Rice earns NCAA awards

Published 8:47 pm Saturday, March 3, 2012

By Titus Mohler

Former Nansemond River softball standout Cheraé Rice fulfilled the dreams that many high school athletes have by going to college and taking her achievements to a whole new level.

A 2011 graduate of Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., Rice was recently honored by the school with four NCAA Statistical Champion Awards.

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As a college senior, Rice led the nation in batting average (.537), slugging percentage (1.120), RBIs (168), and on base percentage (.660).

“I would always have a saying I would tell her when I would watch her play,” her father Anthony Hall explained. “You got to be ‘big time!’” But she took that saying to the next level in her senior year.”

Rice first played softball in Baltimore when she was 5, and it was not love at first sight.

“I learned to love it later on,” she said.

No one could hit the ball as far as she could, and the lack of competition left her bored. As she grew older and later moved to Virginia, better competition and new opportunities sparked her interest.

“I spotted Cheraé probably when she was playing out [at] Bennett’s Creek Little League park,” coach Larry Saunders recalled. “At that point in time, [she] didn’t have the greatest talent that would stand out, but you knew something was special, because she always hustled and always was a good kid.”

Saunders went on to coach her at Nansemond River and with a travel team called the Hampton Roads Vipers.

More than anything else, Rice’s time with Vipers and coaches Howie Bryan and Saunders helped hone the talent she displayed in high school and college.

“Travel ball really prepares you for college,” Rice said. “It lets you know you’re going to see a totally different range of competition.”

As she continued to work hard, the results were astounding to both her parents and coaches.

“She was the best fastball hitter I ever coached,” Saunders said.

“The hand-eye coordination is unbelievable,” her father said. “You couldn’t pitch it past her.”

Her defense was just as good, if not better. Both her father and Saunders talked about how far up she would play third base.

“Her reaction time down at third was just unbelievable,” Saunders said. “That’s what really stands out to me most. I mean, she caught some hot balls down there at third base that [were] hit to her.”

Determination and hard work were not the only ingredients to her success.

“If every kid would have an attitude like Cheraé — oh my goodness, coaching would be so easy,” Saunders said.

“I’ve learned something from every single coach that I have [had],” Rice said. “Even from the worst experiences that I’ve had, I have taken away something that has helped me improve in my game.”

When asked what her senior college season meant to her, Rice explained her thinking going in: “It’s my last year. I worked so hard to get to this point, I need to go out with a bang. I need to do what I came to college for, besides getting an education.”

Rice currently substitute teaches at Mary Todd Elementary in Lexington, Ky., and helps lead the local chapter of the national Girls on the Run program. The program motivates young girls to stay fit and have good self-confidence, and it gives them positive role models.

Soon, she plans to go to school for her master’s degree in special education.