Cultivating An Opportunity
May 12, 2010
By Larry Watts
She is the farmer's daughter. But in the eyes of head coach Chandelle Schulte, Maggie Strange is one of the valuable seeds she has planted in hopes of turning around the fortunes of the University of Wisconsin softball program.
Strange, who was raised on a 100-acre farm in the small town of Gallatin, Mo. (population 1,500) is one of eight freshmen on the Badgers' roster this spring. Adding six more freshmen to the crop next year, the Badgers are trying to grow into a contender in the Big Ten, where they have never finished higher than fourth in 15 years of play.
Strange, a 5-foot-9 catcher, is no stranger to the growth process. On her farm, she has helped raise cattle, sheep, horses and dogs.
"We had around 25 head of cattle, 75 head of sheep and 27 horses at one time," he says. "We're pretty much a market-producing farm, selling the cattle and sheep to be butchered. All of the sheep that can reproduce have been sold, but I still have some of my old show lambs."
Strange has been showing sheep at fairs for nearly 13 years. She also showed some cattle for a little while and did some rodeo events with the horses.
"Just riding around the barrels for time and stuff like that, no cattle roping," she says. "I primarily stuck to showing the sheep and playing softball."
According to Strange, a day on the farm usually began around 6 a.m., when she would go out and help her father with the chores. When it was time to shear the sheep, she would usually have to set aside four or five hours.
"For me, I just love being outside," she says. "When it comes to doing things around a farm, it all comes down to dedication, just like in softball."
Strange began playing competitive softball when she was 8. At 16, she and good friend Lacey Dixon, who is a year older and is now a standout pitcher at Johnson County (Kan.) Community College, joined the K.C. Zephyrs during the summer and her game really started to blossom.
"That's when I started realizing my potential," she says. "When Lacey and I were together at Gallatin High School, we made it to the state quarterfinals all three years. Until we did it the first time, Gallatin had never made it past the district round in 15 years."
But the size of her high school (56 in her graduating class) made it tough to get noticed. Her best option was while playing traveling ball with the Zephyrs during the summer.
"I was probably recruited more off my play with the Zephyrs," she says. "There really hasn't been a lot of outstanding softball players come out of northwest Missouri. The coaches really didn't start noticing me until late. I had some offers from small Division I schools, like South Dakota State, the University of Missouri in Kansas City, Missouri Western and Northwest Missouri State University. Wisconsin didn't come in until the middle of my senior year."
According to Strange, she happened to be in the right place at the right time when Wisconsin came calling. One of her coaches on the Zephyrs at the time was former Wisconsin player Livi Abney, who told her a spot had just opened on the team.
"Livi told me she would talk to the coaches for me," Strange says. "I also knew (Badger assistant) Roanna Brazier from camp in Tennessee. It really helped to know the right people."
Strange jumped at the chance to play for Wisconsin although she admits the transition to Madison from Gallatin has been a real eye-opener.
"It's all farming in my town," she says. "We have one gas station, two restaurants, one bar and a 13-room motel. The nearest fast food is 25 minutes away and the nearest mall is a two-hour drive.
"Here (in Madison), you have everything. My graduating class had 56 people and there are more than that on the floor of my dorm! It's a 15-minute ride on my scooter to the mall and there are fast food joints all over the place. But, of course, we (softball players) don't go to the fast food joints."
On the softball diamond, Strange has been thrown right into the thick of the mix, starting all but two games. Although she has struggled with her batting average, she has not let it affect her play behind the plate and the way she handles the Wisconsin pitching staff.
"It hasn't been the greatest year, but I feel as though I have held my ground as a freshman starter," she says. "This is a very young team and, obviously, it's a big transition for all of us. I have the confidence I can be successful as long as I stick with it and the two seniors (Letty Olivarez and Katie Soderberg) have been a great help to all of us.
"People say the biggest thing for a catcher to do is make the pitcher look good, but that comes naturally to me. I think the hardest thing is the whole mental aspect. You're playing for yourself, the pitcher and the team, so it's important to keep a level mind and not show your emotions. That's something I'm always working on."
With so many freshmen on the roster, Strange knows the Badgers will take their share of lumps. However, she sees a bright future for the Wisconsin program.
"We're going through our growing pains, but this team is also turning the page in Wisconsin history," she says. "We're all here to make a difference."
Strange intends to major in communication arts at Wisconsin, hoping to work in the sports media some day.
"My mother was an English teacher for 33 years and she really got me into this stuff," she says. "But I still plan on working in agriculture when I'm done with school; I want to get back to the farm as much as possible."
Strange will be heading back to the farm this summer, where she intends to buy some lambs and start showing again and raise some dogs. They are currently raising Labrador retrievers, beagles and Blue Heelers (Australian cattle dogs).
"This is going to be a summer where I focus on me," she says. "Other than coaching my summer high school team, I will be taking the summer off to rest my body. It will be nice to have a few months off."