CEDAR RAPIDS — DoniRae Mayhew has experienced a bit of a transformation during her two years at Kirkwood.
The sophomore from Bettendorf has been a key component in the heart of the Eagles' batting order and on the field since she joined the softball program. In an effort to become a more complete competitor, Mayhew dedicated herself to become more fit.
All the work in the offseason has allowed her to become one of the top players in the country.
Mayhew was named NJCAA Region XI Division II Offensive Player of the Year Tuesday and will lead the Eagles to the District G playoff against Central Community College in Columbus, Neb., beginning with two games Thursday. The series winner advances to the NJCAA national tournament.
Mayhew leads the NJCAA with 28 home runs and 84 RBIs, hitting at a .442 clip. Her off-field regimen helped her get stronger and in better shape, which played a factor in her dominance at the plate.
“My mom did a challenge with me,” Mayhew said. “We were eating right and exercising every day this summer, trying to lose weight and become an all-around better player. That has helped a lot.”
The summer included cardio workouts, in addition to weight training. Mayhew said she pushed herself to get out daily to be more active. The goal was to parlay that into being the best she could be on and off the field.
“My lifestyle is better,” Mayhew said. “I’m happier. Since I’ve done it, I feel better,” Mayhew said. “Everything falls together better.
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“I think it’s changed my attitude every day. I have a better outlook on everything, too.”
Kirkwood Coach Joe Yegge has witnessed the mental and physical change in Mayhew, who has committed to play at the University of Iowa. He noted that Mayhew is more durable and has a little more swagger from added confidence.
“She made a commitment to herself last year and kept to it,” Yegge said. “She’s done a great job with it.”
Mayhew has torched opposing pitchers this season. She has 72 hits and 77 runs. She has a team-high 47 extra-base hits, including 17 doubles and three triples. Mayhew earned NJCAA Division II Player of the Week twice, including in mid-April when she hit .500 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs over an eight-game stretch.
Yegge said she has made a case for national player of the year consideration.
“She’s got great hand-eye coordination,” Yegge said. “She’s got unbelievable bat speed. She’s got pure strength.”
The increased numbers come as a mild surprise to Mayhew. She knew she was capable, but also credited her teammates for the opportunity to see more hittable pitches.
“I wouldn’t be as successful this year if it weren’t for the other girls in the lineup,” Mayhew said. “In high school, it’s different how they could pitch around me. They didn’t have to throw at me, because they could rely on getting other people out.”
Mayhew is a cornerstone of the Eagles infield, playing first base with the ability to dig balls out of the dirt and save her teammates’ throws. She also stepped into the circle and posted a 19-3 mark as a starter, owning a team-best 2.15 earned-run average over 133 2/3 innings.
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Yegge said he did not expect her to pitch as much as she has, but Mayhew has been a supportive teammate, doing whatever the team needs. Mayhew pitched the Eagles to a victory in the regional final.
“She’s been a phenomenal kid for us,” Yegge said. “She’s a good kid, a good student. She loves her teammates. Everybody loves her.
He added, “She is a freak athlete. It’s amazing to watch some things that she does.”
Yegge said the Eagles are healthier now than they were in the weeks leading up to regional play and gained confidence from the championship.
Fifth-ranked Kirkwood (46-11) will have a rematch with Central (20-19). The Eagles beat the Raiders, 9-5, in early March at a tournament in Concordia, Kan. Mayhew has faith the Eagles can advance, if they play to their potential.
“I’m very confident in what this team can do,” Mayhew said. “I believe in every single one of them.”
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