For anyone who has suffered through a cold, drawn-out Wisconsin winter, there is little to brag about when describing the weather in the Midwest. While walking more than a quarter of a mile outside in early February is often a challenge, battling the harsh conditions of an often non-existent spring proves to be even more difficult for softball players. Such an unforgiving climate makes for a few months of almost solely indoor practices and numerous cross-country road trips for the Wisconsin softball team.
But Chino Hills, Calif., native Mary Massei wasn’t deterred at all by the unpredictable weather and grueling challenges of playing softball in the Midwest. Massei, now a junior at UW, was sure to make her rounds when deciding where to play Division I softball but knew from the moment she set foot in Madison it was a college town she wanted to be a part of. And who could blame her?
Massei began her softball career taking swings off a tee when she was just four years old. Softball was the first sport she played, and as she picked up and dropped other sports along the way, it would be the one to stick.
Following the lead of her older sisters, Alicia, who played Division I softball at the University of San Diego, and Selena, who played high school softball, Massei recognized early on that softball was her sport. She stopped playing soccer in eighth grade and focused much of her attention on softball entering high school.
After an impressive freshman campaign in which she was named the league’s hitting leader and won the Top Rookie Award, Massei realized her potential of playing at the next level. In her sophomore year, she began sending recruiting letters to schools that interested her.
Thanks to the success and development Massei had while playing in high school, her transition to facing college competition was a piece of cake.
“She comes from an outstanding organization off the West Coast that obviously prepared her for Division I softball. Her swing has always been pretty good,” UW hitting coach Randy Schneider said. “[Massei] is a kid that gets on plane [with the ball] and stays on plane. We haven’t really done a lot with her swing. It’s been more just fine-tuning it.”
“[Massei] has seen a lot of great pitching growing up,” added head coach Yvette Healy. “She comes from one of the best programs in California.”
While, presumably, the majority of her skills were honed in high school, Massei credits her dad for teaching her the fundamentals of softball at a young age.
“He was my coach for a long time, up until I was about 12 [years-old].”
And even to this day, she still talks softball with her first coach.
“[My dad] texts me every day before gameday and gives me inspirational quotes,” Massei said, grinning.
Massei hopes to coach a daughter someday just like her dad did with her.
Following her first two seasons at Wisconsin in which she was named second-team All-Big Ten, UW’s Five-Tool Player Award winner and a Big Ten Academic All-Conference Team selection, Massei approached this season looking to improve her offensive game.
“Last season there were some weekends where I was not playing well and it was consistent for a while,” Massei said. “My mindset coming into this season was to make quicker adjustments.”
She did just that, posting her best season to date.
Massei set a Wisconsin single-season record for hits April 26 against Indiana as she led off the game with a single. She currently leads the team in batting average (.429), runs (41), hits (69), triples (three) and on-base percentage (.489).
Despite her individual success, though, Massei is quick to recognize the rest of her teammates for their hard work as well.
“[My single-season hits record and the team’s success] definitely go hand in hand. I’m not hitting extra just on my own during the week,” Massei said. “A lot of the girls are putting in extra hours. The team is what makes it happen.”
Massei is a team player, someone who comes to the field ready to play hard every day. It is evident the humility she demonstrates on a daily basis resonates throughout the Wisconsin dugout.
“She’s really the kindest and most selfless person on this team. That makes her a great teammate,” senior left fielder Kendall Grimm said. “[She’s] willing to help us out and do everything she can to make us a better team.”
The manner in which Massei carries herself on the diamond is something any athlete can learn from. The passion she brings to each at-bat, diving catch and stolen base is a tangible attribute every athlete should strive to encompass.
While her work ethic, passion and humility are all desirable characteristics, Massei’s left field counterpart admires a different aspect of her skill set.
“I wish I could hit bombs like she can. If I could, I’d love to hit home runs,” Grimm joked.
While Massei isn’t one to verbally get on her teammates, she continues to fire the team up by making great defensive plays and recording clutch hits. She goes about her business and gets the team behind her through her play on the field.
Massei is always willing to put extra work in the outfield and take a few extra swings in the batting cage. Her work ethic is echoed through her play on the field and has led her to become a player that is circled, starred and boldened on opponents’ scouting reports. All of the attention is definitely earned.
“[Massei] works hard. She’s gotten better every year she’s been here,” Healy said. “She just wants to be a great teammate and really cares about the people around her.”
No. 25 Wisconsin (15-5 Big Ten, 38-9 overall) will look to improve on its nine-game win streak as it faces Michigan State (7-9, 22-23) for a three-game series beginning Friday. The weekend proves to be an important one for the Badgers as they try to fend off Nebraska, who currently sits just one-half game behind them in the Big Ten standings. Friday’s first pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Goodman Diamond.