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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
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Athlete Spotlight: Darice Wheeler ’21

Darice Wheeler ’21 already has a school record for home runs in a season. Photo by Andrew Tucker.

At one point in first-year Darice Wheeler’s record-breaking hitting stretch during the Pioneer softball team’s spring break trip, she went on a cold streak, batting 0-7. This was unprecedented. She was surprised and knew right away the one person she would get an earful from after the match — her dad, who over time became a motivating force in her growth as a softball player.

“To be honest, he wasn’t very happy. [The cold streak] took him by surprise,” Wheeler said.

Cold streaks aside, her performance was impressive enough to garner national attention, getting her name in the “Top Performances” list of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA).

By the end of the Florida trip, Wheeler tied the school’s season record of six home runs while hitting .458 and going 11-24 at the plate with four doubles, 13 RBIs and seven runs scored. Of the 18 home runs the Pioneers have hit this season, she accounts for 10 of them.

Head softball coach Amanda Reckamp expects nothing less from the freshman, who is only a few weeks into her career as a collegiate softball player. “I wouldn’t say I’m surprised [because] I knew she is capable of doing things like this. The crazy part is that she hasn’t even hit her ceiling yet. She’s [only] starting to show us what kind of impact she can make.”

The confidence shows not just in Wheeler’s actions but also in her words. She couldn’t help but smile when talking about her accomplishments.

“I came to the school expecting to do big things … [so] this meant a lot to me. I’m really excited that I’m off to a great start to my final four years,” Wheeler said.

Adjusting to Grinnell might come more naturally to Wheeler than some other Grinnellians. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she has had a fair share of transitions. She then moved to Felton, Delaware, then to Chicago before finally settling in Evanston, Illinois.

Like many other Pioneers student-athletes, she was drawn to Grinnell for its academic rigor offered side-by-side with a chance to play competitive sports for an extra four years. Wheeler hopes to major in biochemistry with a concentration in neuroscience but also has an interest in economics. To her, and especially to her parents, academics is more important than softball, even though the sport means a lot to her.

“I know you love softball but I’m going to make [sure] your academics come first and that’s that. There’s no discussion about it,” Wheeler said when recalling what her father said to her during her recruiting process.

Surprisingly, Wheeler started playing baseball at a young age and didn’t switch to softball until later. Following the decision to switch was a rough couple of years where she always played with older girls. She admits there were certain mental aspects of the game that she didn’t understand.

“I was never afraid of being [on the team] and I never felt out of place. It was just mentally I wasn’t ready. My maturity level wasn’t up there,” Wheeler said.

It wasn’t until age 11 that softball clicked for her.

“It was a defining moment [for me]. Most people when they switch over [from baseball to softball], they can’t do it; but when I did … at that moment I felt like I could kill the game if I wanted to.”

Still, Wheeler sometimes thinks about what might have been had she stuck to baseball. At the time, it was very difficult for girls to play baseball, as they are normally forced to switch to softball eventually. Her father knew she had potential as a softball player, though, and he encouraged her to try pitching.

“If you asked me how my talent got to the way it is today I would say it’s all him. No question about it. He’s been my coach since day one,” Wheeler said about her father.

Now that softball is in season, the team is even more focused than ever. Riding on a successful spring break trip, everybody is locked in as conference matches start from this week. The end goal is nothing less than a championship, something no Pioneers softball team has ever done before.

Wheeler certainly has her sights on a trophy during her first season. “I want the trophy. I want our name plastered on something that we can hold.”

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