Morgan Rackel knew at an early age that softball would be a big part of her life.
"I was five years old when I first started playing. My parents met playing for a slow-pitch team, so it runs in the family," she said.
And though she hails from a nation that is more closely associated with hockey than softball, she has excelled in Canada and now the United States in the sport she loves.
Rackel, from Alberta, is a freshman on the Weatherford College softball team. She is also one of the top pitchers in the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference.
"I was able to play against the best of the best in Canada. These players are similar to the girls I was going to be playing against here, so it taught me how to prepare for those tough games physically and mentally," she said.
She prepared well. At the time of this article, she was tied for fifth in the conference in victories (8), fifth in strikeouts (60) and 10th in earned run average (3.50).
"Morgan has done a great job for us in the circle," said Coyotes head coach Haylee Williams. "She has the ability to change speeds, works both sides of the plate and changes the hitter's eye level."
She has also shown great control with only 17 walks in 88 innings. And when it comes to offense, Williams is more than happy to send her to the plate as she is batting .471.
"She does a good job getting ground balls and is a great competitor," Williams said. "She is one of the few pitchers you will see that can hit for herself and has done a great job at that as well. She has good gap-to-gap pop with the ability to hit it out of the park."
While she has made herself comfortable with playing the college game, Rackel said there were some adjustments that had to be made.
"The biggest difference is the depth of lineups. There are no automatic outs in college. You have to fight for every out you get," she said.
She also had to learn how to play with an entirely new group of teammates for the first time in years.
"I’ve played with a core group of six girls since I was eight years old. This was my first time ever playing without them," Rackel said. "It was very hard to adapt to playing with new people after you’ve been so comfortable with a team for that many years. We knew what each person was going to do before they did it."
Rackel is also as loyal as they come. Given the opportunity to join the Canadian Junior National Team, she chose to pass it up for the sake of staying with her local team at a time when they really needed her. The world series for the National Team was the same week as Canadian Nationals.
"I had a choice to make. Join the national team for myself, or stay and play one final year with the girls I love," she said. "I chose to stay and play that season with Calgary Kaizen. Some days I would question my decision, but the girls on that team are my lifelong friends now and I’m so happy I made the decision I did.
"I’ll have the chance to try out for the Senior Women’s National Team next year, which I will be training hard for every day."
Unlike most other college players, Rackel didn't play softball in high school, though she was a multi-sport athlete. She played volleyball, basketball, badminton and was in track and field. She was named Athlete of the Year three years in high school.
However, softball is not big in high school sports in Canada, she said.
"My province doesn’t have high school softball teams, unfortunately," she said. "I played with my travel team, Calgary Kaizen, all year round. We practiced indoors three times a week in the winter and four times a week when we could get outside in the summer."
Her team in 2013 made it to the Canadian National Championship Finals, where they won a silver medal. She was named tournament MVP, top pitcher, and a member of the All-Star team. She was also awarded Softball Alberta Minor Player of the Year.
"Last summer was our last chance to win a national championship title as a team. We ended up receiving fifth place," Rackel said.
She was on the All-Star Team again as a pitcher.
"The softball community within Canada is very small. Everyone knows everyone," she said. "Here, I’m meeting new people every day, seeing new styles of the game, and learning more about the game."
There is college softball in Canada, but Rackel said the best players want to come to the United States. She was noticed by Williams at a tournament in Houston and offered a scholarship.
She also visited schools in West Virginia and Oklahoma, but she said she knew after seeing the WC facilities and all they had to offer, it was the place for her.
There was, however, one big adjustment, one most all folks from the north have to learn to deal with. There is simply no easy way to go from the cooler temperatures of Canada to the fabled Texas heat.
"I don’t want to sound like a typical Canadian, but it was really hot the first few weeks here for me. Even in February, I was wearing shorts," she said. "My friends back home were posting photos of the snow and I was sitting here with a sunburn."
Her older sister attended school in the States for a year on a softball scholarship before getting injured and returning home. Her mother was a highly competitive swimmer, and her dad still plays hockey at the age of 58.
"If you ask him he’ll tell you how he can out-skate any of those young kids in the NHL," she chuckled.
And she also plans to play competitively as long as she can. After her time at WC is up, she wants to transfer to a NCAA Division I school. Her career goal is to major in biomedical/genetic engineering and apply to a medical school, ultimately becoming a doctor.
"Before I do that, I want to take on that leadership role as a sophomore next year here in Weatherford," she said.