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Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News Press Stillwater High senior pitcher Makenzi Swick shut out Norman North in a regional championship game to send her team to the state tournament. Swick is the News Press All-Area Fall Sports Athlete of the Year.

Makenzi Swick quickly figured out where she belongs on a softball field.

As a grade-school kid, she gravitated toward the center of the diamond before pitching in games was possible for her. Swick, now a senior at Stillwater High, laughed as she reflected on her early athletic aspirations.

When she played on a coach-pitch team, she wanted to stand in the coach’s spot.

“I guess I liked the attention, I don’t know,” Swick said. “I liked being in the middle.”

By the time she was 8 or 9, Swick finally had her chance. She needed time to fine-tune her craft and learn to block out distractions, but the eager, young pitcher would someday break a school record that had been set before she was born.

From 1997-2000, Amber Annis racked up a program-high 402 strikeouts at Stillwater before starting her career at Oklahoma State. In September, Swick threw her 403rd strikeout, steering the Lady Pioneers to a 5-1 victory against Bixby while setting a new mark of excellence.

With concentration and composure that led to individual achievements and catapulted her team to success, Swick is the Stillwater News Press All-Area Fall Sports Athlete of the Year.

Swick said she didn’t realize she had thrown the historic 403rd strikeout when it happened, and coach Karie Linsenmeyer shared the news with her after the game. It provided Swick with a refreshing confidence booster, but she doesn’t get too caught up in the records. On that day in the circle, she simply locked her focus on the task at hand, retiring each batter one by one.

It’s the same strategy she used to send the Lady Pioneers into the state championship, attentively listening to pitching coach Barbara Egan while the rattle of cowbells and the home crowd’s boisterous cheers surrounded the diamond. By the end of the season, Swick had far surpassed the previous strikeout mark, accumulating 524.

“I try to stay cool and confident no matter what’s going on,” Swick said. “Just to keep myself levelheaded and to maybe make the batter get a little nervous.”

As Stillwater’s ace pitcher, Swick used this approach to create a memorable senior season. The Lady Pioneers finished the year No. 1 in District 6A-3 and stood at sixth place in the Class 6A standings. Stillwater (28-11 overall, 13-1 district) hosted a regional, won it in three straight games and advanced to the state tournament semifinals.

At the same time, Swick, who said she was “ecstatic” about the Lady Pioneers’ accomplishments, built an extensive resume. Her accolades include All-State Team (Large-East) distinction, All-Region Team (Large-East) selection and the 6A-3 All-District Pitcher of the Year award. Along with shattering Stillwater’s career strikeout record, she set the school’s single-season mark of 238.

Swick’s focused, unflappable demeanor has become a defining characteristic of her pitching success. If she walked a batter or gave up a home run, she shook it off and struck out the next person.

This hasn’t always been the case. Although Swick always welcomed the spotlight that comes with standing in the circle, she would sometimes become visibly flustered. Eventually, Swick realized the way she handled the pressure could be an advantage or a drawback not only for herself, but also for others.

“It took a while, but it finally sunk in how much I’m affecting the team,” Swick said. “Especially being the pitcher, being in the center, everybody’s looking at me, and if I’m breaking down or you can tell that I’m upset or I’m showing it in any way, then that affects everybody else.”

Swick is a driven perfectionist. She said she likes to take the lead with group assignments in school, and this approach translates to the softball field – commanding a steady defense through six or seven innings is a giant group project. It helps her pay attention to details, but this also means the loudest voice of criticism is in her head.

With guidance from mentors, Swick has discovered how to silence it.

Hailey McDaniel Johnson, one of Swick’s junior high coaches, suggested a “fake it until you make it” mentality. If Swick projected confidence, then gradually, she would develop true belief in herself. Swick also credits Linsenmeyer and Egan for helping her grow.

“Not only my athletics, but also my personality and the way that I carry myself as a person, they’ve definitely had a lot of impact on that,” Swick said.

Throughout the season, Linsenmeyer complimented Swick’s versatility, drawing attention to her expanding arsenal of pitches. Swick, who had a 21-6 record and an ERA of 2.079 through 165 innings as a senior, knows her strengths. She said she might not throw at the highest speed, but she can unsettle batters without sending a fastball screaming across home plate. The spin and movement of her pitches make them tricky and unpredictable.

Swick also impacted the Lady Pioneers on offense, recording 21 RBI during her senior season. With a batting average of .348, she hit seven doubles and one triple.

This combination of skills opened the door to a career at the next level. At the end of the season, Swick signed with Missouri State, where she will join fellow Stillwater senior Sidney McLaughlin.

“I’m really just excited that I get to keep playing the sport and continue for a little bit longer while I’ve got the time,” Swick said.

Swick said she didn’t expect this opportunity for herself, but overcoming self-doubts is nothing new. When Swick is in the circle, she can silence any negativity that creeps into her mind, just as she tunes out the ruckus from the crowd around her. She’s home in the middle of the softball field, where she’s wanted to be since elementary school. At the epicenter of the action, Swick has the power to control her response to every situation.

That’s how she has influenced her entire team.

“I’ve carried that with me, and I still remember that pretty often whenever I feel like I’m upset or feel like I’m struggling,” Swick said. “I need to realize that it’s more than just me. It’s a team sport, and I need to trust in my team and have confidence in myself and our ability to play together.”

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