She’s the slender blonde with the hard to pronounce, and even harder to forget, last name, and she’s hoping a wicked curve ball and foregoing the life of an average teenager will pay off with a college scholarship.
Megan Schwartzengraber (shwarts-n-gray-ber) is a Camden-Frontier pitching star who posted a 0.95 ERA with 175 strikeouts in 94 1/2 innings as a sophomore, but she has taken major strides this summer toward becoming more than just a small-town high school athlete who never quite made it at the college level.
She is a starting pitcher on the Indiana Shockwave, the top Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) program in the Hoosier State, and a team that just finished fourth out of 164 squads at 16-U American Softball Association (ASA) Nationals in Sioux Falls, S.D.
She has already received a handful of letters of interest from college coaches and softball is basically her full-time job with the entire Schwartzengraber family dedicating their time and money to the cause.
Megan said there is plenty of pressure being in her shoes, but she realized at the age of 10 or 11 that softball was going to be a key part of her future and she was willing to sacrifice for success.
“You step on the field and all you see is college coaches, you barely see your parents,” she said about competing in national tournaments that are littered with scouts. “At nationals, our first game, I saw coaches from Michigan, Central (Michigan), Eastern (Michigan), (Michigan) State and it was kind of scary. At the beginning it plays games with your head, but then you have to block it out and focus.”
She blocked it out well enough to help guide her team to the national semifinals, where the Shockwave fell a run short to the eventual champion.
While she has to give up some afternoons by the pool and decline invites to weekend slumber parties, she said she is thankful to just have the opportunity to be seen and known for playing the sport she can’t get enough of.
“It was a great experience with 164 teams and I got to go somewhere I wasn’t familiar with. There was tons of excitement and you never expected people to just go crazy about softball I guess,” she said. “I knew we were good because we won all the Indiana tournaments. Once we got fourth at nationals I was just like ‘man, we’re really good I guess.'”
The Shockwave played 10 games at nationals and a normal weekend includes five to seven tournament contests.
She has traveled to Colorado and Illinois, as well as all over Indiana this summer, but the back roads of Hillsdale County have turned out to be the right place to hone her skills during the school year.
The Schwartzengraber’s live in Angola, Ind., but Megan’s mom, Dawn, has taught at C-F for 12 years. Megan came to C-F for a day in eighth grade and never left — now is she is a fixture and asset to the athletic community.
She has been part of a dynamic one-two punch with Morgan Warfield as the Redskins have won back-to-back district titles, something that remains Schwartzengraber’s proudest moments, even with all the highlights of AAU ball.
“I think winning districts for Camden is a great experience because not a lot of people think of Camden as a place for softball district champs. I think if we keep going people will finally start realizing Camden is actually there,” she said. “We still have people who say we’re not that great, but we beat them every time. It’s just like c’mon, show a little respect.”
Head coach Melissa Warfield said earlier this year that Morgan and Megan feed off each other and Schwartzengraber agrees.
“We try and not make it a competition. We just try and help each other. If one is struggling the other one needs to be there for each other and we work really well as a team together,” Megan said. “Morgan and I are pretty intense. I think it helps that we’re intense because we can try and help get everybody else to that level, where they’re like ‘OK, we want to win.'”
Dawn said the opportunity to play right away has helped her daughter develop quickly and the district is a great place to be a student.
She admitted there are some cons though, such as the lack of notoriety children get with little media coverage, and the fact that not every athlete has the same drive because there are not even tryouts to make the team.
Whatever C-F lacks though has been made up in miles driven, dollars spent and tough love from parents if you ask Megan.
“My parents are a huge part. If they hadn’t pushed me when I was younger then I probably wouldn’t be here today,” she said, noting there have been plenty of times where she wanted to toss in the towel and they kept her going. “We always just let her do what she wanted to do,” Dawn said. “We give up a lot to go to all these places and she has no chance to have a job, so in return we just ask that she plays ball and dedicates herself 100 percent.”
Dawn said she and her husband Troy let their daughter make a lot of her own decisions, but they are strict on forcing her to take one month a year off from all activities related to softball.
“We’ve always said that she needs to take a break so she doesn’t burn herself out. Too many parents push too hard where their kid begins to not even like the sport and we don’t want to do that,” Dawn said.
Megan said amazingly she continues to avoid injury and her body feels great, other than some soreness from time to time.
What she’s more concerned with is keeping a steady stream of college letters coming to her mailbox.
She said she received her first letter, which was from a D-I program, early this summer, but she is not letting any accolades or praise go to her head.
“The first one I got was a Division I letter, so it was like ‘oh wow’, but of course it was in Baton Rouge, La., so I was like hmm, maybe. I’d go Division I, but if I can go somewhere small and play a lot that’s my goal,” she said. “I’ve got a few (letters) that have said they are interested in seeing me play summer ball…and I’m with a program called NCSA online which gives coaches all my stats and have a video and stuff. College coaches leave me comments telling me they’re interested.”
Megan’s parents are elated by the success she is having and they admit they hope a college scholarship is some of the fruit of this intense labor of love.
“In the end a scholarship is what we’re hoping for and education is first. She could possibly play D-I but we want what is best for her all the way around, because her future is not softball in the long run,” Dawn said.
Some people might chuckle at the thought of an SCAA softball player making it at the highest collegiate level, but it’s been done before, a fact Schwartzengraber takes comfort in.
“And a few years ago, Kelsey Greene (a Burr Oak High School graduate) went to Eastern (Michigan),” she said. “That was a big thing, I was really excited after that because it made me realize I could do this.”
Schwartzengraber has six pitches that she uses, a number comparable to most college pitchers, but she admits she has a lot of things to clean up on some of her weaker pitches.
She will not blow people away with the speed of her fastball, and she said it’s sometimes hard to watch scouts looking at girls who throw harder, but she’s not too concerned — she’s got skills of her own to offer.
“From what I’ve seen velocity won’t really get you by,” she said. “The movement of the ball is what will really get them because they’re not going to expect it when what they think is a fastball is actually a curve on the outside corner.”
She’s not afraid to let people know that she’s especially good at doing that when she’s on top of her game.
“(My curve) looks like it’s coming right down the middle and all of a sudden it will curve and people will whiff.”
She said she still has plenty of work to do when it comes to hitting pitches on the outside of the plate and she still vividly remembers dropping a routine fly-ball during outfield duty earlier this summer. She’s not going to just wait for some breakthrough in those areas though, she’s going to tackle the problems.
In the near future she is going to start making the drive to South Bend, Ind. to work on hitting and pitching with a Notre Dame coach, someone who an AAU teammate already trains with.
For Megan the name of the game is creating the best opportunity she can for herself and everyone involved is all in on this venture.
“I do feel like I’m missing out on a lot of things at this age but that’s the risk I’m willing to take if I want to play college softball,” she said.
Megan said she is slowly learning that her parents really do know best and Dawn firmly believes this journey is the adventure of a lifetime.
“The time commitment is tremendous, you give up everything,” she said. “But you finally sit back and realize it was worth the time, money and not seeing your husband for two weeks, because you are letting your daughter have the opportunity to be seen by coaches from the likes of Michigan and UCLA.”