For most, there is an adjustment period when a softball player begins her collegiate career, even after four stellar high school seasons.
The level of play in college is faster, the pitchers are better, the batters stronger and those hits that would always find a way to fall in while playing in high school are gobbled up by quicker and more athletic collegiate outfielders.
There is an adjustment period for most, but Heaven Maness is not your ordinary softball player. The Southwestern Randolph High School graduate stepped on the campus at Wingate University and instantly became a star.
After incredible seasons in her first two years, Maness has helped guide the Bulldogs to a 44-14 record and a No. 2 regional ranking during her junior campaign as the Bulldogs awaited their official regional fate, which they found out earlier this week. It was expected that the Bulldogs would not only make the eight-team tournament, but host a first-round series.
Maness said it’s not difficult to figure out why she has been so successful as she hit .426 as a freshman (46-for-108), .346 as a sophomore (63-for-182) and .337 as a junior (59-for175) for a career .361 hitter.
The secret: It’s hard work.
“I think from going in as a freshman, I worked a lot and I also went in extra a lot and I still go in to get extra work,” said Maness, an incredible shortstop for the Bulldogs. “I’m always trying to get extra reps. Some people don’t do it and think it’s going to be as easy as high school was, but coaches have preached it’s going to take extra work and that extra work will pay off. That is how I feel I have been successful.”
Maness said she also learned an important lesson she rarely experienced in high school and that’s how to react when you fail.
“I told myself it's OK if you fail,” Maness said. “It’s OK not to succeed all the time. Knowing failure is part of the game and you just pick it up the next day.”
Maness, who has started every game in her career, hasn’t experienced much failure at all. As a freshman, she started all 35 games, scored 28 runs, had 12 doubles, four triples and five home runs with 46 RBIs. She had a .750 slugging average and stole 14 bases.
Her second season, which saw Wingate finish 37-19 and earn a regional bid, she scored 44 times, had 12 doubles, three triples, nine home runs and 41 RBIs. She recorded a .593 slugging percentage and stole 21 bases.
This year, along with her .337 average, she has scored 40 times, recorded six doubles, one triple and a career-high 13 home runs. She has knocked in 49, has a .619 slugging percentage and has stolen eight bases.
Maness was slated to play second base when she arrived at Wingate, but because of some suspensions to players in her freshman year, she was moved to shortstop. She then played second and third her first year there.
“I never played third base and it was tough going from second to third,” Maness said. “The ball comes in harder and you have to be very quick.”
Time management is also something Maness said she had to adjust to as she is practicing and working out between four and six hours per day. Classes won’t wait, especially those in her field of Exercise Science, where she said she hopes to be a Cardiac Rehab Specialist one day.
Maness said she has two memories that will long be remembered. The first is the grand slam she hit against Pembroke, her first-ever grand slam.
“I was in shock running around the bases,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I just hit a grand slam. My teammates were cheering me on.”
Her second favorite memory occurred just a week ago at the South Atlantic Conference Tournament when she made a diving catch in foul territory where she bounced into the fence.
There have been plenty of highlights for Maness during her first three years at Wingate. There’s guaranteed to be many, many more.