Madison Knight Is Eager To Lead Syracuse Back To NCAAs
Madison Knight noticed something familiar about Shannon Doepking when her recruiting process with Syracuse began. The way Doepking spoke about her aspirations for the Orange’s program and what she expected out of an eventual Atlantic Coast Conference softball player sounded like the words Knight's father said to her while she was growing up.
Knight’s dad coached her for seven years of her youth softball career while she played with “a very, very local team in Maryland.”
The two-time Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year listened as Doepking pitched to her a family-like environment at Syracuse, one that would eventually translate into ACC Tournament wins and an NCAA Tournament berth, a position the Orange haven’t been in since 2012. Doepking talked with Knight as if they were equals.
Knight fell in love with the program. Syracuse's beautiful campus and the university having her exercise science major capped it off for her.
“She was talking to me about what she wanted to do with the team,” Knight said. “Her goals really suited what I wanted in a college program.”
Knight committed to the Orange over multiple Top 25 schools, including some in the SEC and ACC. Instead, she chose Syracuse, a program entering its fourth year under Doepking that won its first ACC Tournament game ever last May.
Knight’s dad played baseball in college and knows what it takes to be a successful Division I athlete. He instilled that knowledge into Knight as she progressed as a threat in the circle and at the plate. Originally with the local team in Maryland, Knight’s skills soon became recognized across the state of Maryland. Prior to her age 14 season, she joined an All-American team that competed in tournaments as far as Florida and Oklahoma. Then, she became a member of a Northeast team that competed across the country.
Eventually, one of the other parents on that team threw out the idea of forming their own travel team, which would end up being called the PA Chaos. Nicknamed “Mayday,” Knight would go on to help the Chaos win Team NJ and the Virginia Glory Strikeout Cancer Invitational tournaments, while finishing fifth at the World Fastpitch Championship and ninth at the Boulder IDT. Knight, who was at one point cut from her 10U travel team, was on her way to becoming a nationally-recognized prospect.
Knight committed to Syracuse under then-pitching coach Michael Steuerwald. But after the 2021 season, Steuerwald didn’t return to the team (he’s now the associate athletic director and softball head coach at Gaston College).
“When the switch happened, I obviously got nervous,” Knight said. “I just committed to two different coaches, and I don't know who these two new girls are.”
Syracuse brought in former star Sydney O’Hara as the new pitching coach shortly afterward. O’Hara reached out to Knight about every other week throughout the next year to reassure her about coming to Syracuse. O’Hara has helped Knight’s mentality while in the circle, helping her work through her negative thoughts following a bad pitch.
Knight is unique on the mound. The nearly 6-foot freshman tops out at 65 mph in the circle. While she doesn’t have a drop ball—she’s more of a left-to-right pitcher with a curveball and a screwball—she can paint each corner. According to what she’s heard from teammates, Knight is stoic in the circle. She doesn’t break character or crack to show any signs of emotion until she strikes a batter out.
“It's not me at all,” Knight said. “When I see videos and pictures of me pitching, I don't know who that is.”
The pitcher and outfielder is still working through the imperfections within her game. There’s still plenty to work on, she says, but her coaching staff is hard at work to help her navigate her physical, mental and emotional growth as a college softball player.
“We're trying to make it to a regional,” Knight said. “We have these big goals that we're trying to set. So once we achieve them, they’re second nature.”