I think it’s OK to be proud of accomplishing something that you’ve always wanted to do. Being a college softball player is one of my things that I always wanted to do.”

Ray realizes softball won’t last forever, and she already has her future plans outlined. In the long run, she’s looking to be a hospital administrator, running the operations of an entire hospital.

Currently, Ray is doing an administrative hospital internship in Columbus, Ohio. She’ll be looking to add a master’s degree in health administration to go with her major in health science and minor in Spanish, which she earned while being a three-time All-America Scholar-Athlete.

“I knew I always wanted to work in a hospital,” Ray said. “I wasn’t sure what exactly that entailed, but I knew that I’d want to work in a hospital. Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a doctor. I might not necessarily want to be a doctor anymore, but I’ve worked my way through all the positions in my mind.

“I think administration is something that I’m really interested in because it’s kind of the backstage work of how a hospital runs. You need both sides of clinical and administrative in order to make a hospital run. I’ve just always been interested, and if there’s a way that I can help people, then that’s ideal for me.”

Wherever Ray’s playing travels take her, she knows her biggest fans will be from Montana. Her parents traveled to every weekend home game this past season. Then there’s her grandparents, who she said “have been awesome and a light in my life.” And there’s the high school coaches and teammates who stayed in contact.

For as much support as she’s gotten along the way, Ray hopes the groundbreaking path she’s carved is one not only for her but one that others — like the younger girls who reach out to her on social media — can follow.

“I just really think that not a lot of people get the opportunity to play in college, let alone to go back overseas and get to play after college. I think the cool thing is that you don’t see a lot of that in Montana,” Ray said. “The one thing that I really do hope is that I can inspire girls to take their dreams to the next level. A lot of people don’t think that it’s possible coming out of Montana to do the things that I’ve done. I think it’s really cool. I hope that I laid a path for other girls to realize that this is possible.”

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Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at Frank.Gogola@406mtsports.com.

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