Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Conway next stop for NLR standout

The fifth in a series recognizin­g some of the state’s best spring high school athletes who had their seasons canceled by the coronaviru­s pandemic.


North Little Rock head softball Coach Courtney Clark got a glimpse of Katelyn McMahan in 2017 during the pitcher’s freshman season with the Lady Charging Wildcats.

Her initial impression was that of admiration despite the circumstan­ces.

“It’s kind of funny because I was an assistant coach at Bryant at the time,” Clark said. “The thing is, she’s quiet. You could tell she was a competitor just by watching her play, but it was evident that she was a gamer.”

Three years later, McMahan may not be as quiet as she once was, but the fierceness that Clark saw in her still resides. That, alone, helped her transition into one of the top players in a state rich with softball talent.

The University of Central Arkansas signee recorded 125 strikeouts in 1242/3 innings last season for North Little Rock, which finished 19-6 and was one victory away from playing for a state championsh­ip. McMahan also hit .452 with 24 RBI. She also had team-highs in runs scored (30), doubles (11), home runs (6) and stolen bases (9).

“I always just try to work hard,” said McMahan, a 2019 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette All-Arkansas Preps Softball first-teamer. “To be good at something, you’ve got to put in the work no matter what. For me, that’s a given because you never know what can happen.”

McMahan’s point of view held true for just about every high school athlete who participat­ed in spring sports this year.

A global pandemic put an end to spring prep seasons nationwide, causing a litany of emotions for players and coaches.

“I was kind of in shock when our season got cut short,” McMahan explained. “When it was postponed, I actually still had hope that we’d get to play. But when I found out that it was over, it was depressing for me.

“I got upset, too, because I really felt we were going to be a really good team, and I knew I’d never get to play with the seniors or the rest of my teammates again.”

North Little Rock had come up short in the postseason in each of McMahan’s first three seasons, courtesy of Bentonvill­e. The Lady Charging Wildcats lost to the Lady Tigers 11-3 in the 2017 Class 7A state title game, 14-4 in the 2018 quarterfin­als and 20-3 in the semifinals a year ago.

This season, Clark believed the team would’ve had a chance to make some noise, particular­ly because of the wealth of experience returning.

“Out of my five seniors, four of them are playing college ball,” she said. “I’ve got a junior that’s committed to the University of Memphis, and three of my sophomores are collegiate level athletes. So we were really gifted one through nine. But the one thing we talk about is being a family, and that sometimes God presents things that are more important than playing ball.

“For sports people, that’s hard to fathom because sometimes we don’t think that sports is not the most important thing. But safety is my No. 1 concern first and foremost. That doesn’t mean we weren’t all disappoint­ed, though.”

Behind McMahan, the Lady Charging Wildcats had gotten off to a 2-0 start this year with victories over perennial Class 5A playoff schools White Hall and Sylvan Hills. She had struck out 13 in 11 innings and was hitting .429 with 3 RBI, including 2 home runs in a 9-3 victory over Sylvan Hills.

Clark noted that she purposely put together a challengin­g schedule for the defending Class 6A Central champions, who in addition to facing a tough league slate, were set to face Benton, Rogers, Bentonvill­e and Bentonvill­e West later in their nonconfere­nce schedule.

“I tried to go after every respected program that I could,” Clark said. “Of course, I know the game, but being on this side of it as a coach, there’s another perspectiv­e. I told my players, I wanted everything to be as hard as possible because when May rolled around and the state tournament started, they’d be ready.

“The girls had worked their tails of since August, and they were ready to make a run at a state title.”

Unfortunat­ely, the only running North Little Rock got a chance to do was that of the physical nature.

McMahan is taking advantage of what Clark branded “the season of what if” by getting her body ready for when she heads to Conway to play for Coach David Kuhn and the Bears next year. UCA was 18-9 and 3-0 in the Southland Conference during an abbreviate­d 2020 season but should be positioned well for 2021.

Three of the Sugar Bears’ top five hitters were seniors, but the NCAA granted another year of eligibilit­y for all spring sports athletes after the coronaviru­s ended their season early. UCA’s leading pitchers were all underclass­men as well.

McMahan stressed that her mindset is to earn playing time early, but she knows nothing will be given to her.

“There [are] a lot of great players there,” she said. “I played against some of them on that roster in high school so I know they’re really good. So I’m going to put the work in.

“I know I’ll have to get use to the strike zone a bit because the umpires a little tougher in college. I’ve gone to games and watched pitches go right down the middle but were called balls. That can cause you to have more walks than normal.”

Clark is confident that the adjustment will be something that a player of McMahan’s caliber will be able to handle.

“The competitiv­eness in her. … she walked around with a little chip on her shoulder after last season because she wanted to get better,” she said. “She was starting to throw at different speeds and literally started mastering her change up this season. But she wants to be better at hitting, she wants to work on outfield skills.

“She’s a competitor and she’s going to want to play as much as possible, which is why she’s gonna be very successful once she gets to UCA.”

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 ?? (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler) ?? North Little Rock’s Katelyn McMahan, who has signed with the University of Central Arkansas, struck out 125 batters in 1242/3 innings a year ago as the Lady Charging Wildcats came one victory away from playing for a state championsh­ip.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler) North Little Rock’s Katelyn McMahan, who has signed with the University of Central Arkansas, struck out 125 batters in 1242/3 innings a year ago as the Lady Charging Wildcats came one victory away from playing for a state championsh­ip.

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