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The Last Recruit In An Unfortunate Set of Seasons

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Being from Redding, California, where the exposure for athletes isn’t as popular as for athletes in Southern California, getting where I am now in my softball career is something that I am proud of. From the beginning of the recruiting process, it was never easy, and neither was the journey I encountered throughout my college career.

Being a four-year starter at Enterprise High School, I built up the stats to be a prospect for college coaches to look at. Once I committed to the goal of playing college softball, I became a member of NCSA, where I uploaded skills videos for coaches to see, academic and extracurricular information, that my recruiting coach Jaimie would promote to coaches for me. Along with that, I would send my profile to specific schools I wanted to reach out to me.

My dad and I discussed and decided that I should start playing for a travel team out of the Redding area, who went to showcase tournaments with a higher competition level and had a more reputable name. For me to do this, I would have to commit to driving over two hours every week and weekend to practice with the team in Sacramento. After trying out and being offered a position on the team, I began my journey with All-American Mizuno Gold 18U Team coached by Kelly Jackson, an alumni of the USA Olympic Team.

Moving to this organization, I thought my skills and my player profile would be spread among hundreds of colleges seeking a slapper who played center field. I didn’t know that after playing the fall and summer seasons with this organization, that the only offer that I would have solidified would be Simpson University, a four-year university in my hometown of Redding. This wasn’t what I wanted for myself- My plans were to leave Redding after high school and experience something completely new.

Once I played my last season in the summer of my junior year with All-American Mizuno, I decided to take matters into my own hands and focus on having a great season with my high school softball team. I worked hard on my game in the off season and continued to utilize my NCSA profile, where I started to get more views on my profile and more interest from coaches at every level. A coach that reached out from watching my skills video and a good word put in by a family friend who had a daughter who just had graduate from the Division II program and had watched me play growing up, was Shelli Sarchant from Humboldt State University.

Although the university was conveniently three hours away from my hometown, I had felt unsure about how I felt about moving to Arcata, California. It was a foggy, hippy town that was surrounded by the Redwoods- not something I considered my scene. With an open mind, I went on a visit, and left thinking it wouldn’t be too bad if I went there. After all, it was close as my parents wanted, and they would be able to see me play almost every game.

Shortly after, I signed my letter of intent to be a Humboldt State Jack at my high school, in front of my family, all my coaches, friends, and my beloved teammates who had seen see work so hard to achieve my goal of playing college softball. With my name signed on the NLI and the stress of committing off my shoulders, I could focus on making my senior season the best of my high school career. Retiring as an Enterprise Hornet, I ended the season with a .508 average and accolades to take into my next journey.

The summer after I graduated from Enterprise, I started to have doubts about the decision I made. I didn’t think this was the college for me, and to be honest, I was planning on sticking out the first year and finding a different school to play for the next 3 years. I wish I would’ve listened to my instincts and gone with my gut feeling. My life as a Humboldt State Jack was short lived.

When I was recruited by Coach Sarchant, I was told that I was the last recruit of the incoming freshmen class. Along with that, there wasn’t anymore scholarship money available for me, so I would have to earn money for the following year. I wish at that moment she would’ve told me that I would be treated like I was the last recruit so I wouldn’t have even wasted the month that I wasted playing there.

I worked hard every day to prove that I was a better player than being “the last recruit” and that she was lucky to have gotten me to play for her for free. I thought that what I brought to the table was comparable to the other freshmen in my recruiting class who were on scholarships. There was nothing that could stop me from trying to prove myself to my coaches and my team- except for the case of head lice I got that changed everything for me.

When I went home for the weekend to visit my parents, I told my mom that head had been itchy. With a worried look on her face, she checked my head for lice, and easily found the verdict. Unable to make it back to Humboldt the next morning since my head was being treated for lice, I missed practice and returned the next day with lice still in my hair after it had already been treated. After being told that I needed a nurses note and feeling convinced that they thought I was lying, the nurse proceeded to tell me I was still infested with lice- therefore, contagious.

As if I wasn’t already having a hard time proving myself to my coach, I now was allowed to practice with my team, and the treatment I received was unfair. Everyone on the team knew I had lice, and the comments and the reaction I was getting was the opposite of the embrace I needed. My coach wouldn’t even speak to me normally. Instead, she stood across the room as if I had a rare disease because she didn’t want to get lice from me or give it to her kids. The players acted the same. As a hitting practice was ending in the indoor facility, where I was told to hit alone in when the team went out to the softball field, one of the players came up to me and rudely asked, “Will I get lice if I borrow your bat?” After hitting alone and getting rude reactions from my coach and the girls who were supposed to be my teammates, I felt like an outcast among an environment that made me extremely unhappy.

