Amanda Wilson is one of Florida Atlantic's underappreciated stars
Despite her pedigree, it was easy for Florida Atlantic University's (FAU) and Minooka, Illinois native Amanda Wilson to get lost in the shuffle of a highly successful season for the Owls women's softball team.
Though it was certainly through no fault of her own.
The all-conference and all-state player in high school, and the all-time leader in strikeouts at Providence Catholic High had another impressive individual season for FAU, but the squad as a whole had a stellar year that was bookended by two historic winning streaks.
With so much national attention on the team's record-setting ways, Wilson flew under the radar despite putting up a robust stat line. She finished the year with a 16-4 record and 1.69 ERA in 26 appearances for FAU, and helped the Owls get off to the best start in school history.
FAU won its first 12 games of the season ,and followed that up by closing out the year on a 18-game winning streak to finish the regular season with a glistening 47-7 record and total grasp of the Conference USA title, which the team won by a full nine games over second-place Marshall University.
In addition to the regular season title, the Owls also won the conference tournament, sweeping all three games to extend its win streak to 21 games, another FAU record. Despite losing a 2-1 heartbreaker to the University of Central Florida in the Regional round of the NCAA tournament, this was a true tour de force season for FAU.
Head coach Joan Joyce was named Conference USA Coach of the Year, while outfielder Madisyn Palmer with a scorching .432 batting average was named Conference USA freshman of the year and Kylee Hanson was named Conference USA pitcher of the year and was an NFCA Second Team All-American with a 28-5 record, 0.76 ERA and 300 strikeouts in 221 innings pitched.
In addition to the extensive team success, Hanson's dominant year also overshadowed the good work put in by Wilson, though there is no doubt that both Wilson's teammates and her coaches understood her value to the team.
"Amanda, to a lot of people who are outside of the team, she is really underappreciated," Justin Johnson, the assistant athletic media relations director at Florida Atlantic, told the Will County Gazette. "Kylee Hanson, who is our No. 1 pitcher, had such a good season that a lot of people tend to overlook Amanda."
Hanson's power pitching really draws the attention; and while Wilson's not the overwhelming strikeout artist that Hanson is — she struckout 89 batters in 128 innings — her uncanny ability to get people out regardless was a huge lift to the Owls this season.
"I think to a lot of people who wouldn't otherwise know, you might not fully appreciate Amanda," Johnson said. "Her ERA of 1.69 is top 40 in the nation... . (Amanda's) not as much of a strikeout pitcher as Kylee is, but she always puts her team in a position to win."
The junior, who herself was named first team All Conference USA, will be back next season for her senior swan song alongside Hanson to form perhaps as potent a 1-2 combination on the mound as there is in the nation. The team expects big things from Wilson in her final season, something she should have no trouble living up to.
"She was on the All-Freshman team her freshman year," Johnson said. "Then last year she was second team, then she was first team this year. I don't see why she wouldn't continue to be a huge part of our success."
Moving forward, Johnson once again expects the pitching rotation to be one of the team's strengths as the Owls head into next season.
"(It's) between Amanda and Kylee and our No. 3 pitcher, Tatum Buckley, who didn't pitch much in the conference finals, but was 6-0 with a 1.46 ERA in the regular season," Johnson said. "And then we also have Mia Olson, who was a freshman this past year, and she only pitched in maybe three or four games over the course of the season, but she'll also be back next year. So we'll have a pretty good pitching staff coming back."
Having that solid core in place will be necessary if the Owls are to live up to the record-setting pace laid down by this year's squad; but with so many of those key players coming back along with the continuity of a top coaching staff, the sky's the limit for both Wilson and the Owls next season.
"Coach Joyce would tell you this herself, "Johnson concluded. "She always expects to have a good year."
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