From the beginning of her softball career, Maddy Hayden knew she loved the game. She would go up to the high school and watch the Powhatan varsity team play. She was always inspired by those student-athletes – by how hard they worked, how good they were – and by seeing head coach Marie Crump lead the team throughout the years.

“I knew that that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

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For Rileigh De Weese, there’s so much to the game of softball – the friendships you make, the life lessons you learn and the pure enjoyment of the game itself.

“It gives you so much,” she said. “You start playing, and you just fall in love with the game. It’s just something you stick with and don’t want to give up.”

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Madeline Peloke fell in love with the idea of being on a team, and with the competitive nature of the sport. She loved cheering in a dugout. She loved that support you get from a team.

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Kota Lewis said it was her teammates and coaches who made her stick with the sport through the years.

‘It turned into a lot of fun into me – more than just a game.”

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All four were gearing up for their senior season with Powhatan. To Coach Crump, they’re not only talented in softball – they’re great young women as well.

“Our seniors fortunately took ownership of our offseason programs and their leadership qualities really stood out. They were there every session and led by example,” Crump said. “They had worked really hard to get ready for the season and, just as importantly, pushed their underclassmen teammates to work hard also.”

Bringing their strengths to Powhatan softball

All four are longtime softball players who have also competed on travel ball teams outside of the high school season.

Lewis was inspired by her sisters, who played softball, to pick up the game when she was 8 years old. From there, it became a family sport for her.

She joined the Powhatan varsity softball team her junior year and would have started in the outfield her senior season. She felt that she always kept a good attitude, brought a good mindset to the team and helped teammates who would get down on themselves.

Crump said they were counting on Lewis playing a major role this year.

“She is one of the hardest working players we have,” Crump said. “She gives 100% all the time.”

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Peloke, a softball player since she was 9, was part of Powhatan’s varsity program for four years as a pitcher and outfielder. After missing most of her junior season due to shoulder surgery, Peloke returned to action in the regional tournament last year.

“We were excited to see her return healthy for her senior year,” Crump said, adding how Peloke was expected to help out in the pitching rotation and at the plate this year.

Peloke, who had been a pitcher since she was 11, just tried to have fun with it.

“In games you can see me singing along to the music in between dances and bobbing my head up and down,” Peloke said. “I like to hype up my team on the field because that in turn hypes me up as well.”

Peloke likes to balance being serious with enjoying her time in the circle. And if she’s not having fun while she’s pitching, then she’s not going to do as well, she said.

“I go out with the intention of going after every single batter with everything I’ve got, but also try and enjoy myself,” Peloke said. “When I have fun and my team is in good spirits, we are unstoppable.”

Peloke tried to be the loudest person cheering, and the most supportive captain. She felt she brought an energy to the field and helped to change the team’s mindset when it was down.

“I learned how to become a much better teammate last year as I was sitting on the sidelines after my injury,” Peloke said. “I learned to take no game or practice for granted and that every player, whether on the field or not, plays a crucial part to the team. Everyone needs to be supported and be supportive and I feel like I helped bring that mindset.”

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De Weese has been playing softball since she was 5, and she was with the varsity team all four years, pinch-hitting her freshman season. In an early-season game against Midlothian during her sophomore year, Crump put in De Weese to pinch-hit. Powhatan was down on the scoreboard.

De Weese hit a double to plate two runs. Powhatan beat Midlothian 3-1. After that, she became part of the lineup and remained a key contributor both at the plate and on the field ever since.

Batting third in last year’s order, De Weese could deliver a game-changing extra-base hit in any given at-bat, and she would stay upbeat and cheer on her team, even when they were down on the scoreboard. Her fifth-inning grand slam helped turn the tide in Powhatan’s 9-7 regional playoff win over Chancellor last year.

“I kind of like to just let everything go and just play the game I know how to play and then do what my team needs – if they need a hit up the middle to get an RBI – anything that really the team needs to get that win,” De Weese said.

“She has always been known for her hitting, but we were excited to see Rileigh continue her defensive development,” Crump said of De Weese, who started at first base. “She really came along defensively last year and we felt very confident that she would develop even more this year.”

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In eighth grade, Hayden, who had been playing softball since she was around 8, made the decision to try out for the junior varsity team “and just show my face, make an appearance and maybe see what they think of me.” She went up there with an open mind, not knowing for sure what was going to happen.

Not only did she end up making the JV team as an eighth grader, but she enjoyed one of her favorite years playing softball with one of the best teams she said she’d ever been on. She praised her team’s coaches, Sarah McQuiddy and Deputy Kaitlyn Crane of the Powhatan Sheriff’s Office.

“Coach Crane really pushed me really hard to be the best that I could be,” Hayden said. “I just had a really amazing year playing shortstop on that team.”