When I say I felt like the last recruit, I mean it. The day I decided to withdrawal from all my classes at Humboldt and quit the softball team, my coach could care less. That same day, another one of the freshman recruits who was one of the only teammates that understood what I was going through, quit the team as well. Her response was different than mine: pleading for her to stay, a nice dinner at coach’s house, and a way to work it out. My response: an insincere apology that it didn’t work out and a best of luck in the future. Leaving there positive I made the right decision to move forward, my softball career and my life was up in the air.

A week later, I found myself on a flight to Arizona, visiting Yavapai College, a community college in Prescott. My dad was friends with the assistant coach, who had posted on Facebook that their staff was looking for a slapper who played outfield. He told me to pack my bags as if I were moving to Arizona, try out for the team, and if everything worked out I would stay. If not, he would contact other coaches he was connected with and find me somewhere to play.

Nervous for my tryout, I did the best I could, and they offered me a spot on the team. This time I was offered a scholarship that covered my tuition and food for the fall semester, that soon led into a full-ride scholarship in the spring semester. I couldn’t help but think the lice I had gotten a couple weeks earlier was a blessing in disguise.

After not playing the first few games of the fall season, I decided I would take advantage of the opportunities given to me when I got a chance. I showed my coaches and my team what I could bring to the table as a lead off hitter and outfielder the first opportunity they gave me to play. From that point on, I led off and played left field every game for the rest of my freshman season I was able to play, until the next unfortunate event occured for me.

In a mid-season home game against Scottsdale, I was playing left field when a ball was hit high in the air towards the fence. I drop stepped and ran to the fence in hopes of making a play and get the second out of the inning. As I jumped up to catch the ball slightly above the fence, I made the play, but landed in a position that ended the rest of my freshman season. With all my weight shifted on my right foot as I landed, my ankle stayed in the same place but the rest of my body fell beyond it. I can remember feeling the worst pain I’ve ever felt and screaming that my foot was broken, as I looked down at my crooked cleat. Little did I know, I had torn all the ligaments in my foot, I would miss playing the rest of the season, playing in and winning the NJCAA Division Championship, and placing 4th in the National tournament in St. George, Utah. All I could do was watch my team and be there biggest supporter on the bench.

What lie ahead of me was a long summer of physical therapy and a hopeful mindset that my sophomore season would ultimately be better.

To my luck and wrong doing, it wasn’t.

I came back to Prescott after that summer, feeling faster than ever, ready to chase down every ball in the outfield and beat out every infield hit. I was feeling mentally strong and wanted to stay out of the trouble I had gotten into the spring semester of my freshmen year before getting injured.

There was an incident in my dorm room where my roommate and I were drinking with a couple soccer players, and my roommate got very sick. We had practice the next morning, but I stayed up as early in the morning as I could to take care of her and make sure she would be okay. With puke on the floor next to my bed and puke still in her hair, we headed to 10 A.M. practice. When we arrived back to the dorms after practice, there were RA’s in our room examining the puke on the floor and the RA holding up the bottle and asking me, “Are you Mikayla?”

I knew this wasn’t good news for either of us, especially me, since the empty bottle was on my desk.

After explaining what happened to my coaches, they gave her and I a talk about the no tolerance rule Coach Eastman had with alcohol. After reassuring him this wouldn’t happen again, we were given a second chance. That second chance was tested again when we were caught as a team drinking at a bonfire in the woods, when my roommate posted a video of her with a bottle on Snapchat, where she was friends with one of our assistant coaches on.

Everyone who was there confessed to drinking, and we were all punished as a team with a couple hours of running and a thousand sets of stairs. In a meeting with Coach Eastman before I went home for summer, I was told that this was my final warning, and this included my return from summer into the next season.

 

Since my parents were aware of the incidents I was involved in the season before, I vowed that I would stay out of trouble and make them proud by transferring to a 4-year university to finish my career. I bet you can guess what happened in my sophomore season- I made them proud by getting multiple offers and getting a full ride to Mercy College, but I couldn’t find a way to stay out of trouble.

 

I was faced with my future in the hands of my coach as I sat in his office for the third time having the same conversation. “Why does this keep happening? Why are you the only athlete I have given this many chances to?”

The only answer I could think of in my head was that I was the best at getting caught and my luck outran itself a while ago.

But instead, I was speechless.

Faced with the option of admitting that I was an alcoholic or being dismissed from the team, I did what I had to do to stay on the team. I admitted to being “an alcoholic” and faced the consequences that affected the rest of my season. I was indefinitely suspended from the team, required to go to counseling, in charge of putting on a presentation for my team involving binge drinking, and I missed 6 games during my suspension.

