Looking back, maybe Andy Lee knew he was on to something.
Then again, sometimes things work out better than expected.
That was the case this season for Lee, the LSU-Eunice softball coach, and former Walker standout Madison Monson.
“It kind of happened,” Lee said of Monson’s stellar freshman campaign. “I knew she had the potential. She was big. She was strong. She was athletic. I’ve seen her do it in practice some, but looking back at her high school stats and all that kind of stuff, you didn’t think that she could put up these types of numbers.”
Those numbers this season -- .385 average, 18 doubles, three triples and a team-high 19 home runs – all of which kind of caught Monson by surprise as well.
“To be completely honest, I was not expecting to have such a great year,” she said after earning National Junior College Athletic Association All-Region 23 honors and NJCAA Division II All-Region honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. “I knew I’d come to Eunice and I’d work my tail off to become a better player. I knew I was going to have to work hard to earn a spot on the field. It was crazy how all that hard work paid off for my season. I’m thankful.”
In an effort to get accustomed to her new surroundings in Eunice, Monson spent time bonding with her new teammates and getting used to the differences between high school and junior college softball.
That meant spending time in the batting cages with teammate Emily Henderson.
“We’d spend hours in the cages getting cuts in, taking extra ground balls, taking extra pop flies,” Monson said.
It also meant spending time with the team’s Hack Attack pitching machine where she learned to hit a screwball, which had been a nemesis of sorts.
“I basically had no choice but to attack that pitch and hit it for my reps, or else it was just going to take time and a bunch of whiffs,” said, Monson, who finished 12th in National Junior College Athletic Association Division II with 65 RBIs. “When I say it is the best machine or the best thing that has happened to me since I’ve gotten to Eunice, it is crazy.”
If making the adjustment to a new environment weren’t enough, with Mima Doucet returning for the Lady Bengals at third base -- where Monson played at Walker – Monson made the move to first base, a position she had never played.
Monson said it took about a week to start finding her way at first base, working on a rapport with shortstop Kelci Bodin. She also said Lee had to find an old first baseman’s mitt to help get her started.
“I never would have thought I would be there,” Monson said. “First isn’t as hot as third base, but you flip-flop. It’s a huge difference in my opinion. I learned how to scoop a ball. I learned how to do some good picks. I actually have grown to love first base.”
Monson’s offseason work and preparation paid immediate dividends as she earned NJCAA Player of the Week honors after the season’s first week, with two home runs, four doubles, five RBIs and six runs scored in her first six games.
“I just wanted to go out there and play the game that I love,” Monson said of her early success. “It was pretty cool being able to start as a freshman. I was just staying humble, and just go out there and play the sport that I love, that I grew up loving – and it kind of worked out for me.”
That’s an understatement.
Monson picked up NJAA Player of the Week honors again after hitting a two-run home run in a 2-0 win over Bossier Parish then hitting a pair of home runs in a 5-4 win to sweep the two-game series. Her 19 home runs ranked fourth nationally in NJCAA Division II.
Lee credited Monson’s success to a couple of factors.
“It was a combination of being around a bunch of kids that had won championships before and had worked hard, and she just caught on,” he said. “I knew she had the talent. It just clicked for her. She just worked hard, kept working and working and it seemed to last all year long. Sometimes kids start off their red-hot like that and then they go through a little slump time or something, but she stayed pretty consistent all year.”
Monson started all 68 games for the Lady Bengals, which Lee said came from her torrid pace at the plate as well as the team’s sluggish start to the season.
“It was just something where I needed her bat in the lineup and no one was really pushing her, so I had to play her,” Lee said. “If you’re hitting like that, it’s tough to get you out of the lineup. She was a kid that when she came up, I had confidence in, either to hit a double, to knock a run in.”
Monson said she started to embrace those pressure situations throughout the season.
“I want to be in those pressure situations, but don’t get me wrong, they are very intense,” she said. “I’ve grown as a player to where I want to be the person in the box when there’s two outs, there’s a tie ballgame and we have a runner on second. I want to be in those shoes.”
As an added bonus, she had seven stolen bases on the season.
Offense wasn’t the only area in which Monson thrived, finishing with an .860 fielding percentage with 15 errors in her first season as a first baseman – another bonus for Lee considering Monson’s rough start to the position change in the fall.
“It was a struggle, and I thought maybe I’d have to DH her or do something like that, but that was biggest improvement throughout the year was her defense,” Lee said. “She really just got stronger and stronger. I was not worried about her over there with putouts.”
LSU-Eunice, which came into the season as the defending NJCAA Division II national champion, having defeated Jones County (Miss.), advanced to the postseason again where Jones County, the eventual national champion, returned the favor with a pair of wins in the Region 23 Tournament and 8-7 victory in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals.
LSU-Eunice finished the season with a 7-3 loss to top-seeded Des Moines Area in the consolation quarterfinals.
“Obviously I was upset that we didn’t make it to the championship game and come out on top, but my team definitely grew a lot this year,” Monson said. “The freshmen definitely stepped up, and it’s pretty cool to say that I was a part of that.”
Monson said she’ll continue honing her skills over the summer in Walker, she’ll be working at Big Mike’s and helping to coach a travel ball team when she can.
“This will be the first summer that I will not be playing tournament ball, traveling around the country, and I’m going to take advantage of it,” she said. “I’m going to have a great summer full of fun activities that I haven’t really been able to do in the past.”
While she didn’t commit to a future in coaching, she said she could envision such a possibility after working camps in Eunice.
“I just love the sport so much, and I love watching kids grow up because I knew that I was in those shoes at one point,” she said. “I just love watching the girls grow up and learn, and these girls love the sport. They’re just fresh and they have that passion where they’re open to new ideas and they want to learn.”
While she said she’s interested in transferring to a four-year school after finishing up in Eunice, she’s intent on returning to the Lady Bengals for her sophomore season.
“I love it,” she said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m going to take it all in while I can.”