A four-year varsity player, Hayden played behind Mason Basdikis at shortstop her freshman year, moving to short whenever Basdikis, who backed up Ali Celiberti at pitcher, shifted into the circle. Her sophomore year she played behind Taylor Dickerson, a senior who had transferred in from Louisa, then started fully at shortstop her junior season. Hayden’s standout games included a defensive gem of a performance when she threw out seven runners on seven 6-3 plays in Powhatan’s 6-0 shutout of Fluvanna County on May 7, 2019.

“Maddy is a very fluid defensive player and had a great season for us last year,” Crump said. “We had very high expectations for her this year.”

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De Weese, Hayden and Peloke were all part of the Powhatan softball team that reached the 2018 state final.

“That was a big moment to get to play in that,” De Weese said. “Not many people get to play in state games.”

“It was really special. I had never really experienced anything like that,” Hayden said. “Just being able to be a part of a team that did that and went to that final game, it’s just really an experience, and even though we didn’t win, I think that we all realized how hard we worked and how proud [head coach Crump and assistant coach Linda Farmer] were, and it was really just a special day.”

Gearing up for the 2020 season

Peloke felt they were incredibly talented this year.

“I saw a lot of potential in us and determination to make it to states again,” she said. “I think we were all ready to play our hearts out and be the best team out there.”

Lewis’ expectations were to keep working hard.

“Just because it’s your senior year, don’t slack off,” Lewis said. “You still have to earn your spot.”

Crump said they were excited about the challenges up ahead of them, as well as the shift to the Dominion District in which they would play Chesterfield County and South Richmond teams.

“I think this year, since we had a lot of people back, we learned a lot, so we kind of knew what we had as a team,” De Weese said. “I think we just had more of a drive to go farther than we went last year. I think we knew each other more this year and we’ve grown a lot. I think we thought we could go farther in the playoffs and get better as a team each day at practice.”

“I think we still had a pretty strong, solid team,” Hayden said. “I think that we did have some wins ahead of us and we did have a good chance of making it pretty far.”

She knew that the four seniors were really looking forward to this year.

“I really thought that this was going to be our year to stand out, having all four of the seniors on the field together,” she said. “I thought we were going to do big things.”

But the official opening day of the 2020 Virginia High School League softball season would never come.

A season lost

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic began to grip the nation, eventually leading to all Virginia schools closing and to all VHSL games being cancelled this spring.

“Unfortunately, we only had three weeks of official practice before our season was cut short, but we had been working pretty much all year with fall practices, hitting clinics and winter conditioning,” Crump said. “It is so unfortunate that they had to miss out on their final season because they would have done a great job in leading our team.

“All of them would have played key roles, both on and off the field.”

To Hayden, the news was pretty devastating.

“I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. The first thing that I thought of when they had cancelled the remainder of the school year was: Will I ever get to play softball again for this team?” Hayden said. “It was pretty heartbreaking, and when we heard the news, we all actually got together and went up to the high school field and just kind of hung out and tried to grieve together and tried to just make the best of the worst.”

“It was a really hard pill to swallow at first,” Lewis said, “and it’s still hard to believe that it just all was gone – that we played two scrimmages and then it was just taken all from us.”

No one likes to hear about their season getting cancelled, Peloke said, but she was very proud of how the team handled it.

“Having our season cancelled really forced us to realize how much we loved the sport and how badly we wanted to play. I hope that carries over into next year,” Peloke said. “Other than that, I am just grateful that my family is healthy and safe.”

At first, it didn’t feel real to De Weese. At first it felt more akin to a snow break – something that would only take out a week or so, not the whole season.

“But with this going on, I kind of didn’t want to look at the down side of it.” She sought to approach it with a positive outlook.

“I was like: I have all this time, I can train to become the best athlete I can be to get up there in college and do the best I can up there,” De Weese said. “I also looked at a lot of the memories we had, which was another positive thing.”

The pandemic has shown Lewis that even when you get things taken away from you, you can still push through any given minute.

“Because I’m still going to get my diploma,” she said. “It’s told me to push through – don’t let one thing push you down and knock you down – and to get back up again.”

Looking ahead

Lewis is planning to attend John Tyler Community College and study nursing.

“My sister wanted to be a nurse, so then I started looking at it with her,” Lewis said. “Going to the hospitals and seeing how much a nurse can impact somebody’s hospital stay – that just made me want to do it, being there for somebody – because a nurse can help or break a person’s hospital stay.”

Hayden said she is “super excited” to attend Virginia Tech this fall. She’s planning to major in Human Nutrition and Exercise Science and, upon completing her undergraduate studies, hopefully attend Physical Therapy school, become a physical therapist and work in the sports medicine field so that she can continue to work with athletes and be around the game. She’s thinking about trying out for the club softball team there in order to keep playing the game she loves.

Peloke was originally going to attend and play softball for Christopher Newport University, but she felt that her shoulder did not recover enough or in the right way to allow her to work out or practice intensely every day the way she would have needed to in order to play college ball.

So she, too, will attend Virginia Tech this fall. Peloke plans to major in neuroscience and hopes to go into medical school afterwards. Her goal is to become a doctor in neurology.

De Weese signed her National Letter of Intent this past November to attend and play Division I softball for UCONN.

