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The Falcons have finished second in district play in each of the last two seasons and are hoping this is the year they break through. Coach Morgan Hunter will have plenty of talent at her disposal.
Key returners from last year’s 28-15 Area finalist are junior Jackie Onyechi (2.1 kills per set, .346 hitting percentage, 101 total blocks), and seniors Koryn Johnson (2.1 kills per set, 2.7 digs per set, 53 total blocks) and Chloe Howard (4.1 assists per set).
Keep an eye on juniors Mikaela Mendoza (1.2 kills per set, 0.8 digs per set) and Brinleigh Davis (3.3 assists per set), and sophomore Brooke Barnes (1.6 kills per set).
AS A SIX-YEAR-OLD, ELLA MCDOWELL HURT THE FEELINGS OF DADS IN THE YOUTH BASEBALL LEAGUE SHE PLAYED IN. ENOUGH TO WHERE, AFTER TWO YEARS, SHE WAS TOLD SHE COULDN’ T PLAY WITH THEM ANYMORE.
“I hit the ball hard. I smoked that little baseball,” said McDowell, now a sophomore at Foster. “That’s why dads didn’t like me. I’d hurt their kids because they didn’t know how to field it. But baseball taught me to prove everyone wrong. You have to have a drive inside of you, and I have that. That’s what baseball helped me with.”
After reluctantly transitioning from baseball to softball, McDowell’s desire and persistence brought her to where she is now, ranked No. 3 in Extra Innings’ Class of 2024 national rankings and No. 1 at her middle infield position.
Playing shortstop and hitting cleanup, McDowell enjoyed a phenomenal freshman campaign for the Falcons last year, hitting .541 with a .605 on-base percentage, 61 RBIs, 17 home runs, and a .978 fielding percentage. She draws raves for her high IQ, grit, speed and power.
McDowell has it all. “I just go out there and have fun,” she said. “I’m not trying to live up to the hype. As long as I’m happy with how I’m playing, I feel that’s all that matters to me.
“I’m a really happy person. I may be getting noticed and have these accolades, but I’m still the same person, having fun, smiling from ear to ear on that field. I love this game.”
McDowell has such confidence that it can be misconstrued as cockiness. But even she admits she was shocked by last year’s production.
“I had never hit that many home runs in my life,” she said. “It was crazy.”
Her power has been evident ever since she was slugging pitches from overmatched boys years ago.
McDowell credited her power prowess last season to being relaxed in the box and not overthinking.
“Breathe,” McDowell said. “See ball, hit ball. Have fun.”
Even when teams adjusted to the way they pitched her—McDowell said she did not see an inside pitch after the first couple of games—she made the proper adjustments and learned to take what was given to her.
“It came down to pitch selection,” McDowell said. “Being patient at the plate. It’s really hard, because I want to swing at everything, but you’ve just got to wait sometimes. Find the right one.”
McDowell wants to get to at least the third round of the playoffs this season, somewhere the program has never been. She wants it for the seniors. Personally, she wants to live up to what she did last season, if not better it.
Prove that last year was no fluke.
“There’s definitely pressure,” McDowell said. “Eyes on you at all times, seeing what your next move is, how you perform. I’ve just got to keep it under control. There’s no bigger pressure than the pressure I put on myself. I just keep working.
“I’m still the underdog, in my eyes. I still want to be the best. Obviously, the best softball player, but also the best friend on the field, the best teammate in the dugout, the best kid our coach has ever coached.