Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Maddie Stein Steps Into Justin's World

I've covered and interviewed several Kansas Jayhawk all-stars and all-time greats over the years; in the midst of the conversation of who deserves either of those labels, Maddie Stein belongs on the list.

Jeff Jacobsen/Kansas Athletics
The Jayhawks' all-time RBI leader, Stein's name appears in the top ten of several Jayhawk all-time statistical categories. A consistent and versatile athlete, she primarily saw time at a trio of positions (first base, catcher, designated player) during her four seasons in the blue and white. She started every game in her final two seasons.

Solid with her bat and stellar with her glove, Stein made just seven errors during her career. She posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 2013, her sophomore season.

Academically even greater than she was on the field, she was twice a member of the Academic all-Big 12 first team before her career culminated with her being named the conference's Softball Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Following her career's end in the Regionals last season, Stein attended the NPF open tryout but did not make a club. Continue reading below as she shares on that experience and much more.

Justin’s World: How did you get started playing softball and when did you really know it was “your game”?
Maddie Stein: I started playing softball when I was six years old. My parents told me I literally tried everything they could think of and I never showed that I truly loved any of the activities I was participating in. My dad grew up playing baseball and also at the time was playing slow pitch softball. I enjoyed going to watch his slow pitch games with my mom so they finally decided to let me try softball. My parents have told me they didn’t want to force me into something they enjoyed but rather wanted me to figure out what it was I really liked to do.

It seems like it was “my game” from the first time I ever played catch; I loved it. As a kid, I know I begged my parents to let me miss different friend/family functions so I could play in a tournament or even practice. It seemed to come natural, but I remember how much I loved and still love the skill it takes to play. It is a multi-faceted game that requires continued practice and is a challenge, and I really appreciate that about the game of softball. I knew I wanted to be a collegiate softball player in the first year of my playing because, after my parents saw how much I loved it, they would take me to the College Worlds Series in Oklahoma City that first year and when I wasn’t playing. Luckily, I was born and raised in Oklahoma City so I was a frequent attender of all softball events there.

Justin’s World: Though your senior season ended prematurely and sooner than you hoped, you “went out on top” with all-conference and all-region honors. What did it mean to you to end your career knowing that you had made such an impact in your final season?
Maddie Stein: It is always nice to get recognized for the effort and passion you pour into your sport. The awards I received in college were moments of where I would step back and realize, “Wow, you really do belong at this level.” More so than the personal awards, I could not been more proud of what my program was able to accomplish in the four years I was there. I feel as if Kansas Softball went from one of the easier opponents in the Big 12 to a team that was respected and appreciated. I chose to go to KU because I wanted to be a part of building something with the new staff there and I believed that what they imagined for the program was something I could contribute to. My first two years at KU, we were a bubble team; my last two years at KU, we made post season and COMPETED. Those would be my proudest moments and accomplishments at KU, knowing I helped change a culture and potentially put Kansas Softball on the map for softball players and fans everywhere.

Justin’s World: One of my favorite sayings is “consistency is key”. You embodied that, especially during your last couple of years. Tell me what you did or had to do to maintain that consistency and durability through the rigors of a collegiate softball season year-in and year-out.
Maddie Stein: Thank you! I would say that is one of the biggest things I tried to embody during my whole career, especially at the collegiate level. While playing softball, I have tried to be realistic with myself: I just wasn’t a super flashy player. I would say that all of my skills were way above average, but my natural abilities of power and speed were average to below average.  Because of that, I had to be a consistent player, a player that my coaches would never question having in the line-up or on the field. I think my consistency can definitely be attributed to hard work. REPS, REPS, REPS.  Also, I never questioned my purpose of why I was out there playing in a game or doing extra reps before or after practice. I loved the game. My passion was always consistent and my play followed suit. Lastly, I pride myself on being a student of the game. I believe that because I was so invested in every facet of the game I was able to create opportunities for myself, as well as realize I always have something to learn. When your game starts plateauing, you realize that there is always something more you can do or learn.

