|Photo: Jim Hartsing|
It's rare to find a player with her head screwed on as straight and level as Audas' is, and it was a refreshing thing for me. She also gave some particularly thoughtful answers to my questions, and I think you'll enjoy reading the entirety of this interview.
Though her playing career may have only just ended, Audas has solidified her place as one of the University of Central Florida's all-time greats and, as I wrote in my article yesterday, she can simply await the phone call that she's been inducted into the school's Hall of Fame a few years down the road.
Justin’s World: How did you get started playing softball?
Mackenzie Audas: I have an older brother who played baseball at the local little league and my parents asked me if I would want to play tee-ball (softball) when I was seven. I remember thinking that would be cool since I would be playing ball just like my brother. I fell in love with it and never even tried to play another sport.
Justin’s World: Tell me what brought you to UCF. What was it about the program that intrigued you and made you say “That’s where I want to go”?
Audas: In my junior year of high school, I had to decide what schools I would really want to try to put my name out there for. Prior to this I really wasn’t getting any interests from any big named D1 schools and my dream was always to be a starter for a D1 program. My dad mentioned UCF to me and I liked how I could potentially be a starter for them and help make an impact on the school’s softball program (if they wanted me). It was an added bonus that it was close to home so my parents would be able to come watch me play. Also, my then new pitching coach, Kaci Zerbe, had contacts there and agreed that it could be a good fit for me. After that, all the pieces just fell in to place and I feel like I truly was meant to go there!
Justin’s World: You had a successful career through your first three seasons, but this year was extra stellar. Did you change your approach or preparation coming into your senior year?
Audas: I didn’t really have a different approach coming into my senior year. I honestly tried to think of it just like any other season or else I was worried I would get too nervous! However, I definitely believe that just having the thought in the back of my mind that this would be my last season on the field made me work harder and become more determined to master my pitches.
Justin’s World: As the season went on, what did you have to do to continue focusing on the games ahead and consistently perform to a high level?
Audas: I’m not sure what it was about this past season, whether it was because I knew it’s my last or the fun we were having as a team, but I never felt a lapse in focus, passion, or desire to play the games. The only thing I could say that I reminded myself to continually do was take care of my body. I made sure to eat foods that fueled my body, get enough sleep so that I was well rested, and see my trainer for anything else. I think this helped me constantly perform at a high level and get better as the season progressed.
Justin’s World: When your name is atop or close to the top of a major statistical category like lowest ERA in the nation, what do you have to do to keep your mind focused on winning and not on maintaining that position?
Audas: I have always believed the best way to not get caught in the game of statistics is to not subject yourself to it. All four years at UCF, I tried my best to not pay attention to the stats and not worry about where I was compared to others. This year was definitely the hardest year to do that since we got more recognition. So, if someone shared my stats with me, I would make sure to be proud of my accomplishments for a minute, and then brush it aside and get back to work. I realized my freshman year that the best way to become the best was to work your hardest and focus on one game at a time. I think carrying this mentality with me throughout the season helped me stay humble on the mound, and not get caught up in the numbers.
Justin’s World: Although you both were top three in the nation in ERA for most of the season, Shelby got more press during the course of the year… that had to affect you, performing to a high level yourself but not getting as much recognition. Even the humblest players – a category I feel you fall in – have to be influenced by something like that.
Audas: First off, thank you for the compliment! I definitely set out to be respectful to the game and other players and coaches no matter what successes I receive. Now back to your question… There is no great way to answer that! However, since I am a human being, I will admit that there were a few times throughout the season where I wanted to wave my hands and say, “I did something cool too!”. Then I would stop myself and remember that Shelby and I are doing something pretty amazing this year together and there are plenty of girls on our team who don’t get the recognition they deserve since we are not a school in the spotlight. Also, I would take a step back and look at what Shelby was achieving and be proud and happy that she was getting well-deserved recognition. I like to think I’m not the type of person who resents someone else for doing great things and others taking notice of that. If I want to be noticed too then I have to put in the time and work. So, to answer the question, it affected me as much as I let it and I have never been a player who puts my worth in how much press I get. I like to play the game I love and if I do well then that makes it even more fun. I think Shelby had an amazing year. She lead the country in ERA, she was a finalist for Player of the year, and more. With all her accomplishments laid out, she deserved every bit of the spotlight she got. I think I had a great year too and was blessed to finish my career the way I did. I was fine being a strong number two because that is what my team needed from me. And I was fine with not getting the same accolades because it wasn’t what I needed to feel confident in who I was as a pitcher. I think my own stats will testify to that.
