Shaler shortstop leading the way for young softball team
The 2013 season began with a different vibe than Shaler senior shortstop Maddie Mulig has known in recent memory.
“I have never been on a team where I was the oldest player,” Mulig said. “I never had to be a leader.”
One would never know the leading role was foreign to the senior, who commands the infield like she has been in charge her whole life. Calling out signals, making the tough plays look routine and earning the trust of coach Skip Palmer are just a few traits that help make her the total package.
“She is a team captain, a leader and just a great kid,” Palmer said. “The kids look up to her, and she has been with me so long, we think the same.”
Mulig has played softball for a long time. Her brother, Ben, was a big contributor to the baseball team, and their dad threw ball with both kids almost every day as they grew up. Maddie Mulig tried other sports, but in the end, it was the good fortune of the softball world she chose the diamond.
She worked her way up the ranks at Shaler as a shortstop, but when she had the opportunity to make the move to varsity, there was a minor detour. The Lady Titans already had a shortstop entrenched: Division I prospect Chelsea Siar. Despite knowing she would have to wait a year to earn the job, Mulig took the opportunity to learn from one of the best.
“I was the backup catcher when I came to varsity,” Mulig said. “Chelsea was my compass; she helped me. I watched her, and seeing her play got me pumped up. I knew I had to fill that spot. Having her there for me as a friend fueled me.”
Now, three years later, it is Mulig who is the compass for the current team. With more than half of the starting lineup sophomores or freshmen, Mulig admitted that she and Palmer were not 100 percent confident when the team took the field in the season opener.
“I was shocked at how these girls came to play in key roles,” she said. “We were nervous at first, because we were used to having a largely senior team.”
The tradition of section, WPIAL and PIAA titles and title-game appearances creates tough expectations to live up to, but Mulig is not shy about aiming high.
“My heart beats to get to the WPIAL championship,” she said. “That is our No. 1 goal.”
The goal is the goal, but Mulig said her favorite thing about being part of the team is the people she gets to spend so much time with.
“We are like sisters … we practice every day, and I have made the best friendships,” Mulig said. “You remember the wins, but it is all about the relationships, that is the No. 1 thing.”
Mulig does have a game moment that stands out, though: a freshman at-bat in the WPIAL championship. Stepping to the plate, she was shaking. Shaler was down, 2-0, when Mulig hit a home run.
“It was so exciting,” she said.
For all she accomplished on the field, Mulig thought this season of softball would be her last.
She has her eye on nursing school, but Penn State Behrend came calling with a way to offer her the best of both worlds for one more season.
Mulig will do what is known as a 1-3 program, where she will play softball for one season at the Penn State branch campus and begin her studies then transfer to University Park for three more years to finish her degree.
Mulig feels there is nothing she can’t do, and for that she credits Palmer.
“(Coach) Palmer is such a predominant person in my life,” Mulig said. “A week before our second-round WPIAL playoff game last year, his wife passed away … when things are tough, my mind always goes to him. He taught me to never keep your head down, and that no matter what, things will get better. I have so much respect for him, and I would not be where I am without him.”
Mulig said Palmer’s wife was a nurse, and at the wake there were 10-15 people who spoke about her and the impact she had.
“I wanted to be there for people like she was,” Mulig said. “I had an interest in biology and anatomy, and I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field.”
Palmer said he thinks of Mulig as a daughter and is not ready to think of her going off to college yet.
“I am just going to treasure every second now, because she is such a great kid,” Palmer said. “I will miss her big time.”
Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.