By Alan Dale

Leavenworth Times

After a solid collegiate career with the Basehor-Linwood High School softball program, Madison McDowell made her way to Bethel College at the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) as one of 11 freshmen recruited to be a part of a relatively new program.

She recently completed her second season with the Threshers as a pitcher and utility player and put up some decent marks as McDowell heads into the upper half of her collegiate career.

McDowell went 5-12 in the circles with a 5.74 ERA while starting 19 games. She also played in 37 games overall and was the team’s fourth leading hitter (.336) with three homers, 12 total extra base hits, and a slugging percentage of .513.

It’s been a process for McDowell who has come quite the way from her early collegiate days.

“Going into 2015 fall ball I felt in great shape and ready to play, and we had a great fall season – we won more games than Bethel had ever won during the exhibition season,” McDowell said. “I also played basketball during the 2015-16 season so I was unable to participate in winter workouts with the softball team. As unfortunate as that was, I was still given the opportunity to continue both of my sports and pursue my degree in nursing while doing it.

“However, after I returned to softball in the spring, my momentum in the fall had run its course. I was not hitting, fielding, or pitching as well as I had in the fall. This was very frustrating at times because I knew I was capable of so much more, but I did not have the reps I needed to keep my momentum going. Some games, I was good, but others not so great. I had never dealt with playing so inconsistently in softball and it was an emotional season. We just missed making our conference tournament by one game.”

The missed postseason opportunity – the Threshers have never made the KCAC tournament under the current format – fueled McDowell and the team.

“During my sophomore year I decided not to continue basketball because I felt that it hindered my softball season and after all I came Bethel to help build this program and make it successful,” McDowell admitted. “To be your best you have to focus on one sport, especially if you want to be great. In college, it is so much more difficult to play two sports and pursue a degree. My freshman year was very stressful and I had little free time so this was the best decision for me. One of the best teams in our conference was telling our coaches that we had a great group of young players and as long as we all stayed the course that we could be looking at a championship team in a few years.

“Sophomore season was looking really good and we set a school record for wins, but we ended up falling short of our conference tournament by just one win again. It was heartbreaking because we had a great season of firsts. We beat teams that Bethel has never beaten in the six years the program has existed, but we had a stretch in the middle of season where our chemistry was off and we had a losing streak which was our downfall. Overall it was still another big step forward for the program.”

McDowell wasn’t sure of what to expect from NAIA competition before getting there and just wanted to do something of note in the sport.

“I wouldn’t say I had a rude awakening because I knew college ball would be challenging,” McDowell said. “In college ball, you don’t know any of your teammates like you would growing up in high school and playing club ball. You have to learn to build chemistry with them and use that to help your team on the field because you spend a lot of time together; you can’t afford to let off the field challenges get in the way of your teams play.

“The level of play is just as competitive as any other sport would be. Obviously, there is a difference between the capability of a Division I NCAA athlete because they may be physically bigger and stronger, but our level of play has just as much heart and passion. The girls in our conference can compete against anybody.”

But that comes after working hard at the prep level before taking the leap.

“I think high school players need to understand that coming in as a freshman you’re not guaranteed to play,” McDowell said. “It is not like summer ball where the coach is inclined to play you because you’re paying for it. In fact, you are being paid to be there and have to earn your spot in college. My situation was unique because our Bethel program was and still is building each year. When my freshman class came in we were half of the team. Other schools have been building their programs for years and have had a lot of success, so many freshmen don’t see the field.

“You have to be ready to work hard because nothing comes easy. You have to perform each day because there’s a whole roster of girls that come in each year ready to compete. You have to know your role.”

Her days as a Bobcat and a BLHS softball player are still some of her fondest memories and she hopes to make more in her final two years in North Newton and at Bethel.

“The Basehor High School softball program is one I will never forget,” McDowell said. “My coaches didn’t put up with any attitude. If you weren’t ready to play, Coach (Susan) Mayberry would put in someone else who was prepared and had a positive attitude. I had a coach named Mary Nutter who was a very influential person in my life. She was both a mentor and a friend, but she passed too soon in the summer of 2012. Mary connected me with Tracy Bunge who is well-known in the softball world as a former All American and member of the KU Sports Hall of Fame. Tracy connected with Barry Johnson of the Phenix organization who became my summer (club team) softball coach. All of these coaches played a huge part in making me the player and person I am today. They taught me to play fierce, with heart, and passion.