South grad Wheeland leading Bloom U.

Kalynn Wheeland has never played better collegiate softball. A year after a shoulder injury erased her season, the Bloomsburg University redshirt junior has become an elite PSAC player.

Still, it not always sunshine and rainbows. Softball can be a humbling sport in which slumps can occur at any time. Those used to frustrate the 2014 South Williamsport graduate and diminish her enjoyment. Following a preseason meeting with coach Susan Kocher, Wheeland changed her approach. In doing so, she changed her college career’s trajectory.

All Wheeland does now is smile. That is her go-to word and that, maybe more important than hitting adjustments, has Wheeland flourishing.

“My coach instructed each person on the team to come up with one word to live by throughout the season and the rest of the year. She told us to pick a word that you could think of during a game or practice that could bring you back if things were not going your way. I chose the word smile,” Wheeland said. “In the past few years I would get frustrated if I was not performing as well as I could and by getting frustrated I would take myself out of the game even more. Now if I am mid-at-bat and swing at a bad pitch, I just remind myself to smile and have fun and this helps me stay in the game and helps it feel like it is slowing down.”

Watching Wheeland play has Bloomsburg smiling a lot these days.

Wheeland has become a PSAC Player of the Year Candidate who is ranked among the top four leaders in average, home runs and RBIs. Wheeland is hitting a conference-leading .480 with eight home runs (3rd) and 37 RBIs (4th). She leads Bloomsburg in all those categories and earned her second PSAC Central Player of the Week honor after helping Bloomsburg win three of four games last week. Wheeland hit .571 in those games, with a home run, two doubles and seven RBIs.

“I feel like everything has come together for me. The past years I struggled staying relaxed at the plate and would get inside my own head,” Wheeland said. “This year, I am focusing more on my mental game and I think that is helping me stay more relaxed at the plate and helped me a lot. Before each game I like to take a few minutes to myself to think about the previous game or practices and things I did not do that well and I visualize myself making the right adjustments and then visualize myself doing it well.”

She has done just about everything well this season while emerging as a team leader. Wheeland has a 15-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 29 of Bloomsburg’s 33 games. A year after missing all but nine games with a labral tear in her shoulder, Wheeland has become a big-time run producer who ignites the Husky offense.

A two-time all-state shortstop at South, Wheeland has made a smooth adjustment to the outfield and kept Bloomsburg in the hunt for a conference playoff berth. All this is especially impressive because Wheeland had never before had played more than nine collegiate games in a season. She hit .375 in those games last year, but a bum shoulder that had plagued her since high school intervened and took away what had been a promising start.

Wheeland was in a sling for five weeks following last year’s surgery and could not do strength training or any softball-related activity after it came off. She was not cleared to play until a week before fall practices started. Even then, Wheeland had to take things slow, going from hitting off a tee to finally facing live pitching again.

Nobody can tell now. Wheeland is fourth among PSAC players in slugging percentage (.816), has nine doubles and has struck out just 11 times in 98 at-bats.

“I’ve been struggling with shoulder issues since my senior year of high school,” Wheeland said. “Now that my shoulder is finally healthy again I feel I am performing better than I ever had.”

That is saying a lot. Wheeland is one of the best players to come out of South Williamsport this decade. She helped the Mounties capture the District 4 Class A championship and reach the state quarterfinals her senior year in 2014. Wheeland started all four years there and South increased its win total each season.

She did not play until sixth grade, but softball quickly became a passion. Anyone who walked by the South field, no matter the season, likely would see Wheeland and her father Todd Snyder and/or South coach Scott Stugart working together. Nobody was forcing Wheeland there. She loved the game, loved competing and loved improving. That carried her and the Mounties far. Now she is using that old-school work ethic to make a similar impact at Bloomsburg.

The college road has been filled with bumps, but maybe it’s that rocky road that has paved the way for success this spring. Maybe Wheeland is better for having endured the adversity and rediscovering how much fun the game can be.

Wheeland will graduate in May, but is eligible to play again next spring. If she is excepted into Bloomsburg’s graduate school, she will do just that. If not, Wheeland is going out on her terms.

“Before getting hurt, there would be days I dreaded going to practice and having to go to lift. Once I got hurt I realized how much I wished I could practice and lift,” Wheeland said. “Even now I find days where it is hard to motivate myself to go get a lift in, but then I think about last year at this time when I would have done anything to be able to lift. I realize now how fortunate I am to be able to play college softball and I appreciate the opportunity I was given and I learned not to take those things for granted.”

Once again, Wheeland is all smiles.

