Three years ago, Kurt Schuett had a freshman in his honors English class named
Schuett, who has coached with Leyden (Franklin Park, Ill.)
softball program since 2000, wasn't aware of Maize's softball talent. Maize had played travel softball for many years, but had been on the Elmwood Park Lady Tigers, a squad in a neighboring town. Maize hadn't attended any of Schuett's camps.
Maize told Schuett she played softball, but at first, the Eagles coach didn't think much of it. Then, several of her classmates informed Schuett of Maize's skill.
"(They said) 'You know, coach, she's pretty good at it,'" Schuett recalled. "I am looking forward to seeing what she can do. In open gym, I saw her throw a little bit and I was like, 'Whoa. Yeah, this is definitely going to be a special kid.' She can definitely throw, and then when she hit, I was more impressed with her hitting."
In the 2009 season opener, Schuett started a sophomore against powerhouse Elk Grove. However, Leyden allowed nine runs in the first inning. Schuett decided to bring Maize in with the bases loaded and one out, then she allowed one earned run the rest of the game. She put together a solid freshman year and, as a sophomore, went 22-4 and hit .426 for a squad that won 30 games and earned a conference crown.
Maize earned her way onto the national radar as a junior, batting .427 with a state record-tying 18 homers, 77 RBIs, a 23-6 record and 1.18 earned-run average. In the state regional, Maize led Leyden — unranked at the time in the Chicago Tribune poll — to a 4-1 victory against top-ranked Conant. Maize hit a pair of two-run homers and tossed a two-hitter for the victory. Schuett called the game the single best performance he has ever seen from a high school softball player.
Leyden lost to St. Charles North in the following round (3-2 in 10 innings), but Maize's talent quickly spread. She eventually collected Chicago Tribune Preps Plus Player of the Year honors for a team that went 27-8, and earned attention from multiple Division I programs before signing with DePaul University, just a short trip from home.
"Before that game, everybody knew that she was a good player," Bob Maize, Morgan's dad, said. "They knew that she was a good hitter, that she was a good pitcher. After that, they moved her up a category and everyone wanted to know who she was."
Maize's talent, though, is just one part of the senior right-handed pitcher and infielder. Grades-wise, she ranks in the Top 10 percent of her class and multiple Eagles have called her a better teammate than a player. Schuett said Maize "always puts the team first." Maize credited her teammates for her high RBI total last season, saying the total wouldn't have occurred if her teammates didn't reach base.
"She consumes you with her laughter," her father said. "She has a big, hearty laugh. When she is laughing, people know from miles around and they absolutely just love her, because her personality is there. She is a good kid, a good student, but most of all, she is a good person. That's what makes my wife and I happier than anything."
This season, Leyden, which has never won a softball title, is ranked No. 1 in the preseason and is expected to contend for a state championship. Maize is one of three Division I-caliber Eagles, along with catcher
and shortstop April Markowski
, an Eastern Illinois signee. Maize's top goal is a championship, but tries to keep her mind focused.
"Praise is always good, but you've got to prove yourself and not let it get to your head, because there is always someone better than you out there," Maize said. "It makes you feel good, but there is always another goal to be accomplished."
In addition to the talent, the Leyden softball program has another plus this season. Helped by Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens, the Eagles practice and play all of their home games at nearby Rosemont Stadium, home of the professional Chicago Bandits. The $14 million complex is widely considered the best professional softball facility. It includes 2,000 seats, turf outfield, 30-foot scoreboard, walk-up songs and press box. Schuett likened the game atmosphere to the postseason and a "carnival" with the community packing the ballpark.
"I keep thinking someone is going to wake me up from this dream that we are having," Bob Maize said.
On Wednesday, Leyden opened its season with a 7-0 home victory against Niles West. Even though Maize was ill, she still pitched a complete game, allowing four hits with one walk against seven strikeouts. Maize went 2-for-2 with a walk and a triple.
Maize, though, has long been a talented softball player. She has the athletic genes — Bob played football and baseball at Northeastern Illinois, and Morgan's mom, Debbie, also played volleyball at Northeastern — and a strong determination.
"There was something inside of her that had nothing to do with me," Bob said. "Just her desire to win was stronger than any kid I've ever seen."
The Maize household doesn't have a large back yard. Instead, Bob stood in the street and hit ground balls to his daughter, who stood in front of the front-yard bushes. Maize started those drills around age 10 and began to play travel softball at 11. Early on, Maize knew she wanted to play in college.
"I didn't want my parents to pay for me to go to college," she said. "Since I loved softball that much, I just wanted to keep playing it."
Maize has shown tremendous strength in her career. She has hit multiple homers that have traveled more than 250 feet, including several that have been marked off at 300. When she was 15, she could bench press 135 pounds 10 times, more reps than some of the varsity football players. Maize's strength and years of traveling softball have produced what Schuett labeled "crazy bat speed" that has impressed multiple Division I coaches.
On the mound, Maize has an arsenal that includes a screwball (considered her best pitch), rise ball, fastball, curve and a circle changeup that she has worked on recently. It's the full package that's helped Maize earn acclaim as a player — and person.Conor Nicholl has covered sports, mainly high school and college, since 2003 in the Midwest. In addition to his work with MaxPreps, Nicholl is a sports reporter at The Hays (Kan.) Daily News and for KPreps.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.