Dedication, team-first attitude defines SSU’s Rawlins

PORTSMOUTH — When one talks or gets to know a student-athlete, he or she can usually pick up who has the ‘it’ factor as far as leadership intangibles are concerned.

Haley Rawlins, without a doubt, is one of those players who knows how to lead.

A native of nearby South Point, Rawlins quickly became a four-year starter at Shawnee State due to her hard work and dedication from the outset.

However, it’s not just her ability that’s improved over the last four years — it’s her leadership s well.

“Playing softball at the collegiate level has been a dream of mine since I first started playing,” Rawlins said. “Now living iin that dream, I realize how much hard work and dedication that it has taken from not only me, but also, my entire support system. Without the motivation from my fiance, family, coaches, teammates, and friends, I never would have made it.”

A standout softball player at South Point High School, Rawlins quickly established herself as a force for the Pointers, eventually earning all-Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) first-team honors in each season of her high school career, all while playing one of the harder positions on the field at shortstop.

Additionally, Rawlins paced South Point to back-to-back OVC championships in 2013 and 2014 — and led the Pointers to a Division III, Region 11 semifinal berth as a junior in 2015.

During South Point’s run to the regional semifinals, Rawlins homered in four consecutive contests, as the Pointers enjoyed one of their best seasons in school history.

She is still, to this day, one of only 24 players in OHSAA softball history to accomplish such a feat — and one of only three players in the entire Southeast District who is listed as accomplishing such an honor.

In addition to the above accolades, the infielder obtained three Division III second-team all-Southeast District awards and one Division II Honorable Mention all-Southeast District honor for the Pointers on the softball diamond.

Additionally, Rawlins, who also starred as a basketball player, averaged 11 points per game and was named a Division III second-team all-Southeast District honoree as a senior.

Beyond experiencing success at the OVC and Southeast District realms, however, representing South Point was the true honor for Rawlins, especially considering the support that the softball program had as a whole.

“Since I started high school, my No. 1 goal has been to be the best leader that I can be and build on that every year,” Rawlins said. “I played shortstop all throughout high school, and I grew to love the game more and more. I was a part of OVC championships and other achievements throughout my career. My favorite part of being a part of South Point will always be the people. I love my town, and I love the support that people give one another. South Point is an extremely small town where everybody knows each other. I could always count on the bleachers being filled with the most supportive people in the community. Two of those people, my mom and dad, never missed a game unless an emergency came up. My dad always sat in left-center field, and my mom kept the book for every single game.”

As a student, Rawlins’ accolades shined even brighter.

The winner of the OHSAA’s Archie Griffin Sportsmanship Award, Rawlins also obtained the state’s Wendy’s High School Heisman Award.

Both awards are only given to one male and one female apiece across the entire state.

On and off of the field, it was clear that Rawlins was a winner — and as a result, a person who would be beneficial to any college that she attended.

However, Shawnee State’s softball program and Steve Whittaker won out.

Whittaker, who had just been hired as SSU’s softball coach just months prior, made Rawlins his very first signee.

He landed Rawlins due to a personal relationship that dated back all the way to when Rawlins was in grade school, and when Whittaker formed what would become the Buckeye Elite travel softball program.

“I have been playing for Steve since I first started playing travel softball,” Rawlins said. “Steve could tell you any score or any play that has ever happened from those games. It’s always fun to talk about memories from those times with him. I was actually Steve’s first recruit when he started coaching at Shawnee State. That’s very special to me. He’s helped me develop as an athlete over the last 13 years I have been around. I remember Steve calling my dad after a Little League tournament asking me to play for his travel team. I didn’t realize until I got older just how much it means to know someone believes in your potential, and that’s exactly what Steve has done my whole softball career since then.”

Never the most talented player on the field by her own admission, Rawlins has made her presence felt in the SSU lineup through pure grit.

During her career at Shawnee State, Rawlins played in 140 out of a possible 146 games, while proving her abilities as an infielder.

She only committed five errors over the past two seasons, and in 78 defensive chances in 2020, Rawlins didn’t commit a single defensive error.

“It has been one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done in my life,” Rawlins said. “I will be the first to admit that I was not the best player on the field, but I always did my best to be the best leader that I could be, especially my senior year. We lost a lot of great players following my junior year, so I knew that I needed to step up and fill those holes that we would be missing. It is the best feeling when I have one of my teammates text, call or even talk to me in person about anything that they have going on in their lives.”

Her winning example and attitude has reflected itself in the entire unit’s play over the last four years.

Coming off an 11-35 season the year before Rawlins arrived, Shawnee State put together 24-24, 27-22 and 23-22 seasons in her three full years with the Bears.

Through the daily grind, however, Rawlins realized that her teammates were giving her more than she could ever teach them.

“Although I tried to be motivational to the girls, they truly were my motivation to keep going through every error, strikeout or anything that wasn’t going my way through the game,” Rawlins said. “I truly believe that these relationships were built through the workouts that we all attended. We all saw each other fail in different ways, and made sure to celebrate the success when it was necessary. This helped us tremendously with the bond that we created this year.”

This past season, SSU was out to an even stronger start as the Bears stood at 7-3 — including a doubleheader sweep of Kentucky Christian (2-0 and 5-0) in the Bears’ home opener on March 11.

“One thing that I’ll always remember about that game is running after two of my teammates after the games because of how happy I was to see them make great plays,” Rawlins said. “There’s just nothing like the bond that I made with my teammates this year.”

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Just 22 hours after the start of their home doubleheader, the NAIA announced that all winter sports contests were canceled due to the COVID-19 virus.

By the following week, all of the spring sports contests had been canceled as well.

“To be honest, it still hasn’t fully kicked in that the season has been cancelled,” Rawlins said. “It almost feels like we’re on summer break. Softball has helped me become both physically and mentally stronger, especially in college. The game is played at a much faster pace, and to be surrounded by girls who love the game just as much as you do makes it that much more fun. I have had a lot of great moments, but nothing gets my adrenaline going like seeing one of my teammates making a diving catch or getting a great hit. I would do anything to watch one of them do that one more time.”

Still, Rawlins, as she has done throughout her career, has made the best of the circumstances.

Academically, Rawlins has maintained a 3.8 GPA while passing over 135 credit hours in less than four years despite being a full-time student-athlete.

She credits her success to the welcoming environment that SSU has to offer, the softball program in particular.

“Deciding to play softball for Shawnee State has been one of the best decisions that I could’ve ever made,” Rawlins said. “I have made lifelong friendships with the best group of girls that I never would have met if I hadn’t attended Shawnee State. Having this season end so abruptly has made me realize how important it is to never take advantage of the moments that you are given with those around you. I’m thankful to say that although this season was cut short, I wouldn’t have traded the time with my team for anything in the world.”

Plus, Rawlins will always have her close friends and family — no matter what comes of this latest difficulty.

“This break has given me the time to realize just how blessed I am to be surrounded by the best people in the world,” Rawlins said. “I wouldn’t trade my support system for anything. I thank God every single day for each and every one of them.”