Off to the right shoulder of Interstate 64 heading toward Richmond, Virginia, stands a black rectangular billboard with blocky letters and a scarlet red heart. It's nearly impossible to miss. Next to the heart, in large white font, reads the state slogan: “Virginia is for Lovers."
Lovers of what? People? Animals?
Ask IU sophomore Grayson Radcliffe, and she’ll tell you Virginia is for lovers of softball.
About 30 minutes west of Richmond sits a little farm town that the IU sophomore shortstop and 2,800 others call home. Rockville, Virginia, is so tiny that Radcliffe has to drive almost 20 minutes away just to find the nearest grocery store.
At a glance, Rockville is more than cow pastures and corn fields, but more recently it’s also become a breeding ground for softball players like Radcliffe.
The shortstop was selected as a four-time All-Region and two-time First Team player during her prep career. In Racliffe's senior season at Patrick Henry High School, she hit five home runs and 34 runs batted in with a .623 batting average, all top-five career marks at the school.
Many NCAA coaches began penciling Radcliffe’s name onto recruiting boards following her breakout year, but by then it was already too late.
“From the get-go, it was always, ‘I want to play for Coach Stanton’,” Radcliffe said. “I love how invested they are in you as a person and how much they want to compete in everything they do.”
Shonda Stanton, then-head coach of Marshall University’s softball program, and her staff began developing a relationship with Radcliffe when she was entering her freshman year of high school at just 13 years old. From the onset, the two sides were clearly a compatible match.
“Grayson can flat out play," Stanton said late last year. "She has great range at shortstop, a strong softball IQ and is a leader on the ball field."
“They just have so much fun and they just have so much energy and they want what’s best for you,” Radcliffe said.
Once she signed her letter of intent to play at Marshall under Stanton, Radcliffe was ready to put all the recruiting distractions behind her and turn the focus squarely back to softball.
But before Radcliffe could ever suit up for the Thundering Herd, Stanton was gone.
Following a 42-win season at Marshall in 2017, Stanton unexpectedly resigned and opted to fill IU’s head coaching vacancy instead.
“When I got the phone call that they were leaving, I absolutely broke down in tears.” Radcliffe said. “I was a mess because I had built such a strong relationship with them.”
Throughout her first season at Marshall, Radcliffe said, not a day went by when she wasn’t wondering how IU was performing with Stanton at the helm. Even after tallying 30 hits in 53 starts throughout her freshman campaign, something still felt missing to her, and she set out to amend that by requesting an immediate release from Marshall.
Just days later, Radcliffe’s phone began buzzing. When she picked up, Stanton was on the other end. The two began by making small talk, but by the time the call ended, Radcliffe knew she was headed for Bloomington.
“I knew I’d always regret if I didn’t take the opportunity to play for them,” Radcliffe said.
Now in her sophomore season, her first as a Hoosier, Radcliffe’s showing everyone why Stanton was so relentless in recruiting her. Entering conference play, Radcliffe has started all 31 games and has collected 21 hits with 14 runs batted in, all while anchoring the heart of IU’s batting order.
But don’t get it mixed up. At the end of the day, Radcliffe said, she’s just a small town cowgirl from Virginia. One that loves exploring nature, listening to country music and is thankful for every opportunity she’s ever been afforded.
“I knew I wanted to play college softball and I knew I wanted to live out that dream for as long as I could," Radcliffe said. "When you have that opportunity I think it’s awesome to just chase it."
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