Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
AKRON — Mikayla Newland is healthy and ready to rock and roll.
After suffering a season-ending shoulder injury during her freshman year of college, undergoing major surgery to fix that issue last April and withstanding 25 weeks of rehab, Akron’s sophomore pitcher is, once again, back in the circle.
Before the injury, Newland made 13 appearances and 10 starts for the Zips. In that time, she threw 49 innings and struck out 27 batters. Now, back at full strength, the Paint Valley alum hopes to improve upon those numbers and simply win games.
“After being injured the entire season last year, my goal this year is to bounce back and help my team win some games,” Newland said. “We’ve had a pretty exciting start. We have a lot of new, extremely talented players and I’m excited to see where this season takes us.”
Just four weeks into the season, the Zips are 6-7-2 overall with wins over Morgan State, Drexel, Holy Cross, George Mason and North Carolina AT&T State.
So far, Newland is still looking for her first win this year in 18 ⅓ innings of work. That win will certainly come but, in the meantime, she’s just enjoying the time she’s lucky enough to get on the diamond.
“At Akron, I’ve had to work harder than I’ve had to in my entire life,” Newland said. “However, what I’ve learned from the most was my injury. The time I get to spend on the field is much more valuable to me. I’ve learned to take the saying ‘Play every game like it’s your last,’ to heart.”
As a Bearcat, and as many area opponents hauntingly remember, Newland was virtually untouchable. She finished her high school career with 1,105 strikeouts, struck out 21 batters twice and had three 20 strikeout performances, earned four all-district honors and was a two-time All-Ohio honoree.
Since heading north, she’s continued to add to her armoire of pitches. She can throw heat, make hitters foolish with offspeed pitches or give the opposing lineup a mix of both.
Put simply, with a softball in her hand, she’s filthy.
“I throw a change-up, curve, screw, and a rise,” Newland said. “My favorite of those probably would have to be a change-up. I never really utilized my change-up until I got to college, but I’ve grown to love the pitch and have become very accurate with it. It helps to keep hitters off-balance and keeps them guessing at what’s coming next.”
It’s one thing to make contact with one of Newland’s pitches. It’s another to get the ball past the defense behind her. Newland said her teammates give her an extra shot of confidence while she’s on the rubber.
“When a hitter approaches the plate, I tell myself to not only hit my spot, but also that my defense has my back,” Newland said. “It’s been awesome to play for a team with such a great defense. I know that no matter what, they will make the play.”
When she’s not harassing hitters, she may be hanging out with her family … who have made sure they’ve followed the Zips religiously since her arrival on campus.
“It means the world to me that my family gets to come watch me play,” Newland said. “The fact that they would be able to do so actually played a huge role in my decision to play at Akron.”
Over the first 15 games this season, Newland has spent most of her time on the southeast coast as the Zips have competed in Clinton, S.C., Madeira Beach, Fla. and Macon, Ga.
Of those destinations, Madeira Beach stands above the rest.
“The fields were less than a mile from the beach, which was quite a view, especially in February,” Newland said of Madeira Beach. “Also, one of my favorite cousins lives less than ten minutes from the field, so I had tons of family there, which was an awesome experience.”
In the coming weeks, Akron will be competing against Morehead State, Green Bay and UT Martin in two tournaments in Kentucky and Tennessee. Then, on March 22, the Zips begin Mid-American Conference action at Ball State.
Newland says as the season rolls along, her and her teammates have goals they want to meet.
“We have a very strong team this year. We hope to make the MAC tournament and compete,” Newland said. “Then, we hope to win the tournament and make it to a regional while posting a winning record throughout all non-conference games as well.”