Player profile: Radford softball’s seniors

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From left: Casey Burns, Nia Chiles, Megan Honake, Becky Mantel, and Whitney Davis are honored before the game.
From left: Casey Burns, Nia Chiles, Megan Honake, Becky Mantel, and Whitney Davis are honored before the game. Courtesy of Radford Athletics

Will Beverina |

As the spring semester winds down, seniors across campus take the time to contemplate their years at Radford University. There will be excitement as they enter the next stage of their life after school, where they will start their careers and families, and make their way in the world, but there will also be somber reflection at the realization that their college years are over.

For student-athletes, this time can be especially bittersweet; the dedication to their sport through everyday practices, off-season conditioning, and numerous miles traveled for four years makes saying goodbye to the game particularly difficult.

For the seniors of Radford softball the experience of it all varies.

“I already went through my stage of sadness,” said outfielder Becky Mantel.

“It hasn’t quite hit me yet,” replied second baseman Nia Chiles.

“I’ve already bawled my eyes out,” added infielder Casey Burns.

But emotions were sure to be high no matter what during Senior Day last Saturday, April 18 in a doubleheader against conference foes Presbyterian. How does it feel being recognized like that?

“Old,” Mantel and Burns replied immediately, in unison.

“It’s going to be weird,” continued Mantel. “We’ve been decorating and setting up the gifts for the past three years, and now we’re going to be the ones receiving it.”

“Anxiety through the roof,” remarked Chiles.

If there was any anxiety, it did not show. In front of the cameras of ESPN3, Radford dispatched the Blue Hose in game one, 4-0, then won game two on a walk-off home run, 4-3; certainly a better Senior Day than most will get.

That is the kind of season it has been for the softball team as the current crop of seniors – Mantel, Chiles, Burns, and first baseman Whitney Davis – have the Highlanders poised for a run of success. At 29-15 with 10 regular season games to go, the team has already secured the first winning season of the seniors’ careers at Radford. That mark also puts them at the top of the Big South conference in terms of overall record, but the group knows there is more work to be done.

“We’ve learned that records don’t really mean anything going into [the conference tournament],” explained Chiles. “As [head coach Aileen Morales] says, ‘Any team can be beaten on any day.’ So if we just stay within ourselves and take it day by day and game by game, we’ll be okay.”

Off the field, the seniors have to be the leaders of the team. While Mantel and Davis employ a “tough love” approach to leadership, Chiles and Burns are more gentle with the underclassmen. Either way, all four of them want to make sure they pass on some lessons to their teammates for when they leave.

“We want them to take things upon themselves, instead of waiting for others,” said Mantel. “We won’t even say anything to the team, and we’ll just take it upon ourselves to get the field ready for practice and things like that. When they see that, they start getting up to do things like that.”

“Really just leading by example,” added Burns.

“Also being tough,” said Chiles. “And not being soft.”

Not all of them will leave Radford immediately though, as Davis plans to attend graduate school for elementary education here on campus. Chiles still has one more semester to complete in the fall and has an internship with Virginia State Parks this summer, with hopes of securing another internship after. Mantel, meanwhile, will briefly return to her home near Chicago, Illinois for an internship before going back to school at Shorter University in Georgia to become a graduate assistant and coach for their softball team. Burns is still searching for a job after college in the field of interior design.

You can watch all of the seniors, and the rest of the Radford softball team, as they complete a seven-game homestand. On Wednesday, they welcome New River Valley rival Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. before taking a rest until next Tuesday when they face Liberty in a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. A match with Liberty the next day at 2 p.m. rounds out their home games for the regular season as they travel to Longwood and Campbell before finally competing in the Big South tournament on May 11.