A year ago, Wichita State softball player Molly Baker started fall practice for her third college in three years. The constant change showed, especially on the basepaths.
“Baserunning, last year, was kind of scary,” she said. “I didn’t really know what I should be doing in which situations.”
That kind of uncertainty characterized Baker’s junior season at WSU. She played in 12 games, started four, and hit .222. Baker, an outfielder from Rose Hill, transferred to WSU from NCAA Division II Northwest Missouri State. She started her college career at Pratt Community College, where she hit .379 and drove in 50 runs in 2011.
This fall, Baker is one of WSU’s most improved players.
“You can really tell she worked very hard over the summer on her game, in every aspect,” WSU coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “She’s a completely different person. Last year at this time, Molly Baker was making base-running mistake after base-running mistake. She was so overwhelmed.”
Baker no longer feels like the new kid.
She understands how hard the coaches want her to work, especially outside of practice time. She retooled her swing to level it out and generate power with her legs. When she gets on base, as Bredbenner preaches, she formulates a plan for her next move.
“My hitting was a little jacked up,” she said. “I kind of had a golf swing — I was finishing real high. It’s more relaxing to be up at the plate this year.”
Baker is one of four seniors and she wants to leave on a high note, individually and as a team. WSU went 19-33 last season, 10-16 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“Her swing is better,” Bredbenner. “Her throws are better. Her outfield skills are better. She’s a kid who has completely turned herself around and made herself an option to get significant playing time.”
Hawkins, who signed with WSU in 2011, can play for Illinois State in 2014-15. He will, however, sit out the two regular-season meetings with the Shockers. For Hawkins, that outcome is more favorable than sitting out two seasons. That is the MVC’s policy regarding transfers within the conference. The MVC granted him partial relief from the rule.
Hawkins, a 6-foot-8 forward from Dayton, Ohio, was not cleared by the NCAA for academic eligibility and did not attend WSU. He will pay his own way at Illinois State and is not eligible this season as a non-qualifier. He cannot practice with the team. Should he earn his eligibility, he will have four seasons of eligibility starting in 2014-15.
WSU and coach Gregg Marshall had no input into the issue once it reached the MVC’s eligibility committee. WSU released Hawkins from his letter of intent in March. Marshall declined to say much about the MVC’s ruling.
“It doesn’t matter whether I’m pleased or not,” Marshall said.
Eight other MVC coaches likely possess mixed emotions about the ruling. In 2014-15, they must face an Illinois State team with Hawkins, while WSU will not.
Members of the track and field team spend odd hours at Cessna Stadium, where its locker rooms, meeting room and indoor workout areas for throwers are located, and those experiences prompted the fund-raiser. When it’s dark and when the wind makes spooky noises, it seems like the perfect place for a Halloween scare. Assistant coach John Wise said former equipment manager Joe Banks told stories about his coffee cup mysteriously moving.
“The original idea came from walking underneath Cessna Stadium and weird things happening,” Wise said. “If you ever walk through that stadium at night, with the lights out, it’s creepy. There’s always been a joke that it’s haunted.”
A tour guide will take the visitors through the stadium and to the pressbox and will take about 30 minutes.
Admission is $12 or $10 with a canned food for the Kansas Food Bank. WSU students get in for $8. Proceeds will benefit the track and field team.
All proceeds support breast cancer research. Tables are available for $500 and include a private reception from 5-6 p.m. For information call (316) 978-3267.