Skyline’s Dawkins trying to raise the bar for softball teammates

Skyline senior Makaela Dawkins awaits a pitch during practice on March 3 in Front Royal. Brad Fauber/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Makaela Dawkins had a front row seat.

As an eighth-grader on Skyline High School’s junior varsity softball team, Dawkins got to see first-hand the leadership of former Hawk standout Taylor Henry, how Henry interacted with her teammates and positioned herself as a role model to the younger players. Dawkins saw the on-field success of Sabrie Neeb, whose power at the plate set Skyline softball records.

Dawkins idolized older girls like Henry and Neeb, who continued their respective softball careers at the Division I level in college. But Dawkins also wanted to out-do them.

That’s an attitude Dawkins said she feels is crucial to success in most things in life – pick a successful person and try to do better. Now a senior at Skyline, Dawkins wants her younger teammates to have that same mentality.

“I try to push all my teammates, you know, just to do better and keep their heads up,” Dawkins said as she watched her teammates wrap up a recent practice from the stands overlooking the Hawks’ softball field. “They all have talent and they all can do tremendous things. We’ve just gotta keep pushing ourselves. I’ll tell them all, just do your best and you’ll achieve numerous things. I tell some of them … be better than your role model. And I know a lot of them look up to me, which I’m happy because I want them to beat what I’ve done. One, it makes the program better and, two, it makes them better.”

If Dawkins’ teammates can manage to even come close to what she accomplished on the diamond last spring, the Hawks will be in fine shape.

Long one of Skyline’s most prolific bats since joining the varsity squad as a freshman four years ago, Dawkins continued her rise as a junior in 2015. On the heels of a sophomore season that saw Dawkins net the Conference 28 Player of the Year award, she overcame a sluggish start at the plate and smashed her way to an area-leading .543 (38-for-70) batting average over 21 games last spring while belting 10 home runs, breaking Neeb’s single-season school record by one homer. She tied for second in the area with 30 RBIs and scored 28 runs.

Dawkins didn’t reclaim her title as conference player of the year, but the power-hitting shortstop was voted a first team all-Group 3A state softball selection by the Virginia High School League at season’s end.

Dawkins aimed high with her goals last year and reached them. Now she’s aiming even higher.

“I was pretty proud of the way I ended last year but I’ll be even prouder if I finish better than last year,” she said.

It’s that drive to improve and her willingness to put in the necessary work that Hawks first-year coach John Ritter said allows Dawkins to flourish on the field. Also a smooth fielder, Dawkins said she’s reaped great benefits from playing travel softball – most recently with the Loudoun Storm – and persistent tee work, and she practices whenever she can, whether it be at home in her backyard on Skyline’s softball field. When she steps into the batter’s box, she has confidence that she’s going to get the necessary hit to drive in a run, she said.

“Sometimes it’s just amazing what she does,” said Ritter, who served as an assistant to former Skyline softball coach Frank Nelson for four years before being named the Hawks’ new head coach last summer.

Ritter will certainly enjoy being able to pencil Dawkins’ name into the heart of the Hawks’ batting order each game this spring, where she will be called on to carry a lineup filled with young players.

Skyline graduated four seniors – all starters – from last year’s 13-8 team that ended its season with a Conference 28 tournament semifinal loss to Loudoun Valley and returns just six players with varsity experience. Of the 12 players listed on the Hawks’ 2016 roster, five are freshmen and three are sophomores. Ritter said he’s expecting strong leadership from seniors Dawkins and Tori Jo Brown, another four-year varsity starter, and juniors Jessica Sims and Jordan Marlow.

Sophomore Tamara Grayson, a midseason call-up last year who settled into a starting pitching role late in the season, will be the Hawks’ primary starter this spring, according to Ritter.

Skyline’s youth will be tested early, as the Hawks have consecutive games against Luray, Brenstville, Central and William Monroe in a seven-day span following the March 14 season opener at home against Manassas Park.

“I guess the big thing is see how we compete with the better competition, how we will fare with them and go from there,” Ritter said. “But I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it and … being young, if we can learn to let go of the mistakes and not let them get to us I think we’ll be fine.”

Dawkins said she’s expecting a good season from the Hawks in 2016 and she’s eager to serve as a role model one final time for her teammates, a role she’s well groomed for as a mentor to four younger sisters. It’s a role that Dawkins, who survived a battle with neuroblastoma – the most common form of infantile cancer – when she was just 18 months old, knows she could possibly have never had the chance to fill.

“It’s great knowing that I’m still here to do that,” she said.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com