They say you only get one chance to make a first impression.
Madeline Rider made the most of her opportunity.
Rider tells the story of a showcase softball tournament last October in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Rider stepped up to the plate and on the first swing, smacked a home run ... right in front of Western Kentucky head coach Amy Tudor.
That set the wheels in motion for Rider to sign a National Letter of Intent for the Harrisburg senior to continue her softball career at WKU next season.
Following the showcase, a softball camp and an unofficial visit to the Bowling Green, Ky., campus, Rider didn't waste much time in making her decision.
"Coach Tudor happened to be watching our Sunday morning showcase game in Chattanooga. She still needed a 2019 shortstop and I had a good game, made contact with the ball, hit a home run, and made some good defensive plays. Coach Tudor expressed interest to my travel coach, Brett Sullivan. After Chattanooga, I signed up for a winter softball camp at WKU. I wasn't familiar with Western, but had done some research online and was really excited to attend the day camp and see the campus in person. I fell in love with the campus. I was surprised at the size of the school with a total enrollment of 20,000 students. Coach Sullivan stayed in touch with Coach Tudor on my behalf, and that eventually led to her reaching out to invite my family and me for an unofficial visit in January. My family and I were able to watch the softball team practice and were given a detailed tour of the athletic facilities. After the tour, we had a meeting with Coach Tudor. She communicated to us what she looks for in a player. She explained her expectations for her players and the overall program. She even assured me that being a 3-sport athlete was something she liked. As I was listening, I felt strongly that Western was the right fit for me. I verbally committed to Western the following day."
This past season, Rider had 54 hits and 51 runs scored. She smacked in 41 runs while hitting a school record 11 home runs with nine doubles and three triples. She ended with a .425 average and on the day she signed with WKU, joined teammate Karsyn Davis, who signed to play softball at SEMO and fellow classmate Devin Butler, who will be a part of SIU's first women's soccer program.
Rider, who is a 3-sport athlete, said that playing softball in college has always been her dream, but also admitted there were times she wasn't sure if that was going to happen.
"Harrisburg's volleyball and basketball teams put in a lot of work over the summer and participating in both sports prevented me from solely focusing on travel softball, which is often what it takes to improve your game and be seen."
Rider noted that her confidence at shortstop will set her apart from other players at WKU, but did say there were still areas of her game that need to improve.
"If I had to choose one thing I'm most proud of about softball is the way I play my position in the field. When I was a little girl my dad taught me to throw the ball the same way (Harrisburg baseball head coach Jay) Thompson taught him. Of course, I make mistakes, but I feel confident as a shortstop. I have reached my goal of throwing 70mph, but need to continue to set goals for consistency, quickness, and speed. I will continue to condition and train for softball year around. Having a good work ethic and putting in consistent and purposeful work will help me get ready for playing at the next level. This will be my job for the next four years. WKU has invested in me. I will do my job to make their investment worth it."
Rider, who is most proud of earning 12 varsity letters during her high school career, is undecided on a major but plans to earn her undergraduate degree at WKU and then begin a masters program soon after. Rider is a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta Mathematics Honor Society and carries a 4.1-grade point average. Rider is also Student Body Vice-President.
Spyder Dann covers prep and college sports for the Southern Illinois Local Media News Group. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter