COLLEGE FOCUS: McWhorter living a dream and imparting lessons at Portland State
Portland State softball coach Meadow McWhorter is getting the chance to live a dream this spring, filling her days with her favorite sport while making the transition for junior-college coach to a four-year program with a rich history.
Her 14 years spent as head coach at Mt. Hood Community College were marked with success — a 468-146 (.762) record and five Northwest Junior College titles. But coaching was almost an extra duty in her time with the Saints. Her full-time job was as an advisor in student life, overseeing on-campus activities for 30 different student groups, while also connecting with student government members.
"Now softball is my full-time job — going out recruiting, setting up travel, developing practice plans," McWhorter says. "It's been a dream come true to be able to put 100 percent of my energy into my team."
Her first day at the office took her back to fourth grade.
"It felt like the first day of school, all of the anticipation and nerves, not really knowing anyone," she says. "But I couldn't ask to work with better people. When I was walking away that day, I just felt grateful to be working at PSU."
While the softball remains largely the same, only at a higher skill level, one of the main differences is McWhorter's ability to have a longer lasting impact in her players' lives. She prides herself on creating a family atmosphere within her team, but it's a revolving door at the JC level, with players cycling in and out every two years.
"In the past, I'd get players for two years. You build bonds and you have to let them fly," McWhorter says. "I'm excited to have the opportunity to be a part of these girls lives over four years."
One of McWhorter's first moves was to reach out to the Vikings' five seniors.
"You never know how players are going to adapt to change, but they have already built a tight chemistry with this team — they've been incredible leaders," McWhorter says. "They have been sponges picking up new stuff, and that has really set the tone for the future of this program."
McWhorter also has brought a comfort level with the coaching staff. It includes former national team pitcher Kellie Wilkerson, who previously spent time on the Vikings' staff. Also on board is former Mt. Hood CC player Teauna Hughes.
"One of my goals right from the start was to have all the coaches on the same page — we all see different components of the game, but we all speak the same language, so nothing gets missed," McWhorter says.
The most familiar piece of her staff is a volunteer — her father Ricky, who served the same role at MHCC. He has earned the nickname "Papa Smurf" over the years for his ability to impart wisdom to players and in part due to his white whiskers.
"It's hard to put into words my appreciation for him," McWhorter says. "He's the reason why I wanted to coach in the first place."
For a moment it appeared McWhorter's magic touch would carry over immediately. In the first at-bats of the Vikings' first game, Katherine Kramer knocked a double into the outfield, and the Vikings were out fast 2-0 over Dayton.
"There was so much adrenaline and so much excitement — it was fun to see them sprint right out of the gates," McWhorter says.
But it would only be a flash. The Flyers moved in front in the second inning and ran away from there to collect a 10-2 victory.
Portland State has played at two preseason tournaments, losing nine straight games before picking up McWhorter's first NCAA Division I win — 4-3 against Rhode Island. Former Mt. Hood CC player Shea Lindsey played a key role in the victory with an RBI single to score the tying run in the fourth, then stealing second and coming across with the go-ahead run moments later.
"I never lost more than five in a row at Mt. Hood, and I thought losing would be a lot harder," McWhorter says. "I'm a competitive person and yes, it stinks to lose, but each game has given us new lessons. It's a process, and we're working to piece it all together."
A part of that process is learning to celebrate the victories within the game. Knowing that successfully moving a runner over is what leads to wins on the scoreboard.
"I want to see players excited when they run to first base, because they just put a run on the board, and that's a win for all of us," McWhorter says. "We keep hammering home the message that success for one is success for all."
Portland State (1-14) is in Las Vegas this weekend for five games and its final preseason tournament, then travels to Oregon for a 4 p.m. doubleheader Wednesday.