Ever since Ray Kinsella turned his corn field in Iowa into a baseball field in the movie Field of Dreams, people just associate the state of Iowa with the field, the bases and the diamond. The University of Wisconsin Badgers softball team is a big fan of Iowa because it produced their next star pitcher.
Freshman pitcher for Wisconsin, Kaitlyn Menz, has already made major contributions to the team in this young season, helping the Badgers to a 15-2 record — the best start in program history.
The Badgers have started a new trend of having Iowa natives on their team. Menz, from Waukee, Iowa, is one of six players on the roster from the Hawkeye State. For her, Wisconsin’s welcoming atmosphere and people were the deciding factor when it came to picking a school to continue her pitching career. Also, having five other Iowans on the team didn’t hurt.
“I decided to come to Wisconsin because when I first walked on campus, it just felt like home,” Menz said. “I also came for the people, the coaches were awesome and I had met a lot of girls on the team already and they were awesome as well.”
Appearing in 10 games this season, Menz had a record of 8-2 and a 1.10 ERA going into March 6. Seven of those appearances were complete games and of those seven three were shutouts. Menz has logged more innings than all other Wisconsin pitchers combined with 63.2. Opposing batters hit a measly .215, going 53-for-246.
On a team with four pitchers, including junior Mariah Watts and senior Kirsten Stevens, Menz has seen the most action on the field. Menz and Stevens have been sharing the majority of starts with Menz receiving 10 starts and Stevens getting five. Menz was told she would have an influence on this team’s success, but never pictured it would be to this degree.
“I did not know what my role on the team would be,” Menz said. “Coach [Yvette] Healy said that I would make an immediate impact. I did not know necessarily what that meant until I knew I’d be pitching all the games that I am.”
Healy, who is entering her seventh year as head coach at Wisconsin, takes on the task of recruiting high school players and knows it is not a guarantee every player will perform to expectations.
The Badgers should have high hopes for the NCAA tournament with young players like Menz playing at such a high level
“We’re thrilled,” Healy said. “She’s done a great job as a freshman with all the challenges of being a Wisconsin student-athlete and to perform at such a high level right out of the gates.”
Menz did indeed perform immediately. After the first five games of the season, Menz possessed a 4-0 record with an immaculate ERA of .28 after surrendering a single run in 27 innings. This stretch featured three complete games, two of which went into extra innings. One of those extra inning wins came against the then-No. 20 University of South Florida Bulls.
When pitching as a freshman for a Division I school, feelings of anxiety can easily creep into a young player’s mindset. Menz has yet to allow the pressure to affect her play and Healy sees that as one of the strongest facets of her game.
“She’s just a solid kid,” Healy said. “She’s got a great temperament. She doesn’t get rattled, stays calm and composed. To see that from a freshman just gives you a lot of excitement for the future.”
Three hours away from Menz’s hometown is a town by the name of Bettendorf, Iowa. This town was home to Chloe Miller, Menz’s catcher. Miller is now playing in her senior year for Wisconsin and leads the team in nearly every statistic offensively. In this season, she has also served as a leader for Menz as she gets a taste of collegiate softball.
“She is the catcher behind the plate for me and my battery,” Healy said. “She’s an all-around good athlete and a leader on and off the field.”
Wisconsin’s top two starters, Menz and Stevens have a combined ERA of .85. When facing both Menz and Stevens, opposing hit with only .209 average. The solid pitching Menz leads does well to compliment the Badgers’ strong hitting as Wisconsin outscores their opponents 101-33. This winning combination will be interesting to watch down the stretch and into May.