By Rubin E. Grant
Spain Park softball coach Urse Hawkins finally got to celebrate her milestone 900th career victory.
The triumphant moment came Friday when senior pitcher Annabelle Widra tossed a shutout in the Jaguars’ 5-0 victory over Oxford in the Leeds Greenwave Classic.
Hawkins, in her 25th season coaching, took the milestone victory in stride.
“It just means I have worked with a lot of good people, coached a lot of great players, elite players, and had two good schools to coach at,” Hawkins said. “I also want to thank my coaching staffs. I am blessed and honored.”
Hawkins spent the first 11 years of her coaching career at Clay-Chalkville and is in her 14th season at Spain Park.
She entered this week with a career record of 903-370, but she’s most proud of the number of former Spain Park players she has currently playing in college, including Mark Katherine Tedder at Texas, Jenna Olszewski at UAB, Maddie Majors at Auburn, Destini England at Campbell University, Caroline Kendrick at Hofstra and Caroline Wooley at Gulf Coast Community College.
She had two other former players who recently graduated, Kynadi Tipler from Campbell and MK Bonamy from Clemson, where she played a season while earning a master’s after playing as an undergrad at Notre Dame.
Hawkins was poised to reach the milestone victory in 2020. The Jags had a perfect 21-0 record and were ranked No. 4 in the nation when the season was cut short in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving Hawkins two wins shy of 900 and perhaps keeping her from winning her first state championship.
“It was frustrating,” Hawkins said. “We had remarkable team chemistry, great upperclassmen leadership and we were all focused on the same goal. When the season stopped the way it did, it was heart-wrenching. It was like a movie without an ending or a terrible ending.
“But it wasn’t isolated to us. Just because we were undefeated it didn’t mean the other teams didn’t have the ability to win the state championship. We were no different from anyone else.”
During the summer, Hawkins had her own battle with COVID when she and her daughter Emma, a freshman on this year’s team, were infected during a travel ball tournament in Nashville. Both received anti-bodies and recovered, but Hawkins said she still doesn’t have a sense of taste or smell.
Not only that, but when the softball season officially began on Feb. 11, the Jags found themselves still dealing with COVID. They were without one of their top players, senior center fielder-middle infielder Lydia Coleman, during the Leeds tournament.
Coleman, a Penn State signee, was in quarantine after being in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID. She is expected to rejoin the team next week.
The Jags are expected to contend for the Class 7A state title this season, especially with the versatile Widra, a Michigan signee and one of the top players in the nation, and Coleman back for their senior seasons. But Hawkins figures it will be a challenge because she has a completely different team.
“We’ve got a young team,” she said. “We’ve got a good senior class, but we’ve got a lot of young players who we are expecting to make an impact, but some are starting on the varsity for first time.”
Spain Park opened the season with a 15-0 loss Feb. 12 at Bob Jones in a game that had to be postponed for a day because of weather. The conditions weren’t favorable when they played.
“We should not have played, but it was something both teams had to deal with,” Hawkins said. “They were ready. They have a very good (team), a team that could win state.”
Snow and rain have played havoc with Spain Park’s early season schedule, plus Hawkins said the Jags are dealing with a changing school schedule that’s been virtual, blended and last week returned to a full five days of in-class learning.
“That’s been one of the biggest challenges,” she said.
Yet, somehow the Jags had managed to play seven games, posting a 5-2 record.
Spain Park bounced back from the loss to Bob Jones to beat Pike Road 15-0 last Thursday, then won four games in the Leeds tournament Friday and Saturday before falling 2-0 to Helena in the championship game.
The Jags will compete in ultracompetitive Class 7A, Area 6, which also includes Vestavia Hills, Oak Mountain and Hewitt-Trussville.
Hawkins said her team will have to battle any time it steps on the field.
“Because of what we did last year, it’s put a target on our backs,” she said. “Every team we play is fighting us tough.”