By Anna Pitingolo, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Madey Smith stepped foot on campus in the fall, she had no idea what she was about to be thrown into. A four-year letter winner at Warren Hills Regional High School in New Jersey, Smith came in highly touted but struggled in offseason workouts with the team.
"Coming in the fall, I struggled with our workouts, our conditioning, and everything so I think I've had a lot of mental progress from the fall to now," Smith said. "It's definitely helped me from the fall when I was struggling to now which I can get past and work through easier situations especially in the game or something like that."
After initially being surprised by Smith's struggles in August, head coach Amanda Lehotak has seen Smith make big strides since then.
"Smith came in and it's not a secret that she was not ready in the fall, we were kind of like 'what happened to you over the summer?'" Lehotak said. "But I give that kid 100% credit because she zoned it in and she has worked her tail off."
That perseverance is exactly why Lehotak felt ready to give Smith her first starting nod this past weekend in the George Washington Capital Classic. Smith's first career start also turned in to her first complete game, in which she had a career-high eight strikeouts and only gave up three hits.
"She has kind of been asking for the ball like and we were like 'you're not ready in practice, you need to do this, this and this' and every time we would give her a checklist she would hit it," Lehotak said. "So it was finally our time to be like 'okay, we have no more excuses on the coaching end to not give it to you.'"
Lehotak and company were pleasantly surprised with Smith's outing against GW, and so was Smith. She's been learning under veteran pitchers Marley Laubach and Maddie Seifert and has picked up one very important lesson from them: always compete.
"They've taught me to compete every inning and to never give up and just keep working as hard as you can because you're going to get your opportunity and that's exactly what happened [for me]," Smith said.
Now that the opportunity has presented itself to Smith, it's her top priority to hold on to it, something that Lehotak preaches to her players.
"We always talk about in life when you get an opportunity you better keep it and she kept it," Lehotak said. "As of right now she's arguably our ace going into the weekend, so it'll be interesting to see how she handles Michigan at Michigan."
Lehotak called Smith her hardest thrower on staff and, given that she's a freshman, when Smith is called upon in a game, she isn't overthinking or overanalyzing the moment--it's just "get on the mound and compete."
"The greatest thing about freshmen is they can kind of bring the sense of being fearless because they don't know any better," Lehotak said. "And then she's very different because she's our hardest thrower so the ball kind of gets on you quickly. She has probably the best rise ball on staff and right now her curve ball is pretty amazing."
Smith ended up at Penn State at her high school coach's insistence when the recruiting process began. During her first visit, she immediately thought it was "awesome," but didn't want to commit right away, especially since the coaches hadn't seen her play yet.
"As the fall went on, the coaches came and saw me so then I went and revisited Penn State to see if it was actually going to be my school," Smith said. "I went back and fell in love with it and I knew I was going to get a great education and I wanted to help the softball program, so it was a perfect fit."
As the Nittany Lions start the conference portion of the season this weekend in Ann Arbor, Smith is keeping a positive outlook moving forward. With assistant coach Sarah Sigrest, Laubach, and Seifert there to help her along the way, Smith is ready to go in the Big Ten.
"I'm just trying to keep calm going into the games and just having a good mindset and knowing that I can do it and knowing that my team has my back and just being confident always," Smith said.
Penn State will play three games against the No. 19 Wolverines this weekend with the first pitch of game one set for Friday at 4 p.m.