Hawkins returns to UNA softball

Kelley Peters, News Editor

Whitney Hawkins, a former member of the University of North Alabama softball coaching staff, has rejoined the program as pitching coach. 

Hawkins began playing softball at four years old, and throughout her time in the sport, she found her love for coaching. 

“I had so many coaches that influenced my life and where I was going in my life,” said Hawkins. “Looking back on it, I think that I always wanted to be that. I aspire to change young girls’ lives, and what better way to do that than through sports? You get to do something you love every single day. You show up to work, and you’re changing lives. Yeah, you’re playing a game, but you’re changing lives.” 

After playing throughout high school, Hawkins continued playing softball in college. In her junior year, her team made it to the National Championship game and came in second place, which motivated her to get a team to win under her coaching. 

Hawkins got her first job out of college on the coaching staff at UNA in 2014, and during her second year, the softball team won the National Championship in 2016. She stayed for three seasons total, and she then moved to be on the coaching staff at East Mississippi Community College. From there, Hawkins also coached at Lindsey Wilson College and at Montevallo before returning to EMCC to be head coach for a year and a half. 

Head coach Ashley Cozart contacted Hawkins about returning to UNA because of their previous experiences working together. 

“I remembered how great she was when we worked together,” said Cozart. “Our personalities are very similar, and we’re great with recruiting. We get along, and it was important to me that we had that previous relationship and we got along so well. Besides that, she was a very successful pitcher, and she just really knows her stuff. It was one of those things where the timing was kind of tough, so I thought maybe I should reach out to her just to see. She wanted to get back closer to home and be a part of this special program again, and so we were able to have some really great conversations, and it worked out, so I was happy about that.” 

Though originally unsure about coming back to UNA, when Hawkins came to campus for a visit, she felt that it was right to return and join the softball coaching staff again. 

“As soon as I walked in the door, I pretty much knew that this is where I want to be,” said Hawkins. “There was no doubt I was taking the job. [Cozart] has done an incredible job with the team and building the culture. She’s a great coach, and she’s somebody that I will enjoy working beside every day. That’s a huge part of any successful team – it starts at the top, and you have to have a successful staff that gets along and enjoys each other.” 

Cozart feels that Hawkins will be a great fit for the team. 

“She’s very genuine,” said Cozart. “At our level, and with athletes in general, they don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care about them. With Hawkins, they’re definitely going to know how much she cares about them. They’re not going to have to show up to practice and be scared every day, or be stressed or worried about making mistakes. I think she brings a comfort and an easiness to the way she coaches. They relate to her and respond well to her. I’m excited that our pitching staff has someone that cares about them and gives them confidence. I think that a huge thing for female athletes is confidence, and a lot of what I put my coaching philosophy into is being confident, loving who you’re around and being a family. I think Hawkins embodies that, and that’s something that we both put high on our lists as coaches. I really love that about her.” 

Hawkins’s favorite part of coaching is the connections she gets to make, and she is excited to get to know her players. She is also aware of the challenges that await her and approaches them with eagerness.

“I am excited for the new challenges,” said Hawkins. “This is a big role. Division 1 is somewhere that I’ve never been, and that’s a little uncomfortable, but I can also look at it as a challenge. I’ve never really shied down from a challenge. It is uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, I’m really excited to start this new journey.” 

Cozart believes that every job that Hawkins has had, as well as all of the bumps in the road along the way, have shaped her into the coach that she is today.
“One of the biggest things that I’ve loved about Hawkins is her journey here,” said Cozart. “She was here with me, and then she took a couple other assistant jobs, and then she was the head coach at East Mississippi Community College. One of the best things that we talked about is her journey and her ups and downs that she’s been through. I think that’s what’s molded her and made her who she is today, and I think it’s made her better. I think Hawkins when I had her [before] was great, but I think the journey that she’s been through has made her even better now. I’m excited about that and about getting going and hopefully moving in the right direction.”