“It didn’t feel real,” she said. “I watched all these girls over the years that I’ve dreamed of being like, watching them sign. … It didn’t feel real that it happened, but I guess it’s getting closer and closer and I’m getting more and more excited to go do it. It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was 5 years old, to go play in college. I get to go live out my dream of playing at a D1 school – it’s just something I’ve always dreamed of that I get to go do.”

She’s excited to play at UCONN, and she’s looking forward to playing in the Big East Conference – which UCONN is moving to next season – as well as to fighting for a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.

“There are just so many good memories that are going to come,” she said. “The team’s going to be so much fun to play for … just getting to play on the NCAA field, DI, getting to play against different big teams – it’s going to be so much fun.”

She’s planning on majoring in Allied Health Sciences, pursuing a nursing degree following the completion of her college softball career and becoming a nurse practitioner in pediatrics.

“I’ve always dreamed of doing nursing,” she said. “They go out at 110% each day – just thinking what they go out and do each day, it’s a lot of respect for them and what they do.”

The support of their team

In her younger years, Hayden had several really great softball players and all-around student-athletes to look up to and have as mentors.

And as De Weese grew older across the years, she was set on bringing the leadership and teachings to the younger players that she learned from the Powhatan softball players before her, including Basdikis, Tori Gilbert and Celiberti, who was her throwing partner each day.

Peloke loved playing with her Powhatan teammates.

“We create such an amazing atmosphere every year and we always get along well,” Peloke said. “We were all incredibly tight and I still talk to my teammates who graduated when I was a sophomore.

“We will always support each other, and I think that’s really special.”

Hayden praised varsity coaches Crump, Farmer and Sami Byerly for giving her “the greatest four years.”

“I am so grateful to have played under them and played for them for so long,” Hayden said of coaches Crump and Farmer. “They have really shaped me into a better softball player, a better person, a better teammate, just a better athlete. They’re really great. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

The coaches helped Lewis become a better player both physically and mentally and also helped put her in a better situation both on and off the field.

“They always explained to me how I was doing it wrong or what I needed to fix if I did it, so it’d help train my brain to do it better on my own without them having to tell me,” Lewis said.

They taught the players discipline and tradition, De Weese said.

“And they also taught you how to go full-out. … You went 110% each day in practice and you went 110% on playing on a field.”

Peloke said coaches Crump and Farmer helped her grow into a better player and person.

“I will always appreciate how much time and effort they put into each season,” Peloke said. “They always wanted what was best for the team and I will miss them and the rest of my team.”

Crump said the players have given so much time and effort to Powhatan’s softball program over the years, and have been so important in their success.

“Even though they have missed out on their senior season, they can be proud of their efforts as ‘senior leaders’ in the offseason and in the few weeks of our regular season,” Crump said. “We will certainly miss them, but we know they will continue to do well in whatever they choose to do.”

Favorite times

Peloke always enjoyed the games that were neck and neck.

“Playing against Orange County and Dinwiddie was always fun,” she said. “I loved going to states and seeing my teammates graduate on the field.”

She remembered one practice where they had the tarp down and it was pouring, and Coach Crump let them slide and dive on the tarp.

“It was the best practice I have ever been to.”

Lewis loved it when they got to do diving practices out in the rain, and she always saw the early morning practices as a good start to her day.

Hayden fondly recalled how, when the temperature picked up and grew really warm towards the end of the season, there were times after practices – usually on Fridays – when they would go back into the field house and coach Farmer would give them ice cream.

“She would always make us ice cream sundaes,” Hayden said. “And it was just the cutest little thing. It just gave us so much enjoyment and happiness.”

Hayden also treasures getting through those long, hard practices together.

“Just the blood, the sweat, the tears, just all of it – it does have an outcome and it does make a difference,” Hayden said. “We sometimes just get down on ourselves, but we know that good things will happen.”

Takeaways from the game

Lessons like putting in the hard work, not giving up and continuing to try – to De Weese, they all translate from the softball field to life beyond sports.

“It’s a game of failure … and you’ve got to come back from the failures you make, like striking out … come back and, what can you do your next at-bat?” she said. “I’ve heard that from so many people. It really made me look at the game differently.”

It’s a theme that resonates with Hayden as well.

“Failure and defeat … can only make you better. That can only motivate you,” she said. “If you mess up, you can’t give up. There’s always another play. It’s such a fast-paced game, fast-moving, and there’s always another chance.”

Nothing is given – that’s what Peloke has learned.

“If you want something, you have to earn it,” Peloke said. “Every minute you’re in the game, there should be an hour of practice behind it. Success comes to those who work the hardest.”

She’s also learned to take nothing for granted, and to appreciate every opportunity and gift that is given.

“I’ve learned to win gracefully and lose gracefully,” Peloke said. “I have learned just as much from losing as I have from winning.”

Softball showed Lewis that – whether you’re on or off the field – you’re a part of your team.

“You still need to be there for your teammates and everybody else, even if you’re not playing.”

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