McDaniel realizes 10-year dream: Versatility helps Lady T-bird earn scholarship to play softball at Mesa Community College
BULLHEAD CITY — Once a Thunderbird always a Thunderbird.
Mohave High School graduated senior Jaden McDaniel will continue playing softball for the Thunderbirds, well kind of, for at least another two years.
No, she will not be suiting up for the Green and Gold for her fifth and sixth seasons at Mohave. However, McDaniel will be attending classes at Mesa Community College, while playing softball for the Thunderbirds who hail from the Arizona Community College Athletics Conference for the next two seasons.
McDaniel earned First-Team Arizona Interscholastic Association All-Grand Canyon and Second-Team AIA All-4A Conference accolades following her senior season, which ended during Mohave’s glorious run into the semifinals of the state playoffs in mid-May.
McDaniel has been dreaming of playing college softball for close to a decade.
“I knew I wanted to play in college since I was 9 years old,” McDaniel said. “I first realized that it was my dream when I went on a tour with the head coach at U of A and women’s Olympic softball coach Mike Candrea.
“It was then I saw how amazing it would be playing for a college and doing what I love to do. I’ve been playing continuously since then.”
McDaniel hit the ground running by earning a spot on Mohave’s varsity squad as a freshman.
“Offensively, Jaden immediately put up some impressive numbers her freshman year,” said Mohave head coach Shannon Patterson, who earned the region and conference coach of the year awards this season. “The kid has a great eye and pitch selection.
“With some extra and consistent work, she will be a monster in college — and I can’t wait.”
McDaniel went 52 of 110 for a .473 batting average, with 46 RBI, 45 runs, 16 doubles, and a team-leading nine home runs during her senior season.
The right-handed hitting cleanup hitter began her career as a second baseman before moving to shortstop early during her junior campaign.
After adjusting to her new position, she helped Mohave advance into the state semifinals with her glove and bat.
“Jaden always had my support and she had many compliments from other coaches about how she played her position,” Patterson said. “Most recently, the Cactus coaching staff, in the semifinals.”
Being a resident of Bullhead City, which sits in the desloate Mojave Desert, the former Mohave slugger promoted herself, which helped her earn a scholarship.
McDaniel said she earned 75 percent of a full scholarship.
Mesa does not cover housing, McDaniel said. She will be living in an apartment because Mesa does not offer dormitories on its campus.
McDaniel displayed versatility at Mohave and the four-year varsity letterman’s ubiquitous skills have helped her further her softball career.
“Mohave prepared me for my college career by showing me what it takes to be a good teammate and stay calm under pressure,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel said Mesa Community College head coach Grady Moorhead contacted her through a recruiting website last summer, and she visited the campus in September.
Moorhead said the recruiting services reached out to him, which is how he became more familiar with McDaniel.
“I saw that she was an Arizona recruit, which immediately got my attention based on some of our recruiting limitations,” Moorhead said. “Being a Division II college in Maricopa County, I can only give in-state recruits scholarships.”
Most of the time when he receives alerts from the services, the recruits are from out of state, Moorhead said.
The Mesa Community College head coach said he then looked at McDaniel’s skills video and at her statistics on MaxPreps.
“She put together a pretty good high school career,” Moorhead said. “I know this year she played well.
“Her skills video was something where she showed some athleticism.
“I look for players not necessarily by their position. ...
“But if they’re athletic and they can swing the bat, I’m kind of leaning more going in that direction as far as recruiting. ... It looks as though she can be versatile and play multiple positions, so it was intriguing.
“I reached out to her and scheduled just a standard campus visit.”
The standard campus visit included McDaniel, her mother Amber and her father Chris, receiving a tour of the school, the layout of the campus, as well as discussing the recruit’s academic course work.
“She came in right away,” Moorhead said. “I loved everything that I’d heard about her. She worked out very well.
“Everything that I saw on her skills video seemed to translate in her little bit of a workout she did after her campus tour.
“I offered her a scholarship right away, and I’d say one out of nine kids coming in there ... gets a scholarhip offer.
“Maybe close to every 10, and she was one of those.”
He added: “She is somebody who I feel like can help our class coming in right away. She is an athlete who can swing the bat; she can play multiple positions, which I’m floored about.”
Moorhead said the Thunderbirds were ranked No. 10 nationally last season, which was the highest Mesa Community College’s softball program has been ranked in the last 10 years.
The Thunderbirds also finished as the ACCAC runner-up.
“We’re excited about the direction of our program and about that class coming in and Jaden is one of them,” Moorhead said. “So, I’m looking forward to ... I don’t know where I see her, if she is going to be playing center field or playing shortstop, if she’s going to be behind the plate, pitching, who knows?
“But she is one of those players who I feel confident about to help us next year, so we’re excited about her.”
Moorhead said he saw McDaniel playing club softball last fall.
“It was fortunate that she reached out and she was on a recruiting service and she was on a club ball program that seemed to know what they were doing,” Moorhead said. “They were down (in Phoenix) in the fall.
“I want to say she was playing shortstop and she was making plays all over the field, and she can run the bases.
“We have several players coming in of that same mold, and I’m just very excited.”
Moorhead is not the only one who is excited.
“I loved the school right off the bat,” McDaniel said. “The school has a good athletic softball program that was ranked in nationals this year.
“I felt that this program will challenge me to become a better player and help me transfer to a university after my two years are up.”
She added: “I’m looking forward to playing in college. “It gives me something to look forward to and helps keep me focused throughout the summer.”
McDaniel and Patterson contributed by email, and Moorhead contributed by cell phone.