Hoover’s Laila Varney named W.Va. state softball player of the year

Herbert Hoover has been one of West Virginia’s most successful high school softball programs since 2014.

The Huskies have won six Class AA state softball titles during that span.

Herbert Hoover has also produced multiple state player of the year winners during that time in Allison Rager (2014) and Delani Buckner (2019).

The latest name added to that list is pitcher Laila Varney.

Varney was tabbed as the 2024 state softball player of the year, selected by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.

The senior pitcher capped her final year by going 20-4, striking out 261 batters and pitching an 1.34 ERA in the circle. She was also effective at the plate, batting .467, hitting four home runs and driving home 32 runners.

“One word that sums up Laila and how successful she was at Hoover is perseverance,” Hebert Hoover coach Missy Smith said. “She wasn’t able to play her sophomore year, and had some injuries in the preseason of her junior year. She pushed through all of that and made sure that when she came in as a senior, she was healthy. She was ready to work from the time I got her.

“Her hard work really paid off this year because she was able to have the whole offseason and excel.”

The hard work and determination that Varney pieced together throughout her Herbert Hoover career paid off for her.

“Going into the season, I didn’t think I would be here,” Varney said. “It’s really special, definitely.”

Her effectiveness in the circle made it difficult for batters to hit or get on base.

Varney proved herself as one of the best pitchers in the state early in the season with her performance in the Guard the Capital Invitational at GoMart Ballpark against St. Albans.

She pitched 5 2/3 innings while striking out 12 batters and allowing one hit. She didn’t walk a Red Dragons batter.

“I took [everything] game-by-game and pitch-by-pitch [this season],” Varney said. “Throughout the season, my pitches were really working and spinning well. That’s what helped me.”

Smith took a different approach when asked how she’s seen the senior leader grow in her time with the Huskies.

“She became more of a vocal leader,” Smith said. “That’s something that our seniors grow into. Thankfully, we have been blessed with so many good players, and watching them grow from the first day we get them to the last makes it fun. It’s more than softball. It’s been a joy watching her grow into a vocal leader and someone that’s comfortable.

“You’re not going to make everybody happy and people are going to hate you. To watch her embrace that role was a nice thing for us.”

Varney’s eye-popping statistics and play in the circle captured the eyes of the University of Charleston.

The Herbert Hoover pitcher was unsure what her future held or where she wanted to go. So, she took everything like how she does her games — one step at a time.

“At first, I didn’t really want to stay close to home,” Varney said. “It seemed like a good opportunity. I plan on trying to help them out pitching-wise.”

Smith thinks UC will get a great return on investment with Varney once she gets acclimated to the culture and tradition of Golden Eagles softball.

“She has a high energy and is a hard worker,” Smith said. “I know it sounds cliche and whatever, but she’s a coach’s dream as far as that goes. She’ll attack workouts and will push her teammates to be better, which is like an X-factor. Everybody that plays in college wants to be good and has drive, but when you want your teammates to succeed, then that’s what puts you over the top as a college athlete.”

The accolades, accomplishments and statistics will be out there forever.

However, Varney is more appreciative of her relationship with Smith over anything else.

“She’s always believed in me since I first transferred here,” Varney said of Smith. “I couldn’t thank her enough for that. She’s given me so many opportunities. Last year was the first year I’ve ever pitched in a state tournament. She believed in me, and it worked. Everything went well.”

By TAYLOR KENNEDY | Gazette-Mail