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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Krista Menke Steps Into Justin's World

Last week, I talked about my biggest all-American snub from the 2015 list. If Mackenzie Audas was the worst snub, Krista Menke wasn't far behind. The now-former North Dakota State Bison put together a spectacular senior season and was more than deserving of the award.
Menke recorded thiry-four wins in her senior year, including thirteen shutouts. Her ERA of 2.11 led the conference. She collected an astounding 391 strikeouts, good enough for both the school and conference single-season record.

Menke earned her second-career Summit League Pitcher of the Year honor in 2015, as well as her third nomination to the NFCA all-region squad. She fell just short of the four-digit mark for strikeouts in her career, KO'ing 938 batters in her career. Opponents hit just .197 against her in her four years, even more impressive when you consider the number of Power Five teams the Bison play annually.
 
Oft ignored thanks in large part to geographical proximity, Menke helped lead NDSU to the postseason three of her four seasons in Fargo, including the Eugene Regional in 2015.
 
As you'll read more about below, following her collegiate career's end, Krista opted to play overseas in the Netherlands. Now back in the States as part of the Dutch mid-season break, complications may keep her from completing the season across the pond.
 
Some of the topics we covered in this interview:
- Playing an outdoor sport in the often-frigid North Dakota weather
- The lack of national recognition for her and her team
- The NDSU softball program's future potential
- Her toughest opponent
- and MORE

Justin's World: Tell me how you got started playing softball.
Krista Menke: Growing up in a small town, you basically do every sport in high school and softball was what we did in the summer. A couple of girls in my town and the surrounding towns made a team in Beaver Crossing when we were about six. When we moved up to the ten and under fast pitch team (normally our small towns had coach pitch at 10U), we didn’t have a pitcher. Therefore, I remember my dad saying to me 'if you guys want to play, you have to pitch because no one else is going to'.  So I started pitching when I was eight years old. It was just my dad and I for the longest time. I learned how to pitch off of YouTube and never got a full-time pitching coach until Brittany Miller at NDSU. I mean, I had some pitching coaches who helped me learn how to hold the ball for a couple of different pitches but those lessons only lasted a few months.

Justin's World: Why North Dakota State? What factors brought you to Fargo?
Krista Menke: Since I came from a small town in the Midwest, it was hard to get recognized by anyone. We didn’t even have a high school softball team until my freshman year. Since softball was competing with volleyball, there weren’t a high number of girls out for softball. The first year, we only won three games and six of the ten girls on the team were freshmen. I pitched both JV and Varsity games back to back because we didn’t really have another pitcher. By my junior year, we made it to state and won it! This is where Brittany, my first NDSU pitching coach, saw me and she told my coach NDSU would like me to come visit.  Almost everyone at NDSU playing softball could tell you they never thought they would be going to Fargo, ND, especially to play an outside sport and that’s exactly what I thought as well. All anyone hears about North Dakota is that it is cold outside, until you actually visit the town. You meet so many nice people on campus that help you throughout your career, not just with athletics but also with academics. Kelli Layman is amazing at helping athletes keep our heads on straight when we have a tough spring semester with travel. NDSU also had a creditable reputation of making it to regionals before I got here so that made me interested in the program as well.

Justin's World: Playing an outdoor sport in North Dakota… needless to say, that had to be an interesting experience. Talk to me about that. Did the indoor practices, snow in the middle of spring, etc. help, hurt, or really play a non-factor as each season began and wore on?
Krista Menke: It wasn’t easy, but that is what shaped us into the program we are. It helped us fight and put everything we had into every day. We knew that we had to work that much harder than teams that could be practicing outside. Taking balls off a gym floor for three years and turf my last year, results in different hops from the ball then off the dirt. Therefore, when we did get on dirt we had to adjust, but it’s just like any other northern team. So you always have to go back to, and believe, that hard work always pays off.

Justin's World: Despite a stellar career, you got little recognition nationally. I can’t help but feel that that is, at least in part, thanks to not playing for a “Power Five” school or in a major market… does it affect you when you play worthy of recognition, but fail to receive it because of superficial and should-be inconsequential factors?
Krista Menke: Honestly, you probably won’t believe me when I say this, but I never got into the stats. I just reviewed and evaluated them at the end of every year to better myself and the team for next year. Playing for a team who is so invested in the game makes you work hard for them, not just yourself. We finally were ranked in the top 25 polls this year as a team and were stoked about it because we felt like we beat a lot of “big name” schools this year. Looking back on my senior year, I do believe that I had the stats to be an All-American pitcher but it just never happened. It was a dream that I wanted to accomplish, but many others do as well. I was recognized as an Academic All- American, which makes me proud of the work I do not only on the field but in the class room and that will take me further in life than anything.

