Hawks fly together: Softball family supports each other on and off fieldBy Kelly Ward | 03/10/2016 9:10am
Andrea Hawkins, a senior, plays as an outfielder. CW | Jonathan Daniels
In October, when Hawkins was with her family in Bay City, Texas, after her father passed away, her softball family surprised her by showing up where she needed them most.
“It sealed the deal of the whole family thing,” Hawkins said. “I know I’ve thought it and I’ve seen it way before, but you drive 10 hours to be with someone you love – that just sealed the deal for the whole family thing. This is all just one big family. I don’t know what else to say about it. It was unbelievable just to see them all there in little ole Bay City.”
On that Saturday, her senior day, with both of her families in attendance, one in the stands and the other on the field with her, Alabama won both games, including a run-rule win over ranked Arizona.
“Being at home with our fans is awesome, but the fact that we got to celebrate Hawk today, that’s even more special that we got two wins for her and they were two good team wins,” redshirt sophomore Peyton Grantham said. “She’s been through a lot, and like we love her as a sister, and to be able to do that for her, that’s just an awesome feeling.”
Grantham and senior Kallie Case – all of the seniors – knew as soon as Hawkins returned home in October that they needed to be at the funeral for her and her family. There wasn’t a doubt about where they needed to be even if they would miss practice to be with Hawkins.
“I know me and Kallie for sure, we looked at each other and we said, ‘We don’t care if [head coach Patrick Murphy] gets mad; we’re going,’ ” Grantham said.
The coaches had the same idea. While Murphy held practice with the newcomers, those who had played with Hawkins, associate head coach Alyson Habetz and pitching coach Stephanie VanBrakle rented two 15-passenger vans and started the trip to Bay City. They stayed with a former teammate one night and finished the 10-hour drive the next day. Murphy caught a flight to Houston and met up with the team in Bay City. It wasn’t very comfortable, but they made the surprise trip. They had some help from Hawkins’ cousin, Courtney, who plays in the Chicago White Sox organization and was in on the plan.
“It was a nice surprise,” senior centerfielder Haylie McCleney said.
Every year, Alabama has a theme. Last year, it was “grit” and the year before “mudita,” which means joy at the success of others.
This year, the team is a pack. Everyone has a role in the Alabama softball family. Not just everyday players.
“When you are consistently playing every single day and maybe your legs are tired – it’s game five of a five-game tournament – that’s where our energy comes from,” McCleney said. “Our energy comes from the dugout and how much they contribute to us. It makes us want to play better, and when we’re in the dugout, we become part of the pack. When we’re on offense, we’re a part of the pack.”
What’s made it easier on the seniors and the coaches is how the freshmen have bought in. They’ve made improvements and will continue to just as every class has that’s come through the program.
It helps that each player gets welcomed, even if they didn’t originally pick Alabama.
“The girls all took me in when I came here, and I felt immediately like I was part of their family,” sophomore transfer Sydney Booker said.
The family is just part of the culture at Alabama, McCleney said.
“Every single person in that locker room, it’s a sisterhood,” she said. “We don’t have any cliques; we don’t have any problems like that. We all genuinely love each other, and we treat each other like family.”
The past themes, like “mudita” and “grit,” stick around. The themes aren’t taught to each class as the players come in.
“Murph just sees it in the players when he recruits them, and he does a great job with it,” Hawkins said. “That’s something you can’t teach. It just comes from within.”
This senior class has a legacy to uphold. Alabama is the only school to make it to the super regional round since that was added in 2005. The team hasn’t missed a postseason in 17 years.
“They’re starting to understand it a little bit more and more, but everyone knows what’s expected of this team,” McCleney said. “Everyone knows that we should be in a World Series. We should win our regional. We should host a super regional. That’s the expectation, and there’s no pressure that comes with that. There’s just a lot of opportunity.”
The younger players are starting to understand that wins aren’t a given – a 2-1 loss to unranked North Dakota State proves that.
“They’re starting to understand how much, how it’s not given to us and we have to work for it, so I think they’re starting to learn that,” Hawkins said. “That’s what we need.”
Hawkins has been a .300-plus hitter her career. Even after an injury limited her to mostly hitting her junior season, she hit above .300. Through 23 games, of which she’s played 20, she’s hitting .471 with 24 hits, one double and a pair of triples.
Off the field, she’s an exercise and sports science major with an emphasis on pre-physical therapy and fitness. She’ll graduate in December.
“I’ve never had any issues whatsoever with her on and off the field, and just the perfect example of a great student-athlete, and we’re really glad that she chose crimson and white to play her softball career,” Murphy said.
When she chose Alabama, she chose it for the people, for the opportunity to play at the highest level. Now that her final season has started, she wishes she could go back to the beginning.
“Don’t blink,” she said.