Jen Peel realized something wasn't quite right with her health in the middle of her freshman season on the University of Maryland softball team.

A former All-Met who helped her Calvert squad win Maryland 3A titles in 1997 and '98, Peel said she was always sleeping.

"I had a hard time staying awake," she said. "And I couldn't react to the ball, couldn't concentrate on things. It wasn't very fun."

Still, Peel, who was awarded a softball scholarship to Maryland and got the starting nod at second base two years ago, kept on playing, trying to shrug off the fatigue.

But in a midseason tournament in Georgia, Peel collapsed in the middle of the field. Doctors diagnosed her with a thyroid condition called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which requires her to take medicine for the rest of her life.

Peel missed a few games after the collapse but was determined to come back for the playoffs.

"I just think it's my nature," she said. "Ever since I was little I wanted to play [softball] in college. Playoffs are an important part of the season, and I wanted to experience it."

Maryland came within one game of reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2001. The next year, as a sophomore, Peel still had some fatigue as doctors sought to find the most effective medication.

But she started in all of Maryland's 52 games -- one of only two Terps to do so. Although she hit just .182. Peel drove in 21 runs, third best on the team.

She now takes one pill a day to regulate the hormone production from her thyroid gland, and said she feels ready to have her best season yet. Maryland began practices 10 days ago and will begin the regular season this month with tournaments in Florida and Georgia.

"There's relief, finally, for feeling better," she said. "I don't remember the last time I felt ready to go and strong."

A physical education major now finishing up her junior year, Peel said she would like to be a physical education teacher. But first she might explore coaching softball at the college level, an idea she has already discussed with Maryland's coach, Gina LaMadre.

"I feel comfortable with softball because I've played so long," Peel said. "I think it's what I've always wanted to do -- coach."

Peel's goal this season is for Maryland to win the ACC tournament championship. The Terps lost to Florida State, 2-1, in the finals her freshman year and finished third last spring.

"That," she said, "would be the greatest."

-- Dave Yanovitz