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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mackenzie Audas Steps Into Justin's World

Today, I'm glad to publish part two, the final part, of our two-day series on recently-graduated Central Florida great Mackenzie Audas.

Photo: Jim Hartsing
Audas enjoyed much success over her career, but got little national recognition for it. One of the things that stood out to me the most when I interviewed her was her mindset. It would have been very easy for her to play the "poor me" card and talk about the all-American award she was undoubtedly robbed of, but she chose to high road, instead focusing on team goals and success and helping best compliment her fellow pitching staff member Shelby Turnier.

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.

Justins 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.

Justins World: Tell me what brought you to UCF. What was it about the program that intrigued you and made you say Thats 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 wasnt 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 schools 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!

Justins 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 didnt 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.

Justins 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: Im not sure what it was about this past season, whether it was because I knew its 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.

Justins 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.

Justins 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 dont 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 Im 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 wasnt what I needed to feel confident in who I was as a pitcher. I think my own stats will testify to that.

Justins World: Despite a successful season and spending most of the season ranked, yall 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.

Justins 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 werent 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 wasnt 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 didnt 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.

Justins 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 thats 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. Im not sure I will completely realize that college softball is over for me until fall comes and I wont be at the beginning of the year meetings.

Justins World: I had you listed highly on my Big Board before the NPF draft, but you werent selected. I was told you chose not to play, so tell me about that decision and the factors that went into it.
Audas: I hadnt even bothered to think about softball beyond college because I wasnt 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 wasnt 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 wouldnt be something I would want to do. I also felt that after college ball is over, I wouldnt 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 Oklahomas Lauren Chamberlain. I wish everyone who got drafted the best and will be following their NPF careers!

Justins 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.

Justins 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!

Justins 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 didnt 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. 

2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much, Justin, for this wonderful article on Mackenzie. It will most likely be the last write-up regarding her softball career, so Matt and I appreciate it it more than you can know. Cheryl and Matt Audas

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  2. Love you Mackenzie.

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