McDERMOTT — Individuals who wear the love of the game on their personal sleeve, and take losses to heart, are the type of competitors that any program wants.
Throughout her high school career, Laiken Rice represented that type of individual behind the plate for Northwest High School in nearby McDermott.
Now, she’ll get to represent a familiar name at the collegiate level.
Rice, who signed with Kent State out of high school, has transferred to the Shawnee State softball program, and as a result, adds a tremendous talent in the infield who was a multi-time all-SOC (Southern Ohio Conference) and all-Southeast District honoree.
For Rice, the chance to play alongside over a dozen local talents — including fellow Ohio Glory teammates Brittani Wolfenbarker, Jewel Williamson, Madison Sifford, Sydney Spence and her high school teammate of three years Addisyn Newman — is a situation that she says couldn’t be any better.
“Getting the opportunity to play at Shawnee State is a dream come true,” Rice said. “There are so many girls on the team that I have played with or against, and I’m excited to come together for the next few years. There is so much talent on this team with the returning players, the transfers and the incoming freshmen. It should be an awesome team to watch.”
Throughout her high school days, Rice’s fielding abilities at catcher were second-to-none.
Entrenched in the lineup as a four-year starter, Rice quickly made a significant mark on Northwest’s lineup by earning second-team all-SOC honors as a sophomore and stepping up those marks up to first-team all-SOC as a junior and senior.
She earned additional accolades at the Southeast District level — earning first-team honors as a freshman, second-team billing as a sophomore, and first-team honors in her final two seasons of competition.
“I am very proud of my time at Northwest, and I do miss it a lot,” Rice said. “I feel bad for the seniors who did not get their season this past spring. I do, however, hope it shows others to not take advantage of your situations, but to prioritize them at every moment. You never really know when your last game or practice could be, so you should play everyday like it’s your last.”
These honors, however, were well-warranted due to Rice’s overall command of the field and her poised play.
This was proven in the summer of 2017, as Rice — who served as the starting catcher for Ohio Glory’s 16-under program under current SSU assistant softball coach Wayne Wolfenbarker — posted an exceptional .995 fielding percentage as a result of committing just one error in 185 defensive chances.
Rice caught 250 of the team’s 261 and two-thirds innings played in 2017, and helped the Glory go 30-17-2 with a USSSA Fastpitch Eastern World Series appearance as a result.
The Glory won their pool and ultimately went 6-2 in the national tournament, finishing 13th in their division out of 76 teams.
She finished her travel ball career with the nationally-renowned Ohio Hawks, and helped that unit go a stout 59-19-3 over the next two summers.
By joining the SSU program, Rice will get to link up with her Ohio Glory teammates again, as well as Newman — the latter of whom Rice played alongside at both the high school and travel ball levels.
“I am so grateful to get to play with these girls again,” Rice said. “They are all great players and bring amazing energy to the game. I’m especially excited to play with Addisyn. We’ve been friends forever, and getting to spend the next few years with her is a blessing.”
In addition to her accomplishments as a softball player, Rice — the daughter of 1997 NAIA National Golf Tournament qualifier and 2004 SSU Hall of Famer Lanny Rice — put together an outstanding academic resume at Northwest.
Taking Advanced Placement and Honors courses while at NHS, Rice was a member of its Top 20 Club after producing a strong GPA north of 3.9.
With those accomplishments and the underlying history, it’s clear that it’s the best of both worlds for Rice and Shawnee State — especially considering that Rice will also get to play under Wolfenbarker.
“Getting to play with my old coach, (Wayne) Wolfenbarker, is very exciting,” Rice said. “The energy that he brings to the game is a motivating factor for everyone. It’s great being close to home because my number one fans, my Nanny and Pappy, can sit front row at the games. It’s also nice to represent the SSU logo since both of my parents (Larry and Lisa) and my sister (Larryn) got degrees from there.”
An early childhood education major at Shawnee State, Rice hopes to impact kids from an academic and athletic standpoint in the same manner that fellow educators — including her parents — have done over the years.
“I hope to get a job locally, maybe even coach softball,” Rice said. “Then I’d like to return and get my master’s degree. I’ve always loved working with children, and having teachers as parents has influenced me as well. As for the team, I’m hopeful we’ll get a season. When we do, it’s going to be fun to watch.”
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