Rock Chalk Weekly: The Full Experience
Written by Austin Karp, Kansas Communications Student Assistant
In the morning, Maddie Stein will walk through the athletic offices and be able strike up a conversation with any passing student-athlete or employee; in the afternoon, she’s the vocal leader on the Jayhawk softball team that has raced out to the best start in program history. However, it’s Stein’s experience and involvement between working and playing that define the kind of person she is.
A day in the life of Stein begins in the Kansas Athletics communications office as a member of the student staff. Her day-to-day responsibilities consist of everything from filing player and coach’s profiles like Wilt Chamberlain and Forrest ‘Phog’ Allen, to writing feature stories on both former and current athletes.
Her day then continues after a short lunch break, when Stein heads out to the newly-constructed Arrocha Ballpark at Rock Chalk Park for softball practice. Stein serves as one of the outspoken leaders on the Jayhawk softball team that continues to break old records and set new ones.
One of the most notable team accomplisments so far this season was a 4-2 victory over Illinois State (2/20), which lifted the Jayhawks record to 12-0, setting a new program-record for best start in school history. Additionally, the Jayhawks earned themselves a spot in the ESPN.com Top-25 rankings for the first time since 2011 and debuted at No. 8 in the initial RPI rankings Monday. Individually, Stein established a new career mark for RBI when she drove in No. 141 on a game-winning, solo home run against Georgia State Sunday.
Before Stein developed into an all-around leader for the Jayhawks, the roots of her success began from a young age. Stein started playing club softball on an array of different teams that were nationally competitive. She got to travel to Canada, among many places around the country, playing the sport she loved. Topping it all off was when her teams won the 16U Canada Cup in 2006, AFA 16U Nationals in 2007 and USSSA 18U Nationals in 2009. Despite the costs associated with participating in club softball, her family found ways to put her down the path to follow her dreams of playing at the college level.
“I’m fortunate enough that my parents always figured out a way to send me because I didn’t grow up in a family which was well off,” Stein said. “They didn’t really get the opportunities to travel to my games until I got to my senior year, but they always made sure I went. Being in college now and looking back, that’s what drives me the most because I know the financial investment my family put in me for me to be in this position. That comes from club softball and them sending me to all of these places to follow my dream.”
Stein knew she wanted to take her talents elsewhere, but she didn’t know where. The recruiting process was slow and tedious. When one school would express interest in Stein, she started getting interest from other schools, but she was eventually able to narrow her choices down to Kansas and Tulsa.
“The experience that KU could give me could not be matched by anything,” Stein said. “Tulsa would have been nice for me to stay close to home, I’m really glad I decided to branch out. I also knew that the Kansas softball program gave me a chance to fight for a starting spot right away in my first year. I wanted to be able to make an impact on a program. I’ve gotten everything I could have asked for by coming to KU.”
It didn’t take long for Stein to grow into her ideal role at Kansas. After her freshman campaign, she was voted the team’s Rookie of the Year, then after her sophomore season Stein was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team. Now, she is one of four key seniors on this year’s squad. This season’s roster, in particular, carries around a special feeling with it. With several come-from-behind victories, a pair of walk-off winners, and one-run thrillers, the opening month of the 2015 season has been nothing short of magical for the Jayhawks.
“The biggest difference is that we’re coming out of the gate really strong,” Stein said. “We don’t have to workout a lot of wrinkles and kinks. We don’t have to go through a lot of hardships to get to the final product. We’re already at a really competitive place now and we’re just going to get better because we’re playing at that high level. We’re going to know how to handle things when we get to Big 12 play.”
Coming off of last season’s tournament berth, Stein believes that this team better understands what it takes to get to the next level. As a result, the experience on this year’s roster has played a key role in the team’s early success.
“I’d say the biggest thing is finally having the knowledge that we came off of attending a regional, having that respect, and knowing what it takes to get to there as opposed to trying to find it,” Stein said. “I know that since Coach (Megan) Smith has been here, she’s been trying to get us to the postseason and every year we’ve tried to figure out what it is that will get us in. Last year, we knew what it took and this year we’re already on that. So the experience of going to the post season, combined with almost all of us coming back, sets the standard, high.”
If the standards weren’t already high enough, playing in front of a crowd at a newly-built ballpark has elevated those feelings. In the spring of 2014, Kansas Athletics unveiled one of the top facilities in all of collegiate athletics when it opened Rock Chalk Park. The new home of Jayhawk softball is a 1,100-seat stadium, which rivals the other Big 12 schools as one of the premier facilities in the conference.
