Throughout the playing career of an athlete, there are many ups and hopefully not too many downs.
For 2017 Somonauk High School graduate Maddie Kawall, the journey to achieving lofty goals on both the high school and college levels started as a standout all-state performer in softball with the softball Bobcats in 2013-14. But that journey, unfortunately, got derailed for a time.
After two consecutive ACL knee injuries suffered playing basketball sidelined Kawall for the bulk of her junior and senior seasons at Somonauk, the speedy outfielder and tremendous slap-hitter was relegated to the bench for all of the 2016 season and most of the 2017 softball campaign.
Kawall was undeterred, however, and despite missing her first season on the diamond in 2017-18 for Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, she accepted red-shirt status. But after better than two years worth of surgeries and an exhausting period of mending, Kawall exploded on the college scene in 2018-19 with play so remarkable for the Chiefs that it recently helped earn her an NCAA Division I scholarship to play softball at Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky., beginning next spring.
Kawall's prep pinnacle of success was reached with Somonauk's second-place showing during the Class 1A softball playoffs in 2015 before battling the physical disappointment but ending up with a D-I chance to play with the Eagles for the next three college campaigns.
"Ever since I competed in softball as a young player, I often thought about getting to the highest level in college, and after I was injured after our great state run in 2015, I wasn't sure if I'd make it back to the kind of play I needed to get to in order to be successful in Division I softball," Kawall said. "Then I got hurt again in my senior season, and that really taught me how to maintain focus on the goal that I had.
"I worked hard to overcome some bad breaks, and here I am now, feeling great and looking forward to my time on the Division I level at Morehead State. I couldn't be happier."
Kawall's reemergence from the pain of two knee surgeries came this past college season with WCC, where she batted .403 with 58 hits, 40 runs scored, 23 runs batted in, 20 stolen bases and a .984 fielding percentage (one error) playing centerfield along with being an Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference unanimous First Team selection as well as a National Junior College Athletic Association Region Four Second Team pick. She was also a NJCAA Academic All-American selection.
Her amazing first-year college resume sparked the interest of Morehead State first-year head coach Samantha Jones — a University of Kentucky standout from 2008-11 — who completed a difficult 2018-19 campaign with the Eagles at 3-42 and 0-20 within the tough Ohio Valley Conference.
"It certainly was a tough year for us, but with players like Maddie coming in I know we'll turn things around," Jones said. "We were looking to find some junior college kids to help build our program, and Maddie came on our radar after a great year at Waubonsee.
"I think one of the things that stood out for me in terms of recruiting Maddie was she was so resilient after two crushing knee injuries. Her passion, determination and heart having to rebound after such devastating injuries made me take notice in how she responded with such a great season at her community college.
"I think she'll be a great addition to our outfield. I'm looking for players that are driven, and I believe we've found that in what Maddie will bring to us for the next three seasons."
Kawall — who will study biology — now joins her sister Ashlee (SHS class of 2013 and Evansville University softball standout), who also succeeded in representing Somonauk as a D-I athlete.
"After talking with Coach Jones and visiting the campus, I knew that Morehead State was where I needed to be," Maddie Kawall said. "It’s been a tough go with my injuries during the past couple of years, but I've come full circle and now I feel I'm back on top with my future in softball and academics.
"I'm looking forward for what lies ahead for me."