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UNI softball closing in on MVC title, and Kennedy grad Mya Dodge is a big reason why
‘It’s unbelievable what she’s doing’
CEDAR FALLS — With two weekend series left in its regular season, Northern Iowa softball holds a firm grasp on the Missouri Valley Conference lead.
Hiawatha native Mya Dodge is a big reason why.
Dodge — who burst onto the scene in 2022, winning the MVC’s freshman of the year award — has followed up her breakout campaign with a 2023 season that has her in position to be the conference’s player of the year.
The former Cedar Rapids Kennedy standout leads the MVC in batting average (. 426), slugging percentage (. 957) and runs batted in (61), and is second in on base percentage (. 496) and home runs (14).
Dodge’s 61st RBI, which she collected in an 11-2 win against Drake on Tuesday, broke UNI’s program record and came on a walk-off grand slam that instituted the mercy rule.
“It’s definitely exciting, but it definitely is more of a team statistic, honestly,” Dodge said of breaking UNI’s single-season RBI record. “I definitely owe a lot of the credit to my teammates in front of me in the lineup that are able to get on base so consistently.”
She said sharpening her mental approach is what’s proved most important to realizing her potential this spring.
“I came into college with not the best attitude in the world,” Dodge said. “I would come to practice and I wouldn’t hit so well and I’d be like, ‘wow, I think I’m the worst player in the whole world.’ One day Coach (Ryan Jacobs) pulled me aside and was like, ‘you are setting a ceiling by being so negative on yourself.’ He said, ‘I see a lot of potential in you, you just need to get your mind right.’
“As soon as we had that conversation a switch kind of flipped in my head. If your mental side of the ballgame isn’t right, then your physical side isn’t going to be working well either.”
With her physical and mental skills coming together, Dodge has quickly developed into an all-Missouri Valley Conference level talent. She’s also settled into the cleanup spot for the Panthers (31-11, 20-1).
“Our weakness has been the four hole (in the lineup). Not that we didn’t have people that could do it, (but) everybody we put in there it was kind of like the black hole and kiss of death for them, and I think Mya has got the perfect mentality for it,” Jacobs said. “It doesn't mean anything (to her) if she hits, one, two, eight, 10 — doesn’t matter. But, what’s crazy to me, the amount of runs that kid can create for an offense. It’s unbelievable what she’s doing.”
Along with Dodge’s dominance, freshman catcher Alexis Pupillo is the front-runner for MVC freshman of the year and starting pitcher Samantha Heyer is front-runner for pitcher of the year.
UNI’s deep lineup features five hitters with an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) above .900 and its 64 home runs are exactly double of second-place Southern Illinois’ 32.
“I don't know if there's any secret recipe or anything, but I do think we’re definitely a deep lineup,” Dodge said. “We have some of the best pitching in the conference. We talk about how big dogs gotta eat, so going in (to games) with that mentality, all of us play like junkyard dogs.
“We’re scrappy. We’ll do anything to get the job done.”
UNI hosts Valparaiso (8-34, 4-17) for a three-game series this weekend and while the focus is on finishing the regular season, earning an automatic NCAA regional bid at the MVC tournament looms large.
“I think it comes down to the little things,” Dodge said of MVC tournament success. “Sometimes when we’re on a bigger stage like that some of the little things get caught in the moment and get lost.”