ROCKINGHAM —Diagnosed with hereditary pancreatitis at 10 years old, Richmond Senior infielder Kayla Hawkins was told by doctors that her budding softball career would have to be put on hold.
“That made me want to work 10 times harder and prove them wrong,” said Hawkins inside a crowded Richmond Senior High School media center on Wednesday.
“I’m not going to be on the sideline being a cheerleader, I’m going to be on the field playing with my teammates.”
Most of those same teammates from her 10-and-under Carolina Explosion squad were on hand as Hawkins made her intentions to play for Coker University official.
She described the moment as “surreal” and “overwhelming” and took pictures with dozens of family members, friends and coaches who all had a turn speaking about her progression on and off the field.
“I’ve been working at it since I was 9 and just to see it actually come true means everything,” said Hawkins.
Despite a month-long stay in the hospital in which she admitted to feeling scared and apprehensive for her future athletic endeavors, Hawkins worked her way through multiple stints with Explosion and eventually moved on to play for Carolina Elite, a travel team she says got her prepared for college ball.
The early perseverance and offseason training helped Hawkins make an immediate impact as a freshman at Richmond, to which she gave a special shoutout to recently retired Lady Raiders coach Wendy Wallace.
“She’s a quiet leader…but she did everything that we needed her to do,” Wallace said of Hawkins, who she started at third base in her first year playing for the program.
“She’s a great all-around player. Coker is going to be very lucky to have a player like her coming in.”
Hawkins thanked Wallace and the Lady Raiders coaching staff for guidance throughout her three-year varsity career where she’s had to start at a different position each season.
She credits this defensive versatility as one of the key factors that attracted Coker coaches as well as her prowess at the plate, enjoying career averages of .301 and .414 in batting and on-base, respectively.
Before she committed to the Lady Cobras last year, Hawkins says an official campus visit made all the difference.
“Right when I went on their campus, I knew that was the school for me,” she said. “I love all the girls and I just can’t wait to be there.”
As a junior, she finished with a career-high .465 on-base percentage and helped Wallace’s experienced group to a 25-3 record.
“I’m very proud of her and looking forward to see her move on to the next level after she has a great senior year,” said Wallace.
Hawkins says she hopes to bring her powerful bat to the Lady Cobras lineup that ended last season with a .262 batting average and a .331 on-base percentage.
Before she does, however, there’s still some unfinished business in her final year with the Lady Raiders.
“I just want to step up and be a leader. If we all work hard, we can still go far this year — and we’re still trying to chase that ring,” said Hawkins.
Donnell Coley can be reached at 910-817-2671 or by email at [email protected]urnal.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Sportsinmyveins.