MSMC Knights: Work Hard, Play Hard
by John Buckridge
Last season the Knights of the Mount Saint Mary College (MSMC) softball team had a disappointing finish as they failed to reach the playoffs. The ladies came into this 2014 season focused and determined, especially senior Ashley Peel who feels a Conference Championship will be the perfect culmination of her impressive four-year career.
At St. Joseph High School, in Trumbull, Connecticut, Peel occupied herself year-round with athletics: soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and softball during the spring. The versatile athlete played multiple years on each sport’s varsity team and had plans to do the same in college.
Peel would have tried playing both soccer and softball in college if not for an injury she suffered during a soccer game her senior year. She had broken her back, forcing her to make the difficult decision to not play soccer in college and just play one sport. Thankfully, her softball skills were still in high demand with Michelle Ross, the head softball coach at the time for MSMC. Coach Ross needed a catcher on her team and Peel was a perfect fit, having played catcher at St. Joseph for four years.
She knew she was recruited to play for the Knights for a reason and wanted to prove that she was a worthy acquisition. She did not let her back derail her at all and went on to make an immediate impact on the field. Peel saw plenty of playing time as a freshman, starting in 34 games behind the plate with a near perfect .980 fielding percentage.
She was also productive at the plate, hitting .363 with 37 hits, 27 runs scored, and 25 RBIs (runs batted in). Peel proved she had plenty of power in her swing by hitting six doubles, one triple and four home runs, earning a .559 slugging percentage. For her impressive first-year numbers, she was named to the Skyline Honor Roll and was named Player of the Week during that April and Rookie of the Week that May.
“My first year was definitely my best year so far; the coaches wanted to see what I could do and it was important for me to show them my best,” said Peel.
Any time a first-year player performs well, the pressure is on to live up to the following season. Unfortunately for Peel, her second season began with a huge roadblock. She had torn the labrum in her throwing shoulder, crucial for catchers, limiting her ability to gun down base runners.
Peel faced the harsh reality of no longer being able to catch, and adjusted by playing in the outfield and sometimes infield. To protect her ailing shoulder from being overworked in the field, she was sometimes called upon as the designated hitter. But for an all-around athlete like Peel, switching positions came easy. While playing the outfield and the occasional second base, she recorded 60 put-outs and 9 assists, and did not commit a single error.
An unhealthy shoulder would make hitting difficult for a power hitter like Peel. She was tough enough to play through the pain until her sophomore season was over, but that pain showed on paper as her offensive stats dropped. After seeing her performance at the plate suffer from her injury, it was evident she had to undergo surgery to repair her labrum. Peel had to go through a six-month rehab process just to build up the strength in her arm.
Peel explained, “Once I was able to and comfortable, I was throwing every day in the winter to get it back into shape.”
It was a long road to recovery, but she was determined to relight the flame that sparked her freshman year. Being used more primarily as a designated hitter that year, Peel accepted her role and hit a respectable .310 with 27 runs scored and 21 RBIs. Her power was back as well as she matched her home run total from her freshman year with four, and put up a .524 slugging percentage. The knights did not make the playoffs, unfortunately, but it was clear to everyone that Ashley Peel was back.
In the offseason, Peel constantly trains in the cages, taking swings and making adjustments. She incorporates running into her routine as well, two to three times a week. Working hard this past offseason was paramount, as Peel wanted to help her team get into the playoffs.
So far in her final season she has shown her hunger for success. At the halfway mark of the 2014 season, Peel has 15 RBIs, and has already hit two more home runs than her previous season high of four. She is approaching the record books in both categories as she finds herself just 20 RBIs and two homers shy of the school’s career records.
Peel is excited for her team’s potential this year, as they were ranked 6th in the Skyline prior to the start of the season despite only having 13 girls on their roster. Since defeating top-ranked Farmingdale in the first game, the women have had a Skyline Championship in their sights. Winning that title would be the perfect sendoff for Peel.
“I think I’m going to miss my teammates the most,” Peel said. “We are always together and we’re basically a family.”
Recording high batting and slugging averages is not enough for this driven student athlete; she also finds time to record a high 3.4 GPA. On handling her athletic and academic workload, the history and public relations major said, “I actually find that it’s easier to get my school work done during the season just because it forces me to keep to a certain schedule,” she said. “It keeps me busy and always focused on something.”
Peel is currently working on a senior project for her public relations major. Senior projects can easily take up a majority of a student’s time, but she has made sure to still excel in softball while concentrating heavily on accomplishing her project. For her project, Peel, along with her classmate, Nina Gecosala, are planning an event called “Cardboard City” to raise awareness for the homeless population in the Hudson Valley. Attendees of the event pay $5 admission, are given a t-shirt and food, and make their own unique home out of cardboard boxes to simulate what a typical night is like for a homeless person. This event will take place on Thursday, April 10 in the Kaplan Gym.
Peel admits that organizing the project, along with playing softball, can get very stressful at times.
“It’s definitely the busiest that I’ve ever been,” Peel said. “Sometimes I’ll even be on the bus to a game and I’ll be texting and emailing people things about the project.”
After graduation this May, she plans to attend law school. She already applied to several schools, her eye particularly set on Northeastern University in Massachusetts. After the additional three years of schooling, her ultimate career goal is to become a criminal attorney. Peel has certainly developed the leadership skills that will help her in her chosen career.
For now, though, Ashley Peel has treasured her time at MSMC, saying, “There are some students who come here and leave because the Mount is a smaller school, but if it wasn’t the size that it is, I would not have formed the amazing bonds and relationships that I have now, and I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything.”