Once I was back on the team, I had to work to earn my position back. I didn’t play for the next two games after I was back, and the feeling of not playing tore me apart. Once I earned my spot back on the field, batting leadoff and playing centerfield, I laid low for awhile while the rest of my team went out to the parties and bonfires on the weekends.

Towards the end of the season and spring break closely approaching, a couple of my teammates convinced me to go to a house party with them. I thought, as long as I don’t drink, I should be okay. So I went, and immediately regretted going the moment I got there. I wasn’t in the mood to be at the party and I started not to feel well, but my teammates tried to make me feel better by giving me a few sips of their drinks. Shortly after, I asked my sober teammate to take me home, and we left with the group we originally came there with.

After getting pulled over by a Prescott Police for our teammate turning right into the further lane rather than the closer lane, the cop asked the driver what was in the clear water bottle sitting in the front cupholder. To our surprise, our sober driver had poured the rest of someone’s Four Loko into a water bottle and brought it into the car. My teammates in the back, who were my best friends on the team, started laughing when our teammate got out of the car to be breathalyzed. Me? I wasn’t laughing at all. I realized I should’ve stuck to my will and never came.

Shortly after, the cop called us out one at a time to be breathalyzed by another cop that he had called to the scene. When I blew into the mouthpiece, the monitor recorded 0.01, less than one alcoholic beverage. That didn’t matter- the cop was still going to cite me a ticket for being a minor in consumption, along with my two other teammates who blew higher BAC levels than me. It also didn’t matter what I had to say to my coach- he was told about the situation by the volleyball coach, who was informed about us being breathalyzed by one of the volleyball players who was in a car that left the party and passed the scene on the way back to campus.

The next practice we were told to meet at the field early to go over signs. This wasn’t the case. All of us that were in the car were questioned, especially me, and I was dismissed from practice in front of my whole team. Devastated and sure I knew what the future held for me, I was informed by text that I was to bring my equipment up to the office because I was no longer a part of the team. Leaving class to go fight for my spot on the team, I came to find out that my teammates and my roommate, aside from my small group of real friends, voted me off the team.

This hurt the most.

I could never imagine doing that to one of my teammates and the fact it was done to me made me bitter at the fakeness within the team and all the hits I took for the team, when I could’ve easily but never would have brought them down with me.

My two best friends with the MIC’s stayed on the team and I was the scapegoat who was once again the outcast on the sidelines. I did the 35 hours of community service I needed to complete in place of paying the ticket, and after classes were done, I was out of Prescott heading back to Redding at 5 a.m. A few hours after I left, the rest of my team was getting ready to play as the number one seed in the first round of playoffs. Being begged by my best friends to stay and watch, I couldn’t bare to support a team of girls who didn’t support me.

All I could ask for at this point was a fresh start and another opportunity when I continued my career in New York. When I transferred to Mercy College fall semester of my junior year, the last thing I wanted was to experience anything that I had encountered and caused for myself the two seasons prior. I shared with my team the experience I had up until that point, and how if there was one thing that was most important to me, it was team chemistry. That was what we were lacking my sophomore year at Yavapai, which may be the reason why they were knocked out of the payoff tournament early as the number one seed.

But the lack of chemistry took our Maverick team that was unbeatable on paper, to a team that couldn’t figure it out together on the field. As the season started in the spring, I could feel he negativity flowing through the air, although it was coming from some of the captains and our coach. With everything I had been through in my career, I tried not toilet the negativity take me over, but when it’s the only energy you’re surrounded by, it spreads like the flu.

I decided after many break downs and explaining to my parents that the program wasn’t the right fit for me, that I wanted to look into another school for my final year of softball and truly enjoy my experience of being a college athlete for one year of my career. The only way for that to be a possibility was for me to persevere through the negativity, let it go through one ear and out the other, and play for my teammates who had the team’s best interest in mind, my family, and myself.

That’s exactly what I did. The adversity that I faced the two seasons prior prepared me to conquer the adversity I was dealt when I easily could’ve given up. But that the one thing about me and this whole journey. Nothing has been perfect by any means, but  I have never quit. No matter what is thrown my way, I believe that I have the strength to overcome the challenges thanks to the experience I’ve had on my college softball journey.

This season I will be playing my senior season as a Mercy Maverick and ending this long journey with the company of some of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had, a dedicated coaching staff, and a head coach that has changed for the better. This is the season I truly care about and the one I hope leaves the most positive impact on me.

But I mean come on, how hard can the last three seasons be to beat?

About the Writer
Mikayla Newham, Impact Staff

 Mikayla Newham is a senior at Mercy College. She was born and raised in Redding, California, but came to Mercy to pursue her dream as a college softball...

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The Last Recruit In An Unfortunate Set of Seasons