Justin’s World: Your name presently sits atop the KU record book in the RBI category, and amongst the top in others. Tell me what it means to you to know that you name is going to be in that record book for a long while and that players that enter the program even years from now are going to recognize your name as a Jayhawk great.
Maddie Stein: Being recognized as one of the greatest Jayhawk hitters was something I never thought I would accomplish. If anything, it means I can truly do anything I set my heart and mind to. I surprised many people, including myself, during my collegiate career. It is nice to look back at this specifically and let myself know to never put a barrier myself or even let others affect what I think I can do.

Justin’s World: What legacy do you hope you’ve left on the KU program? What do you hope people remember when they hear your name in years to come?
Maddie Stein: I hope I was able help build KU Softball into what it deserves to be: a championship caliber program, a household name in the game of softball. I also hope I was able to give my program and athletic department as much as they were able to give me.

When people think of me, I hope to be remembered as someone who poured her heart and soul into everything she was doing. Someone who always cared for anything and everything she touched, and mostly important someone who loved being a Jayhawk and always tried her hardest to embody the characteristics of a true Jayhawk.

Justin’s World: Tell me about Coach Rittman and how his presence and knowledge impacted your game in the one season you were under his tutelage.
Maddie Stein: Wow. He’s amazing. He seriously is like the Bill Self of softball, or at least that’s what I like to call him. One thing I am happy about, looking back, is that I was not timid or nervous in any way when I heard Coach Rittman would be joining our program, I just viewed it as a new opportunity. I jumped right into his philosophy and made it my mission to soak up and retrieve as much information as I could in the short year I got to work with him.

He RESPECTS the game and everyone involved, and I think that is one reason he is so impactful as a coach. His demeanor not only positively affected my game but our whole program’s. I cannot speak highly enough about how great of a mentor he became to me. After leaving KU, I have realized all of my coaches served as incredible mentors in all facets of life.

Justin’s World: Let’s talk post-college now. Tell me about the NPF tryout you recently attended and your experience there.
Maddie Stein: Well after ending my collegiate career at the Columbia Regional, I knew that I was not ready for softball to be over. My sister and two of my best friends decided to road trip up with me to Chicago to tryout. The experience was something I do not regret. Although I am super disappointed I am not playing softball right now, I am glad I gave it a shot and feel as if I gave it all I had at the try-out.

Justin’s World: Although that tryout didn’t work out, is continuing to play softball still in your plans or hopes?
Maddie Stein: I sure hope so. I always think to myself that I won’t be done playing softball until I physically cannot play anymore.  I will continue to stay in shape and practice when I can, staying ready in case an opportunity is thrown my way.

Justin’s World: As far as other plans for the future, I know that law school is something that your KU biography related your interest in. Is that still in the cards? What other plans do you have?
Maddie Stein: Future plans…..mine are somewhat crazy. Law school is currently not in my playing hand at the moment, but could still be in my deck of cards. Right now I am living in Norman. For at least the next two years, I am attending graduate school for a Master’s in Public Administration at OU while being a graduate assistantship for OU’s faculty athletic representative. I will also be coaching with St. Gregory’s University. SGU is a private NAIA school in Shawnee, Oklahoma whose head coach was one of the coaches that recruited me at Kansas, a former OU great, DJ Mathis-Sanchez.

After these experiences come to an end, I hope to have a better idea if my career will be more geared towards coaching or athletic administration, but hopefully both. J

Justin’s World: Let’s end with my favorite question; if you’ve read any of my previous interviews, you may have been expecting this one. Say you were stranded on a deserted island for an undetermined period of time, but you can take three things with you. Anything tangible goes, except boats and phones (they’re off-limits). What would you take?
Maddie Stein: My best friend Tori, a medicine kit, and a knife. 

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