“We’re practicing out there every day,” Stein said. “It’s going to be way more comfortable, it’ll be a better fan experience, we’ll have more retained fans and even new fans coming in. I think it’s going to be exciting to actually feel like we’re going to have a stable support system behind us. It’s going to be easy to come to and it’ll be enjoyable. We’re playing in the best stadium in the Big 12 and that’ll be nice to show it off.”
Stein knew she would best position herself to pursue her goals both on the field by choosing Kansas. However, as a full time student-athlete, finding opportunities to get involved in outside organizations and develop leadership skills elsewhere becomes extremely limited.
Fortunately, in the midst of her final semester before graduation, Stein reached out to the Sports Management department and they helped her land her ideal internship with KU Athletics. When they offered her the position, she knew it would be a perfect fit for her future.
“Originally, I knew that this internship with KU Athletics would be great because they would understand my schedule, the amount of time I could give, and just the overall flexibility as well,” Stein said. “I liked this one the most because they gave me the ability to not just write stories and enhance my communication skills, but I also get to learn how to use Photoshop, InDesign, and social media.”
Prior to this semester, Stein was forced to take specific classes at precise times during the day to allocate proper time for daily softball practice. Now, having to devote almost all of her time to working in the communications office and tending to softball obligations, pose new challenges for her.
“Usually when I had classes, I would be exhausted and I had time for a lunch break or a nap in between practice and class or vice versa,” Stein said. “Now, I’m coming to work at 9 a.m., and leaving at noon, then heading over to practice after I grab some lunch. It’s definitely getting me accustomed to the true 8-5 workdays. It’s kind of scary, but it’s also nice because it’s preparing me for my future.”
In the midst of her heavy involvement in both the communications department and the softball program, Stein discovered an opportunity to make a difference in the KU Athletics community, too. During this past academic year, Stein was elected as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC). SAAC aims to generate involvement within the KU athletic department connecting student athletes to those that support student athletes on a daily basis.
SAAC has 40-plus active members and includes at least one student-athlete across all 18 sports. The main goal is to make a difference in the athletic department through efforts of giving back to the community primarily through community service. Stein runs the SAAC executive board and she leads the charge in finding new way to increase involvement across all other sports, as well as create personal development for every Kansas student-athlete.
“As the president, I try to encourage just about everyone to come,” Stein said. “We try to make everything interesting and relevant to get the involvement that we need, as well as show that it’s a great thing to be part of. We interact with a ton of different people. Anyway that we can make the overall experience better for Kansas student-athletes, we’ll interact with someone who touches that.”
Her outstanding leadership as exemplified through SAAC has opened up newer and bigger roles to make a lasting impact at not just Kansas, but the entire Big12 Conference. This past January, Stein was one of three Big 12 student-athletes selected to represent the conference at the 2015 NCAA convention in Washington, D.C.
At the three-day convention, Stein worked with the autonomy governing structure under the power five conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC). Stein collaborated along with Ty Darlington (Oklahoma Football) and Anthony Lyons (Texas Tech baseball) and took part in a voting forum, which allowed the student-athletes to offer their perspective to sway things one-way or the other. Her overall takeaways from this incredible experience gave Stein a deeper appreciation for the Big 12 and further carved her career path.
“I think the best thing that came out of it was the conversation in my conference I got to have,” Stein said. “Just seeing that although we compete from an athletic standpoint, and even with student involvement and academics, everyone wants to be the best, but we all put that aside, to get the best for each student-athlete. After that conference, I would say it solidified me in wanting to stay in collegiate athletics and specifically, to go into administration.”
Following her successful softball career, Stein intends on returning home to Oklahoma to obtain a Master’s in public administration or in adult higher education. Ideally, she wants to complete a graduate assistantship within the University of Oklahoma athletic department.
“I’m going through the whole process now,” Stein said. “I definitely want to go to grad school and eventually, after that, I want to work in collegiate athletics.”
Before she chases her next goal in life, Stein aims to make one more trip to the NCAA tournament. Through the non-conference portion of the schedule, Stein and the Jayhawks are making a strong case to do just that, storming out to a 29-2 record, with the first 23 games being played away from their new home. Individually, Stein has started in all 31 games and launched her first career walk-off grand slam two weeks ago before being named the Big 12 Conference’s Player of the Week Tuesday (3/24).
Stein and the Jayhawks now turn their focus to conference play. On the horizon is the conference home opener at Rock Chalk Park, versus the Texas Longhorns, March 27-29. There is no doubt Stein will be working and playing hard for three Jayhawk wins in that series.
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Inside this week’s issue:
- Faces in the Crowd
- Bird’s Eye View
- Rowing Season Outlook
- A Look Back
- Fuel Recipe of the Week
- OAJ: Gilbert Brown
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