When the Verona softball team steps on the field Thursday, May 30, for its WIAA Division 1 sectional game, the Wildcats will do so behind Meghan Anderson and Molly McChesney.
It will be the last hurrah for the co-players of the year in the Big Eight, who were starters on the 2016 team that lost 7-1 to state runner-up Watertown in the quarterfinals.
Anderson, a Division II pitching recruit to Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., has already accomplished two of the three goals she set coming into this season.
With 197 strikeouts to date this year, she surpassed Emma Ray to became the school’s all-time strikeout leader in the 43-foot era. And at 21-4, the Wildcats have already won three more games than they did last season.
That leaves just the goal of a return trip to get back to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament, which Verona can do with a win over second-seeded Sun Prairie, the defending state champion, or third-seeded Onalaska on Thursday. Three of Verona’s five losses last season came against defending state champion Sun Prairie, but the Wildcats have beaten the Cardinals twice this season.
While Anderson has been mowing down hitters all year for the Wildcats – posting a 1.72 ERA over 126 innings and a 20-2 record – McChesney has been lights out in center field and the top of the order.
She leads the team in batting average (.607), base hits (54) and runs scored (50).
She credited part of her success the past two seasons to what she called a super simple recruitment process as she verbally committed to play at the University of Akron in September of her junior year.
“It was a huge weight off my shoulders,” McChesney said. “I felt like I could actually focus on school and enjoying the game, rather than the pressure of always having to be perfect.”
Anderson, aka Megatron, has grown from a shy freshman to one of the loudest girls in the dugout over the last four years.
“Coach Todd (Anderson) gave me that nickname,” Anderson said. “He always called me that when I was on the mound because he said I was a different person when I was out there.”
Anderson took three college visits to Duluth, Madison College and Northern State University, which discovered her through an online recruiting service.
“They were never really on my radar; I was just hoping for an opportunity,” Anderson said. “Out of the blue, I got a call from the coach, and I knew right then and there that she was the one I wanted to play for. She was just so family oriented. It was such a team environment when I there for my visit.”
Anderson said she set the goal of playing collegiately in seventh grade.
“I didn’t really think about it much. I thought, if you played you were going to get in,” she said. “I didn’t realize how hard it was and how much work you had to put in.”
Anderson joined the Iowa Premiere team last year and said after that, she realized how much I wanted to play after high school.
She’ll continue her career in a small town of more than 26,000 in the fall.
“If you want to go somewhere and you want to be famous, they told me that was the place to go,” Anderson said. “It’s a small, little town, but everybody knows who you are.”
That kind of spotlight is the last thing Anderson would have cherished four years ago.
“My freshman year, I remember being super scared,” she said. “I just wanted to fit in. Now, I’ve made so many friends. It’s just such an amazing team. I think I have gotten better as a player and a person.”
‘A perfect fit’
The goal for McChesney, as with many young athletes, has always been to play at the highest level of Division 1 athletics.
McChesney transitioned from a local club to a more competitive club team, the Wisconsin Bandits, for her freshman year, and she said she was able to use that experience to build connections with other coaches and play in larger tournaments.
“I feel like that has had a big impact,” she said. “We do a lot of traveling, so that opened up a lot of schools.”
McChesney said she started her recruitment process with an open mind about which conference she wanted to play in and how far away she wanted to be from home.
“I think the Midwest was the goal, in case something happened and I needed to get back right away, but I guess I didn’t really have much of a preference,” she said. “I just wanted to see what was the best fit academically and athletically.”
As she started to narrow down her list of schools, she had interest from Kent State, Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois and a couple of junior colleges.
The recruitment process moved quickly once McChesney met the Zags coaching staff at a camp. They asked her to visit the Akron campus, about an 8 ½ hour drive from Verona, and she committed shortly after.
“The second I got there, I really got a chance to talk to the coaches about their coaching style,” she said. “They really use speed and I feel like I can bring that to the team. Akron just seemed like a perfect fit when I got there, the first time on campus.”
A town of 197,846, Akron is famously the hometown of NBA superstar LeBron James.
“He’s on campus a lot during the summer. He does a lot of charity stuff,” McChesney said. “Meeting him would be pretty cool.”
She said despite being part of a recruiting class of “eight or nine,” she hopes to make a difference right away. She said she can play wherever needed, infield or outfield.
“With my speed, I think they could use me to the best of my ability in the outfield,” she said.