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Carpenter commits to Division I Charleston Southern

Seneca ace powers past sophomore year injury

Seneca's Maggie Carpenter winds and fires home during her freshman season as the ace of the Lady Irish.
Seneca's Maggie Carpenter winds and fires home during her freshman season as the ace of the Lady Irish.

From adversity rises greatness ... as well as a wealth of other adjectives that have helped define great athletes after a traumatic fall.

For Seneca softball player Maggie Carpenter, the rise back to prominence throwing in the circle for the Lady Irish was at best an iffy proposition after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in her right pitching elbow during summer travel softball between her freshman prep campaign and her sophomore season.

From there, Carpenter had to endure Tommy John surgery and countless hours, days, weeks and months of rehabilitation that cancelled out her second year of competition as the Lady Irish's ace hurler.

But she came out on the other end as a healthier, stronger and more determined athlete along with an NCAA Division I verbal commitment to play softball at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, S.C., once her freshman year in college comes-a-callin' as a Buccaneer top recruit entering the 2022-23 campaign.

On January 18 of this year — only a few days past the anniversary of her surgery which left her in doubt as to what was next — Carpenter flew to South Carolina and a couple weeks later verbally committed to be a part of head coach Venus Taylor's CSU program once she finishes off what is anticipated to be one of the finest pitching careers in SHS history.

"We arrived a day early so I could get a feel for the campus, and I fell in love as soon as we began touring," Carpenter said. "I attended camp the next day, and I felt it was a success.

"Coach Taylor and I continued to text back and forth for a couple of weeks, and I knew she was very interested in me. Mostly she recognized my perseverance after coming back from surgery. I received a phone call from her within two weeks of my visit, and she offered me a full ride.

"I'm very happy with the decision that I've made. Originally, I was just a little girl who put her heart into something she loved and wasn't afraid to dream big. Now it's gotten me to where I eventually want to end up in college, but I have so much more to prove with my team in high school before I finally get there."

That little girl's softball foundation was mentored by former Seneca and Illinois Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dan Stecken, who guided the Lady Irish to 321 wins over 14 seasons before retiring after the 2019 campaign. Stecken was Carpenter's softball coach since she began her amazing career when she first picked up a ball as an eight-year-old.

"From a very young age she was an energetic kid with a special attitude that, when I look back on after all the great players I've been fortunate enough to coach, Maggie has been one of the best," Stecken said. "There's a special aura around some kids that you've coached, and she definitely has that aura and character despite the misfortune she experienced with her injury last season.

"There's not many out there that can outwork her, and to see her back at the top of her game now after a terrible injury really makes me proud to see that she has a DI commitment wrapped up with two amazing high school seasons left yet in front of her."

Carpenter was one of the finest players throughout The Times area as a freshman in 2018, helping lead the Lady Irish to a school-record 33 wins against only four losses while recording an 18-3 mark in the circle through 126 innings pitched with a 2.36 earned-run average and 190 strikeouts. She also compiled a .306 batting average, knocking in 27 runs before Seneca's season ended in the sectional championship game. Carpenter also earned ICA Class 2A All-State Third Team honors as well as a Times Second Team nod.

After the amazing start to her prep career, Carpenter was selected to play for the ultra-elite Beverly Bandits travel softball program out of Chicago during the fall of 2018. At a tournament in November, the roof caved in on Carpenter, albeit temporarily.

"I stepped up to field a ball in the outfield, drew my arm back, crow-hopped, and then felt a snap in my right elbow," Carpenter said. "I went home that night, put some ice on it and went back the next day to play and finished out the tournament where I had a very successful weekend.

"Six weeks later, I was out in my garage hitting, and it popped again. My parents decided to take me to get an MRI which revealed a complete tear of the UCL in my right elbow, and I was going to need Tommy John surgery. I remember trying to prepare myself for what was coming and how difficult it was going to be."

But nothing could have prepared Carpenter for what was to come.

"I knew physically it was going to be hard… but the mental part was by far the hardest thing to deal with," Carpenter reflected. "When I first found out that I was going to miss my sophomore season in high school, one of the hardest things I had to do was to tell Coach Stecken. The feeling of heartbreak was unbelievable for me at the time. But I thank him for keeping my head on straight and not letting me become complacent.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without his support and incredible guidance."

Carpenter sat on a ball bucket right beside Stecken every game throughout her sophomore year.

After 10 months of hard work, physical therapy, sweat and tears, her incredible drive and will to become better than she was as a freshman finally started to pay off despite some bad days along the way.

Eventually, Carpenter was cleared to play travel ball in the later stages of 2019 and is now feeling better than ever, especially in the circle where she's blasting in fastballs at better than a 60-mile-an-hour clip along with a vast collection of other pitches in her arsenal that seem almost unhittable at times, according to Stecken and veteran softball coach and Seneca graduate Brian Holman, who took over for Stecken this year.

"Maggie's a different kind of athlete, not only with her pitching, but she's an awfully good hitter as well," Holman said. "Pitching-wise she has all those movements you like to see in high-level softball talent, and since the last time she's played in a high school game she's gotten so much bigger and stronger.

"She was hurt for darn near a year or better, but in our first week of practice you can see she's really ramped things up a few levels since her surgery and recovery. I can't wait to see what she can accomplish in every aspect of the game. To have a DI athlete on our team is pretty special for me as a coach coming in to take over for Dan.

"Maggie's got some amazing moments yet to realize in high school, that's for sure."

Carpenter can't wait to take the field for her new coach with her college choice already decided.

"I haven't signed the papers yet, but I'm excited to finally do so when I formally can next November," Carpenter said. "Now for me it’s moving forward full steam ahead with no more pain or hesitation coming back after a pretty dark time which I was able to overcome. We're all pulling for state this year with a great ballclub.

"But what I hope for most is that I want us to be a family above anything else and be there for one another, win or lose."

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