Six hours after her last game on the Wichita State softball team, Mackenzie Wright was still in uniform when the team arrived back home in Wichita.
The Shockers had just concluded arguably the most successful season in program history — ending with a 6-4 loss at Arkansas in a NCAA regional final — but Wright didn't want to accept that it was over.
Wright, a senior from Midwest City, Okla., came to the program with raw potential and left as the 2018 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and a three-time first-team all-conference selection, just the fourth player in program history to accomplish either feat. She has her name in the top 10 all-time list of 10 different statistical categories.
Her coach, Kristi Bredbenner, calls Wright an all-time "gamer" and snapped a picture of her still in her uniform hours later. It's a picture they can both be proud of.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"That sums up Kenzie in a nutshell," Bredbenner said. "She never wanted it to end and she left everything she had on the field. She did everything she could to keep the memories alive. At the end of the day, she gave us a chance to win every time she put on her cleats."
Wright said she had never cried during her Wichita State career, not even on her senior day. But in that moment, when she finally had to peel off the uniform one last time, her emotions got the better of her.
"I'm usually really (upset) when we lose, but in that moment I was really calm," Wright said. "I was looking back, reflecting. We had so many good memories here. It was awesome. I actually started crying because it just took over me, and I think things finally hit me."
Wright was part of a small senior class, which included Paige Luellen and Morgan Palmer, that helped WSU to a 32-23 record against the toughest schedule in program history. The Shockers spent much of the season inside the top 30 of the RPI and registered wins over Texas and Arkansas, a series win over Nebraska and a four-game season sweep of Oklahoma State.
While replacing the three seniors will be a tall task, WSU can keep building on this year's success with so much production returning for the 2019 season.
"I think us as seniors just figured out what kind of leadership style works best for our team," Wright said. "We always played better when we were loose and relaxed and having fun. If you're not having fun, then what's the point? Everyone just wanted it so bad this year. We all wanted to be that team that did something great for the school."
While Wright was a spark plug for WSU at the plate, perhaps her biggest contributions were with her glove at third base.
She made the difficult plays look routine, including several snags during the NCAA regionals that robbed opponents of hits. Her teammates still remember the diving play she made at Nebraska and the line drive she snagged against Central Florida.
"I don't think there's any doubt she's one of the best, especially defensively, to ever play in this program," Bredbenner said. "When the game was on the line, if there was one person you hoped the ball was hit to, she was the one."
Wright said she was nervous going into her senior year because she felt the pressure of delivering.
She responded by posting a .360 batting average with 63 hits, 39 runs scored, 16 runs batted in and a .455 on-base percentage. Those efforts earned Wright the AAC Player of the Year award, first-team all-conference honors at third base and second-team NCFA Central Region recognition.
Wright has already received interest about playing professionally overseas but wants to graduate with her degree first. A criminal justice major, she has one more semester left in the fall before she continues her softball career in another uniform.
But the memory of the last time she wore her Shockers uniform will always stay with her.
"I loved being in my uniform and I love being in my cleats," Wright said. "That was a really emotional day for me. It was something that I didn't want to let go. I wanted it to last forever and I'll always remember that."