by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Going into the 2019 Centennial Conference (CC) playoffs, the women’s softball team wasn’t widely expected to win, but it did have two secret weapons: pitchers Madison Milaszewski ’19 and Killian Kueny ’19. The only seniors on the team, they’d learned a lot about teamwork and grit during their four years as Dickinson pitchers, and they were eager to share it.
This story begins in 2015-16, their rookie season. Although the team didn’t make it to the playoffs, Kueny and Milaszewski were impressed by the leadership of their coaches and older teammates. But the following year, when the team fell into a slump, things got tough. The 2017-18 season presented more challenges as nine first-years joined the ranks and the Red Devils lost several games in a row by just one run.
“It was a really crucial developmental year,” says Kueny. “We had to get to know each other and how each other worked.”
Fast-forward to fall 2018: The time was right to up the game, and the team’s two seniors were ready. Milaszewski and Kueny had fine-tuned their leadership skills as part of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and the Hera Society, as well as through work as a sexual-violence peer educator (Milaszewski) and a Trout Gallery student ambassador (Kueny). In addition to attending Coach Matt Richwine’s weekly team leadership and general team meetings, they held regular preseason meetings to discuss team goals.
“We took the time to air any grievances so we could tackle them as a team and make sure they wouldn’t hinder us on the field,” says Kueny. “Then we could focus on getting everyone on the same page in terms of mindset—and what every practice would look like—to contribute to those goals.”
One focus: building healthy in-team competition. The seniors led by example. “If you’re able to see one person say, in a very positive way, ‘Hey, I think you can lift more in the weight room,’ or ‘I think you’re stronger than you’re letting yourself be,’ you realize that you can learn to do that too in a way that makes everyone better,” Milaszewski explains.
The team won two of its first three games 10-0. After that, three straight one-run setbacks only fueled its determination. “There was a dramatic change in the atmosphere,” Kueny says. “People were really giving their all.”
The team came out of spring break strong, starting the conference season 6-0. It became the first Dickinson softball team in eight years to make it to the Centennial Conference softball championship. Milaszewski was named tournament MVP and voted the CC Pitcher of the Year and later was named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Atlantic Region Team.
The team advanced to the NCAA regionals in Kentucky and posted an 8-2 win over Wilson College. Milaszewski struck out six straight batters and allowed just two hits. Then the team was defeated by SUNY Geneseo 6-2, despite Kueny allowing just three hits in the start and Milaszewski recording five strikeouts.
As disappointing as the loss was, it didn’t diminish a tremendous season or erase the lessons learned.
“We’ve learned to manage time, we’ve learned to set goals, to bounce back after adversity and to communicate with faculty, coaches and each other,” said Kueny, an American studies major who will apply those lessons during a fellowship at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., while Milaszewski, who earned a dual degree in biochemistry & molecular biology and biology, performs medical research at Genocea Biosciences in Cambridge, Mass. “Learning to work as a team toward a goal can be brought to bear way past college.”
Published August 15, 2019