Shadle Park made a nice run during last year’s state fastpitch softball, eventually falling in the third-place bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
That Highlanders went 21-4 overall and 16-0 in the Greater Spokane League. Five players from that squad graduated, but it wasn’t just any five players – all five were first-team all-league, including two-time GSL 2A MVP Chloe Flerchinger.
A casual observer might think Shadle Park coach Scott Kine would be rebuilding the program this spring.
They need to think again.
The Highlanders are 7-2 , 6-0 in league, with a win over 3A contender Mt. Spokane in a nonleague game early in the season.
A lot of that success starts with junior Crimson Rice.
Rice, who pitches and plays first base, is a two-time first-team GSL player and might have won MVP last season were it not for her teammate.
“We went to state last year, and I was able to experience some of those hitters and kind of just to see what it’s like,” Rice said. “Hopefully, I can share that with some of our younger girls so we can go back to state and make a run for it this year.”
Rice’s talent, dedication and effervescent personality make her a natural leader, according to her coach.
“She really is just a super nice kid,” Kine said. “All the kids get along with her and she’s totally relational where she’s genuine, actually genuine, and she wants to know how you’re doing, and then how she might be able to help. And that could be in the classroom, that could be on the field.
“She’ll help you to the best of her ability and she’ll stay after and do extra work.”
Even with all the upperclassmen on the team last year, Rice was voted by teammates “most inspirational.”
“These younger players really look up to the skill and ability that she has, but they also recognize the time and effort that she puts in,” Kine said.
Rice’s work ethic and goal-setting make her stand out on the field and off, Kine said.
“She’s created a plan, built great habits and adheres to a structured schedule that lines up with her goals,” Kine said.
One of those goals was Division I softball, and she’s accepted an offer at Stony Brook on Long Island in New York, where she’ll continue to be a two-way player.
“I had a few other opportunities that we were considering, but once we went to Stony Brook, I just felt ‘all in’ and really good about that decision,” Rice said after practice on Wednesday.
“You know how people say, ‘You’ll know when you know?’ I had people say, ‘Oh, you’re gonna feel it.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know about that,’ until I stepped foot on the campus and immediately it just felt like a place I wanted to be and a team that I wanted to be a part of.”
Rice’s school day regimen typically includes early morning workouts, school, then on-field practice or games. She makes a habit of staying after for more work. What down time she might have is occupied with watching MLB, the Spokane Indians or college softball games.
“She’s a student of the game,” Kine said. “I think she’s unique how much she embraces and enjoys her schedule. … She’s just so passionate about softball.”
As an example, Rice and her father, Luke, wandered over to watch the Ferris-University baseball game at Avista Stadium Thursday evening.
“It’s something they can do together, but they’ll actually watch MLB games or watch softball games,” Kine said. “They’ll actually spend the time to pick it apart a little bit – really look at the details of the game, whether that’d be somebody’s footwork or how they turn a play, and really look at the finer details in the game and the strategy of the game.”
Another of Rice’s passions is weightlifting. She spends hours each week at Gas House Gym building strength and endurance and hopes to major in kinesiology or exercise science.
“I’m there five days a week in the offseason,” she said. “I’m there now in the mornings before school. I love to be there.”
Rice got into weightlifting by necessity .
“I had a few injuries and I kind of needed to get into weightlifting to feel strong,” she said. “And then once I just kind of got bit by the bug, it was something that I loved. I love feeling strong.”
She hopes to incorporate it in her career .
“I actually want to come back to Spokane (after college) and give back into the softball community here,” she said.
“Maybe get into the strength and conditioning realm, but something that has to do with sports. That’s just what I love.”
Rice’s parents were both athletes at Washington State – hence her first name, Crimson.
“She comes from that kind of background where weightlifting is just part of the whole program,” Kine said. “The strength component is such a big piece of it that you have to be not only physically capable, but you’re gonna have to work at it in order to go from good to great.”
The Highlanders are a little more than halfway through their regular season and are every team’s target.
“That’s what you want,” Rice said. “You always want the best competition you can to face.
“Pressure is a privilege, and that’s something that you want to face – everybody’s best all the time. And I don’t think we back down from it.”