Justin's World: NDSU has become famous as a mid-major team that isn’t afraid to take on the “big boys” during the season, often scheduling numerous Power Five and ranked opponents… why do you think the program benefits from playing these games, win or lose?
Krista Menke: I love[non-conference] preseason. We always travel (well, we kind of have to because of the weather!) and get to see great competition. This helps us put into perspective what we still have to work on to get to where we want, which is a chance to play in post season. Playing the preseason games helps me, as a pitcher, learn to read hitters better and what they are doing at the plate and our hitters get to see different styles of pitching. I believe our preseason schedule has made a huge impact on what we have done throughout the years as a program.

I still think we are a mid-major program. It may be some time before people realize that the game of softball is changing and people outside of the big conferences are as good  and can compete. We beat ranked teams this year and we received little credit because it’s almost like the other team was “having an off day”, but that is okay with us. We love being the underdog because you get to play care free. Teams with no expectations put on their shoulders become dangerous.

Justin's World: Who was the toughest opponent, whether individual or team, that you faced?
Krista Menke: I am not sure. This is hard to say, because as a player I have evolved throughout the years. There was my freshman year when everything seemed so new and each game was challenging.  I would say games in the post season are the hardest because everyone has their season on the line, no matter who you are playing.

Justin's World: Knowing that you’re going to be in the Bison record books for a long time to come has to be pretty special… tell me what it’s like to know that you’re already a program legend.
Krista Menke: I don’t really know how to take it in right now because it still seems surreal that my career is over, but it is definitely an honor. My favorite thing about being successful in softball is showing all the other younger girls out there that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what it is you have; if you put your heart into what you are doing, you can accomplish just about anything.

Justin's World: Talk to me about playing ball past college. Was playing in the US something you were interested in or had the opportunity to do?
Krista Menke: I never really thought about softball past college until the last couple months of my senior year.  The PA Rebellion contacted Darren [Mueller, NDSU head coach] and showed interest, along with the team from the Netherlands. After we finished playing at Oregon, the Coach from the Rebellion asked me to tryout for the team. I also got an offer to play overseas, so I basically just had to decide on which one I wanted to do. 

Justin's World: Tell me about playing overseas. What about it made you say ‘yes, this is what I want to do’?
Krista Menke: Darren passed along the information from the coaches throughout the last couple months but I never really thought about it until after the season.  My main focus at the time was our goal as a team, making it to post season play... When NDSU’s season ended, within a couple of days I had to make my decision. I based it more on the fact that I have always wanted to study abroad and with playing softball in college, that chance wasn’t there for me. So when this opportunity came up for me to travel and see the world, my heart leaned more towards playing abroad. I talked it over with my family and decided that this was the best decision for me at this point in my life.

Justin's World: Is playing professionally something you’d like to do long-term? What other future plans for you have, whether involved with softball or otherwise?
Krista Menke: I am not sure. I had injuries that I had to push through during college that can only be healed with rest and that is what I am planning on doing for a little while after playing in the Netherlands. Other than that, I plan to  stay in shape pitching and maybe I’ll get the chance to play again next summer somewhere. However, right now I am doing an internship this fall with Family Wellness in south Fargo. I am also going to be applying to grad school for Physical Therapy this fall as well. Therefore, if I get into grad school, professional softball will probably not be something I will continue to pursue.

Justin's World: If you could change one thing about the game in its current state, what and how would you change it?
Krista Menke: I’m not sure what exactly I would change but something that came to mind would be to make all the stadiums with the same fence lengths versus having some at 190, 200, or 220. It’s not that big of a deal, but it does make a difference if you go to a place with a shorter or a longer fence.

Justin's World: Do you have a favorite moment or memory from your career, thus-far?
Krista Menke: It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite moment in my career because college has been such a fun ride. However, one breakthrough moment for our team this year was over spring break when we were headed to our annual spring break killer. It was raining and we backed our bus up and it ended up getting stuck in the mud. Another senior and I were trying to figure out how we could make this an all-day event  instead of going to our workout. It was one of our teammates' birthday and one thing we always do on birthdays is throw something in that person’s face. So when we all got off the bus,  Alex (another senior) and I figured if we put the mud in Bre’s (birthday girl) face, we wouldn’t get in trouble by the coaches. Turns out we were right and we had a two hour mud fight while it was raining and we were waiting for our bus to be pulled out. It was a great team bonding experience and helped bring us together right before we started our conference play.

Justin's World: And let’s end things with my signature question. Say you were stranded on a deserted island for an undetermined period of time. You can take three things with you; anything tangible goes, except boats and phones. What do you take?
Krista Menke: Well, besides family/friends, the three things I would take are: 1. Something to filter the salt out of the ocean water so I could survive; 2. Books because who doesn’t love a good book, 3. Some type of tools so that I can make a house out of big leaves like you see in the movies! *laughs*

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