Kevin Colley, Staff Writer
McDERMOTT — When you hang around Laiken Rice, you automatically know the softball standout is a high-quality student-athlete — in every meaning of the hyphenated word.
Last Wednesday, Rice, a senior at Northwest High School, officially signed with the Kent State University Golden Flashes’ softball program after committing to the school on Sept. 9.
For the excellent softball talent, it’s a thrill to officially put the process in the books for good.
“It feels really great,” Rice said. “I’m very relieved, actually. It’s been a long process, and I’m excited for it to be in the books. It really does mean everything. Family’s always first with me, and they, along with my coaches and my teammates, have been so supportive of me and my decisions. It’s great to sign a Division I scholarship, not only for me, but also for them. I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life thanks to them and their unwavering support.”
Rice, who will play catcher at Kent State, has served as Northwest’s ace pitcher, a standout catcher, and a strong middle-of-the-order hitter for the Mohawks over her career.
A first-team All-SOC selection in each of her three seasons and a first-team all-Southeast District selection over each of the last two years of varsity competition, Rice is not only regarded as one of the best individual players over the entire district, but across the entire state as well.
At Kent State, Rice will get to move back to a position that she’s most comfortable with — catcher — as the senior has obtained each of her aforementioned honors while playing outside of her primary spot on the softball diamond.
“I’m very excited,” Rice said. “Pitching isn’t my favorite part of softball, but the team is bigger than just me. I am ready to get back behind the plate.”
Taking on positions outside of her best spot, however, has been easy for Rice — because the senior is on a mission to prove that Northwest is a force to be reckoned with in softball.
While the Mohawks haven’t posted a .500, or better, overall record in Rice’s three seasons of competition, Northwest is arguably playing in the toughest softball conference, top to bottom, in the entire Southeast District.
However, the Mohawks return their top six hitters in the batting order and each of their two pitchers for the 2019 campaign.
When you add in the play of teammates Haidyn Wamsley, Addisyn Newman, Lydia Emmons, Jaclyn Burchett, Alexis Lute, and Lexi Throckmorton alongside Rice, it’s safe to say the Mohawks have a chance to make as big of a jump as any as the upcoming season takes shape.
“I feel like people don’t really take us seriously in the SOC II,” Rice said. “That’s something that should change because we work as hard as anyone else does, and we’re ready for a change.”
When Rice arrives to the Kent, Ohio-located campus, however, the Division I signee won’t need to prove anything as far as the Golden Flashes’ program is concerned.
In fact, Kent State, other than the 2011 and 2012 campaigns, have posted a .500 or better mark in every single season since the start of the decade, including a 41-13 mark in 2015. The program only has three losing seasons since 2006.
Kent State coach Eric Oakley is 99-73 with the Golden Flashes, which includes a high-water mark of 37-22 and a MAC regular season championship in 2016, as well as a 33-28 record and a MAC tournament championship in 2017.
This past season, Oakley’s club garnered a 29-23 overall record and a second place finish in the MAC East regular season standings — which marked the sixth consecutive year that Kent State has finished second or higher in the conference or conference division standings, according to the school’s athletic website.
“I love the coaching staff there,” Rice said. “They have the plan for the future and they know what they want. The girls on the team are incredible, too. When I went there for an overnight visit, they were just so welcoming and they always displayed positive attitudes during camp. It’s just a good environment to be in.”
Rice, who joins a rare breed of athletes by becoming just the fifth athlete in Northwest history to sign a Division I National Letter of Intent — and only the second female — may not be the only individual in her own family to enjoy such a honor during the course of the athletic year.
Her cousin, three-sport standout Evan Throckmorton — soccer, football, basketball — is looking to ink a Division I National Letter of Intent on his own accord, which will likely come in the former of the three sports.
“We’re supportive,” Rice said. “I do say to Evan, ‘Okay, I’m done now, so it’s your turn. Where are you going?’ He and his family have always been really supportive of me, too, and I’m just really excited for him to decide, also.”
However, her decision, as referenced above, doesn’t mean that Rice is finished trying to make the most out of her remaining time at Northwest.
“I want to make more memories, get better, and have a lot of fun with my teammates,” she said. “These girls mean a lot to me, and I just want to go out with a bang.”
And that’s all because of the exceptional support, from those at Northwest to the communities surrounding the school system and the coaches that she’s crossed paths with, that have made her the person she is today.
“It means the world to me, and I’m so glad that they could make it,” Rice said of the presence of her families, friends, and coaches at her signing. “I know that they do awesome work, and to know that they took the time off work or class to come here and be with me really means a lot. They’ve already put in so much work throughout the years in order to help me become a better player in order to get to this point. It just means a lot to be here.”