Justin’s World: Despite a successful season and spending most of the season ranked, y’all were not chosen to host a regional. Tell me about not only not being selected to host, but being sent to a tough in-state opponent in FSU.
Audas: We were obviously disappointed with the decision and not being able to have a home field advantage. We thought it was pretty unfair to both schools. Despite that though, everyone was excited to be able to play more games and we just focused on preparing for our competition.
Justin’s World: What regrets, if any, do you have from your final season?
Audas: I am happy to say that I can come away from the season regret free. Sure, I had a few games that weren’t pretty, but I am glad I did because those are the times that keep you humble and make you work harder to get better. I feel extremely lucky that this was my senior season because it was with the best people, we had so much fun, and we made some history. It would have been amazing to go to Supers and the WCWS but that wasn’t in the cards for us and I am fine with that. When I was a little girl, I remember dreaming of accomplishing that, but I never thought of what it would mean to be part of a team that becomes a family. So, even though I didn’t get to the big stage like I dreamed of, I like to think that I achieved an even bigger dream by (as cliche as this is) making other amazing memories with lifetime friends.
Justin’s World: When the last out was recorded and you realized your college career was officially over, tell me what went through your mind in that moment and later as the realization became more real.
Audas: The last pitch of my career was a ball hit in foul territory that our shortstop, Brittany Solis caught to end the inning. I just remember being nervous before the pitch because I knew it could be my last and I remember our coach calling a screwball and me thinking at least it is one of the pitches I like (the other is my change up). Then when Brittany caught the ball, I remember thinking to myself, “I guess that’s that.” I think I was a little bit in shock because you never expect the moment to finally be there. Then, when the game ended and we were all huddled in the outfield it really hit me that this was over, and I would never be with this group of girls again in the same way, and I would never wear the Knights uniform again. I remember thanking God for the great season, my career, the girls I was able to play with, and that I came out injury free. It was a surreal moment and I definitely shed some tears. It still feels surreal to me right now. I feel like I am on summer vacation. I’m not sure I will completely realize that college softball is over for me until fall comes and I won’t be at the beginning of the year meetings.
Justin’s World: I had you listed highly on my Big Board before the NPF draft, but you weren’t selected. I was told you chose not to play, so tell me about that decision and the factors that went into it.
Audas: I hadn’t even bothered to think about softball beyond college because I wasn’t sure that anyone would even want to draft me. So, when I got some inquiry before the NPF draft and that people were interested in drafting me, I knew I had a tough decision to make. In the end though, I decided that at this time playing in the NPF wasn’t right for me. I still have a semester of school left and a big state test to take during the summer and felt that dividing my time between that and softball wouldn’t be something I would want to do. I also felt that after college ball is over, I wouldn’t have any regrets hanging up my glove and cleats and moving on to a new chapter. I felt like I accomplished everything I had set out to do when I decided I wanted to play ball as a little girl. Softball has helped shape a big part of who I am but I feel ready to move on. However, I felt extremely honored to have been wanted in the draft next to people I admire, such as my own teammate, Kahley Novak, and Oklahoma’s Lauren Chamberlain. I wish everyone who got drafted the best and will be following their NPF careers!
Justin’s World: Is playing ball professionally something you would like to consider at some point in the future or do you think your playing career may be done at this point?
Audas: As of right now I think that I am done with playing and ready to just be a spectator of the game I love. However, I might miss it and change my mind in the future. Who knows?! I am open to anything.
Justin’s World: Outside of potential playing, what are your plans for the future?
Audas: I plan on graduating in December with a career in Early Childhood Education. I have a passion for teaching and I am excited to see where that takes me in the classroom and maybe even on the field. Also, I have a fiancé and we are getting married in January. So I have a couple of big life changes ahead of me in the very near future!
Justin’s World: If you had one experience or moment from your career to go back and live through again, what moment would it be?
Audas: If I could go back a few weeks ago to the last pitch I had at the UCF stadium, I would tell myself to look around and just make a mental note of how it feels to be on the field in that moment. I didn’t really give myself a chance to do that and I wish I had. I will definitely miss playing at home and know I will relive many moments in different games that were special to me.