EXTRA BASES

Sullivan County is one of the district’s most improved teams and is off to its best start of the 21st century after scoring 41 runs in wins over Benton and Millville. The Griffins (5-1) are tied for first in the Mid-Penn, are hitting .405 and are halfway to clinching their first playoff berth of the 2000s. Sullivan has scored at least five runs in each game and is averaging 14 runs per game … Lewisburg also is pulling closer to its first playoff berth in more than 20 years after routing Southern Columbia, 12-2. The Green Dragons (6-1) already have their most wins in a season this decade and have won four straight. Sydney Hoffman threw a 2-hitter and struck out a career-high 12 and was one of four players who had two hits against Southern … Cowanesque Valley swept a Saturday doubleheader against Northern Potter, scoring 38 runs in those games. The Indians (5-1) produced 11 extra-base hits and freshman Makayla Vargeson hit her first high school home run. Riley Ortt and Ashleigh Southard both had doubles and triples. Sarah Wertz and Megan Ryder are having good seasons and had eight hits in three games entering Saturday’s contest against South Williamsport. Wertz went 3 for 5 with two RBIs in a 17-5 win at Wellsboro and Emily Watts hit three doubles against Wellsboro and South.

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Softball Teams

1. Jersey Shore (5-0)

Make it three straight statement wins for the Bulldogs who defeated defending District 4 Class AAA/HAC-I champion Mifflinburg, 11-4 last Saturday. The Bulldogs have beaten 2017 Class AAAAA state quarterfinalist, Loyalsock and Mifflinburg in their past three games. They also have produced 22 runs and 28 hits the last two games. First-year coach Randy Smith is receiving production throughout his roster and five players delivered multi-hit performances against Mifflinburg. Brianna Herman, Lexi Schuler, Arizona Shreck, Hailey Stetts and Alyssa Stover all are off to strong starts and combined for 10 hits. Schreck went 3 for 4 and has five hits with four RBIs in her last two games. Jersey Shore is tied for both the top seed in Class AAAA and in the HAC-I.

2. Warrior Run (6-0)

The Defenders romped through their first four games but made their biggest statement last Wednesday when Madi Waltman stymied Loyalsock’s high-powered offense in a 7-1 win. Waltman threw a 6-hitter and struck out 11 before striking out 10 more in a 9-3 win Friday against Milton. The offense remains potent as well and the Defenders have outscored six opponents, 81-6, topping 10 hits in each game. Seniors Gina Beyer and Haley Miller are sparking that offense and both are hitting above .700. Miller has delivered four straight 3-hit games and Beyer has four straight multi-hit games. Five different players have hit home runs.

3. Williamsport (4-1)

Coach Chase Smith said early this season that catcher Kalindi Maggs viewed herself as a defensive stopper. Turns out Maggs is pretty explosive offensively, too. Maggs went 5 for 7 Saturday as Williamsport split a doubleheader at St. Mary’s. The sophomore is hitting .429 and had three RBIs against St. Mary’s. Katie Meale is enjoying a breakout season as well and had four more RBIs Saturday. Meale is hitting a team-best .444 with 10 RBIs. Pitcher Mikayla Aldenderfer threw a 3-hitter in the 13-2 win Saturday and has allowed nine hits in her last 16 innings while striking out 21.

4. South Williamsport (6-0)

The Mounties revealed their toughness last week, rallying in their final at-bats to beat Bloomsburg and Hughesville by one run each. South was down to its last out against Bloomsburg before scoring four runs and winning, 7-6. Just 16 hours later, the Mounties worked their late-game magic again, scoring twice in the 10th inning to beat Hughesville, 4-3. This is a resilient group that often came from behind to win last year when it went 15-3, shared the HAC-III championship and reached the District 4 Class AA final. South received a boost with the return of outfielder Natalya Steppe who delivered the go-ahead 2-run single against Bloomsburg. Pitchers Mookie Sauers and Emily Hennigan each have three wins and Sydney Bachman had four hits in last week’s win. South hosts Warrior Run Tuesday in a battle of unbeatens and the winner takes sole possession of first in the HAC-III.

5. North Penn-Liberty (4-1)

The Mounties did not play last week, but will be busy starting Wednesday against Canton, playing four straight days and five times in six days.

Players of the Week

Myka Poorman, Bucktail and Jordan McCarthy, Montoursville

Poorman is having an excellent sophomore season, helping power Bucktail with her arm and bat. Poorman allowed just seven hits in two games last week and struck out 18. She has 68 strikeouts in 49 innings this season and also went 4 for 6 with two doubles, three runs and five stolen bases. McCarthy is hitting as well as anyone in District 4 right now. She delivered three more hits in Saturday’s 10-8 loss against Selinsgrove and has 15 in six games. McCarthy is hitting over .700 and has at least two hits in all six games, building off an excellent freshman campaign.

Game of the Week

Williamsport Tournament

This weekend’s eight-team tournament at Elm Park features three area teams, Williamsport, Montoursville and defending champion Milton, competing. Mifflinburg reached last year’s final and also is back. Friday night is highlighted by a Montoursville-Williamsport showdown under the lights. Lower Dauphin plays Milton in the first game on Field 1 and action continues Saturday with two games each going on at 10 a.m., noon and 2. It should be a softball lover’s delight.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

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