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Sydney McKinney And Wichita State Want To Shock The World

(Photo courtesy of Wichita State Athletics)

The 2021 NCAA Softball Tournament run for the Oklahoma Sooners helped showcase their unstoppable offense and will to win. The Sooners ultimately won their fifth national championship and went down as one of the most talented college teams ever. However, it was not exactly a smooth ride to the top for them, thanks in large part to Sydney McKinney and Wichita State.

Oklahoma gave up 12 runs in two NCAA Tournament games against the Shockers, and McKinney, Wichita State's first-ever All-American, played a big part in that effort.

But that came as no surprise to those who know the reigning American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and her game.

McKinney, who has two seasons of NCAA eligibility left including the 2022 campaign, set program highs last year for hits with 87 and batted .439. She also only had four strikeouts the entire season in 198 at-bats. In total, she has only struck out 29 times in her college softball career to date.

And so far this season, she has zero whiffs in five games, and is batting .600 with nine hits in 15 at-bats.

All of these stats for Wichita State almost did not come to be, however. At age 15, McKinney committed to the University of Missouri, which is just over an hour and a half from her hometown of Norborne, Mo. It wasn’t until she entered the transfer portal before her collegiate career even began that she ended up choosing to head to Wichita.

“Growing up on my travel ball teams, I always remember Coach B (Shockers head coach Kristi Bredbenner) being at our games recruiting and seeing her,” said McKinney. “So when I wanted to transfer, I had heard from the softball world, softball people, that the Shockers are the underdogs, that they like to get dirty, they like to win, they know how to win and they are up-and-coming. So that’s what really drew me to them.”

And it was a decision that has worked out well for McKinney and the Shockers. Wichita State is coming off a 41-win season in 2021, which marked the program’s highest win total since 2005 when they were led by current Florida head coach Tim Walton. This year, the Shockers are looking for back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in program history.

In an effort to get back to the NCAA Tournament this year, McKinney and the Shockers are trying to follow the advice of their head coach.

“She’s a big ‘control the controllables’ type of coach,” said McKinney. “And most of the time, when we do that, we have success.”

Bredbenner is not the only person who gives advice to her team, however. The Shockers also learn from Ted Lasso, the main character from the comedy/drama television series, Ted Lasso. It all began before the 2021 season, when, according to McKinney, the team was divided up into cliques. In order to help fix the problem, Bredbenner had everyone watch episodes of Ted Lasso as a team, not only to bond, but also to learn from the show. McKinney says it made all the difference.

“Ted Lasso really focused on not only life problems, but it also really encompassed what we were going through,” said McKinney. “(Bredbenner) would ask these questions afterward like, ‘What was the purpose of this episode? How can it apply to us?’”

The team also makes sure to have some fun along the way through a tradition started by sophomore Madyson Espinosa. While on a team road trip, Espinosa asked Bredbenner to pick up some Hi-Chew from the grocery store. Soon after, the Japanese fruit candy became the most popular treat in the Shockers' clubhouse. And eventually, it became a reward for hitting a home run.

With the lessons of Ted Lasso, the fun brought about by home-run rewards and the undeniable success of players like McKinney, the future for the Shockers certainly seems bright.

“I’m interested and excited to see the new people hop in and for us to all play together and show everybody what we got,” McKinney said. “We’re going to go out there and upset some teams and play our best.”

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