In recent weeks, a pair of Midland Trail High School senior softball players have signed to attend college and continue their softball careers.

This past Friday, Katie Hawkins signed to enroll in St. Joseph’s University in Brooklyn, N.Y. and play for the university’s softball program.

The previous week, her Midland Trail teammate, Sydney Sheets, made her intentions known to attend WVU Tech and play softball for the Golden Bears.

“It’s very special," said Sheets, who’s been a mainstay behind the plate for coach Candace Young and the Patriots during her high school career. “I’ve worked really hard for it, and I got to see all the people come in for me, so that was nice.”

Sheets, who signed on March 2, plans to pursue a degree via the WVU Tech nursing program, but she said that initially gave her pause for some concern. “I considered (playing collegiately) for a while, but it got a little uncertain at the beginning of the year, because I’m going to nursing school and I didn’t know how that would work, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway.”

Is she ready to undertake the commitment that will be required? “Yes, I am. I’ve worked real hard. I’ll always give it my all, no matter what; no matter the day or who we’re playing,” she said.

Sheets says she’s looking for a strong finish to her prep career this spring. “I love it here. I’m going to be sad to go; it’s been real fun. I’ve enjoyed going to states and just (being) with the team members we have. I’m going to miss it.”

“I think we’ll do good this year,” she continued. “We’ve got a new pitcher on the mound, and she’s been working real hard. A good defense and a really, really good offense.”

Sheets has played softball “since the fourth grade,” and she also plays volleyball for the Patriots. Softball, she says is “definitely” her passion.

To compete for the Golden Bears, she said she needs to “practice every day, and be prepared mentally.”

Young said Sheets is entering her third season as starting catcher (and she would have started during the Covid year, too). She was an all-tournament selection at the state championships during her sophomore year, and she was second-team all-state during her sophomore and junior seasons.

“She’s been a leader really since her freshman year, from Day 1,” said Young. “She does all the little things, she stays late, she comes early, she works in the offseason. Even sometimes when she doesn’t say anything ... she just leads by example, leads by what she does and the girls want to follow that.”

“I told her this her freshman year, and I was the catcher here (as a future all-conference player for Glenville State College), you’re going to be the best catcher to come out of Midland Trail. And I’m on that list. You’re going to be better than all of us. And she’s maintained that the whole time.”

Young’s expectations of her leader this season haven’t changed. “It’s the same thing I’ve always expected of her; she’s going to meet my expectations and probably exceed them. This is day four of practice, and she’s already established herself in that leadership role,” she said in early March.

“She’s got a big role this year. We’ve got a lot of youth on the mound, and so her leadership in being able to go and talk to the pitchers and keep them in the game and keep them focused (will be key). I have not called pitches since Sydney has been here, really, so her to know what’s working for her pitchers and what’s not, I put a lot of that on her shoulders to do that.

“She’s a smart kid, talented kid. Offensively, she can hit with power, and if I turn around and give her the bunt sign she’ll turn it around and lay it down. She’s just a complete hitter. I’m expecting her to not worry about trying to live up to any hype of being a senior and to just go out and play the game like she knows how to play.”

“We’re looking for her athleticism, because she can play anywhere on the field for us, mainly as a catcher,” said Tech head coach Amber Atha. “However, I see her playing outfield and catching in a few years, developing her down the road.”

Atha praised Sheets’ work ethic and selflessness. “She is a team player.” Sheets is also “scrappy” and could be able to “create chaos in the field for us.”

“I think she’s going to bring a good attitude,” Atha added.

Hawkins is a first- and third-baseman for Midland Trail. She plans on undertaking biology studies en route to a pre-med course at St. Joseph’s, a NCAA Division III institution.

Her signing day was a special time, she noted. “It meant a lot to me,” Hawkins said. “Softball has always done a lot for me.

“I created friendships, and it gave me the opportunity to travel.” Hawkins, who has played softball for nine years, is a member of the travel softball team Black Diamond Express, in addition to her time with the Patriots. “I like the quick pace (of the sport) and having the ability to show my skills.”

“Katie was found through the Field Level online platform our assistant Darin (Minor) told her about,” Young said. “I really didn’t know much about it until she asked me to fill out some information on there for her.

“Just a few days after getting her profile on there, the coach messaged her and it took off from there. So, any players out there looking to be recruited may want to check that out; it definitely looks like it can open doors.”

“I was actually very shocked (to hear back from the SJU coach), because it was a great opportunity,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said her time in Hico has helped her grow. Contributing for the Patriots as they’ve advanced to the Class A state softball tournament the past two seasons and are eyeing a third straight trip this spring, she said, “It’s been a great opportunity. It’s shown me what it takes to make it big and to be a leader,” she said. A key for the Patriots has been communication, she stressed. “We would have never made it without that.” Looking ahead to this spring, she says, “I think we’ll be hard to beat, and I hope to go down and win our first game in the state tournament.”

To be successful in New York, Hawkins said, “I’ll definitely have to get in good shape and always use my practice time and my free time to get better on my skills (such as improving running the bases).”

Young said that, like Sheets, Hawkins has been instrumental in helping guide the Patriots during her career. “Katie has grown so much as a player,” she said. “She has emerged as a leader on the field and has put in a lot of work in the offseason. She has played both of the corners for us, and I believe she can translate that to the college game.

“I’m looking forward to a great senior season with her and know that she can continue that success into her future.”

Young feels Hawkins will be able to make the adjustment to playing collegiately so far from her home base. “She’s such an outgoing kid so I don’t think she will have too much of a culture shock going to New York. I think she will thrive in the new environment.”

Hawkins admits the move several hours away to play sports and pursue a degree will be a “huge jump,” and she added, “I’m going to be too busy to be homesick.” 

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