RIO VISTA — Ever since she was making plays in tee-ball at 3 years of age, Rio Vista’s Haila Linton has dreamed of playing college softball. On Wednesday, that dream started to come to life as she officially signed with Lamar University to continue her impressive athletic career at the Division I level.
Linton has been a cornerstone of Lady Eagle athletics the past four years as a standout athlete in multiple sports, including leading Rio Vista volleyball to the regional quarterfinals earlier this month for the first time in 16 years.
A multiple-time all-district and All-Johnson County selection in volleyball and softball, Linton said having the opportunity to sign with Lamar University on Wednesday was a moment that was a lifetime in the making.
“It means everything to me honestly,” Linton said. “Everything I’ve put into this is finally paying off. [I’ve wanted to be a college student-athlete] since I was 3, since I started playing tee-ball for my dad and mom. They always pushed me to be something better than anything that’s come from Rio. So I really wanted to set that example for the younger girls.”
Despite growing up with softball as her No. 1 passion, Linton’s love for volleyball grew immensely this year. But she said she stuck with volleyball because of the strong support system she’s had in that sport for many years.
“It’s always been softball, until this year when I fell in love with volleyball,” she said. “I was almost hesitant to sign to play softball because of the love I have for volleyball. But the coaches at Lamar and my select coaches are what made me stay with softball. The coaches at Lamar made me feel at home, made me feel loved and welcomed no matter what. My select coaches pushed me to be someone better than I ever have been. So I stuck with softball for them.”
Rio Vista Softball Coach Keith Johnson said he knew early on in Linton’s career that this day would come.
“I think it’s just the surrealness of it,” Johnson said of Linton’s signing. “I mean, we all expected it to come, but you kind of hope it goes a little slower. Nobody deserves it more. She’s a very special kid. With her work ethic and her attitude, she deserves the best she can get. So it’s awesome that she has this opportunity.”
Linton said she chose to continue her education and athletic career at Lamar University for a number of reasons.
“Everybody’s super nice and you’re welcomed as soon as you walk in,” Linton said. “It just feels like family. It feels like going to school [at Rio Vista]. It’s small and everybody knows everybody. But it’s still getting to play Division I softball, so it was the right fit.
“I’m looking forward to getting to play with girls that love the game as much as I do and that are as competitive as I am all around.”
Linton has received all-district and All-Johnson County honors in volleyball every year since she was a freshman. And she would’ve certainly been an all-district and all-county selection in softball every year except the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 softball season.
As a junior, Linton was a first-team All-Johnson County and first-team all-district selection in volleyball. She was a second-team all-district selection in volleyball as a sophomore and the all-district newcomer of the year in volleyball as a freshman.
In softball, Linton was an All-Johnson County and all-district first-team selection as a sophomore in 2018-19 and the All-Johnson County and all-district newcomer of the year as a freshman in 2017-18.
As a sophomore, Linton hit .421 with an on-base percentage of .542 and a .711 slugging percentage with 20 RBIs, 12 extra-base hits, four homers and 39 runs scored. In the circle, she went 7-0 with 56 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched for a 3.02 ERA with a .967 fielding percentage defensively.
In her freshman campaign, Linton was huge in helping the Lady Eagles snap a 12-year playoff drought as she hit .411 with 28 RBIs offensively with a 2.91 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 55.1 innings pitched.
“The entire work ethic she brings every day, it’s a joy to coach,” Johnson said. “She set the mark high for us her freshman year when we got to the playoffs the first time in 12 years. She was willing to make sacrifices wherever we need her to go. Her unselfishness is what sets her apart as a Lady Eagle in doing whatever she needs to for the team.
“I also just think the willingness she has to work on not only the physical side but the mental side is what makes her special. She’s willing to learn the game and know the game and study her opponents. Whatever sacrifices she has to make, not only on the field but in life itself, she’s willing to do whatever she has to in order to be the best she can be.”
Linton was supposed to sign last week but Rio Vista football was preparing for a playoff game last week and she wanted the spotlight to stay on the football team, so she put her signing off for a week.
Linton said she’s grateful to her strong support system for helping her reach Wednesday’s milestone of signing to become a Division I athlete.
“My parents, all the coaching staff at Rio, the community, my select softball coaches,” Linton listed as key people that have helped her over the years. “Everyone’s had a big impact on me in getting to play the sport I love at the next level.”
Lamar Head Coach Amy Hooks said she expects Linton will contribute right away.
“Haila is going to make our pitching staff stronger immediately,” Hooks said. “She going to complement our other pitchers and pitch a lot of innings for us.”
Knowing the type of athlete and person Linton is, Johnson said she expects her to reach new heights at Lamar.
“I think the sky is the limit for her with her talent,” Johnson said. “I think she’s going to get bigger and stronger in college and I think she’s going to develop even more. The sky is the limit, so whatever she wants she can get. With the way she prepares and the natural talent she has, I think she’s going to go to even another level that we haven’t seen.”
But before she begins her collegiate career, Linton is hoping to lead Lady Eagle softball on a memorable run this spring.
“I’m expecting that we make a playoff run and do something that’s never been done before here at Rio,” Linton said.
Lamar University, located in Beaumont, Texas, is a Division I program that competes in the Southland Conference.