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Softball 2010Spartan head softball coach Chris Hawkins is a winner on the field and off the field.

In his 20th season at USC Upstate, Hawkins notched his 700th career win Sunday making him the winningest softball coach in the school’s history. But it’s not just the number of “W’s” in the Won-Lost column that makes Hawkins stand out. He’s won the respect and hearts of his players, too.

“Coach Hawkins makes it fun,” said Cheyenne Griffin, a junior from Moore who plays first base for the Spartans. “He’s a good guy who would give you the shirt off his back. He runs a good program. We work for it, but at the end of the day we know how much he really cares about us. He puts the team first, even before himself.”

Griffin said that after the weekend sweep of Jacksonville Sunday afternoon, they presented Hawkins with a ball signed by the team and a cake to celebrate the win.

“I took a piece of the cake and smeared it in his face,” Griffin laughed. “After the championship game last year we got him with whipped cream. He’s always a good sport!”

Last season, Hawkins’ team captured the school’s first A-Sun Tournament Championship and a berth in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

A feat, Griffin said, this year’s team hopes to surpass.

“We are more seasoned than we were last year,” Griffin said. “If we continue to play the way that we have, we will go further than we did last year. Coach Hawkins and Coach (Bryan) Pack work hard for us and we want to work hard for them.”

The team’s hard work on the field is already getting national attention. The team was ranked No. 25 in both the USA Today/NFCA and ESPN.com/USA Softball polls earlier this week. Upstate has never been ranked in the Top 25 in both polls in the same week.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the recognition our team has received as we have built this program,” Hawkins said. “Everyone in this program works so hard to give ourselves the opportunity to succeed. Being ranked in the Top 25 in both polls means that our team has not only reached a level of achievement, but people have taken notice of what we have done. At the same time, it’s early March and our goals are to win the A-Sun and advance to the NCAA Tournament like we did last year. Being ranked in the Top 25 won’t achieve that. Continuing to work hard and improve, keeping our focus on the goals we want to accomplish is what is going to give us the opportunity to reach our goals. But, it sure is nice to be recognized like this.”

Senior outfielder Meredith Barnes said Hawkins and the program he has built were the biggest reasons she came to USC Upstate to finish her softball career. She said that Hawkins and Pack found her in a “tiny school” in California.

A transfer from the College of Siskiyous, Barnes said Hawkins is “very upbeat, calm and relaxed.”

“We work hard,” Barnes said. “But at practice and during games, it’s doesn’t feel like there’s pressure. He wants it to be fun for us.”

Thrilled to have been part of the 700th win, Barnes noted that Coach Hawkins always encourages them to put a smile on their face and to have a good attitude, regardless of what’s happening on the field.

“We had a lot of fun Saturday and we worked hard,” said Barnes. “On Sunday, he told us he wanted to see us do the same thing. We had better hitting Sunday and in the back of all of our minds was ‘This is a big day for him. We want to make him smile.’”

Barnes said a ball was being passed around in the dugout during the middle of the game for people to sign as a memento for him.

“Winning always makes him happier,” she said. “It was a very emotional day. I’m so honored and happy to be able to play for him. We just want to keep getting him more wins.”

According to Barnes, his willingness to work hard for the team on and off the field is a characteristic that means a lot to the players and their families.

“People don’t see what he does for us off the field,” she said. “He sticks around to throw with me after to practice. He works out with all of us when we need a little extra time. He’s taught me, all of us, that it’s not just about winning and losing. It’s about being a good program and being proud to be a part of a team.”

And with this team, it’s a winning combination.

“Building a program has been enjoyable and it makes it even more special when you get to coach this group of players we have this year,” Hawkins said. “My assistant coaches who have helped me along the way and the players who I have been fortunate enough to coach through the years are most of the reason why we win.”

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