KINDRED, N.D. — Abby Duchscherer turned two unassisted triple plays in her first season of recreational softball in Washington state. She was 7 years old.
Duchscherer's coach told her parents she had potential to be a special player. He said they should think about getting her onto a traveling team. That fall, she joined a 10-and-under team populated mostly by players two years older than her. It set her off on a softball journey that has taken the Kindred junior across the country.
On Wednesday, Duchscherer announced her journey would take her to the University of Alabama, where she committed to play softball. She had offers from schools at every level from the SEC to the Big Ten to mid-majors and Division II. She also had offers to play basketball — she helped Kindred to state championships as a seventh grader and a freshman.
“It’s crazy to finally say that I am committed to the University of Alabama,” Duchscherer said. “Now that I achieved that goal, I have the next goal which is to keep grinding. This is when the real process starts, trying to get better than I am now. Now it’s all about getting ready for college.”
Alabama is one of the premier softball programs in the country, having won a national championship in 2012. Alabama has made appearances in every women’s College World Series since 1999 and are coached by National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Famer and five-time Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year, Patrick Murphy.
“Coach Murphy is an amazing coach,” Duchscherer said. “A Hall of Famer and an amazing guy. Their coaching staff is unbelievable and their team culture and what Alabama stands for is unbelievable. They’re one of the top programs in the country.”
Going through the recruiting process amidst a global pandemic added a new twist to something already overwhelming. Duchscherer wasn't even allowed to take an official visit to Alabama's campus before making her decision — though she has been there before for camps. And once the dead period lifted on Sept. 1 and coaches were able to communicate with prospects, her life became a series of emails, phone calls and Zoom meetings with coach after coach.
"I felt like her personal secretary almost," Abby's mom, Kelly Duchscherer, said. "She asked me, 'Could you help me get these down?' She didn’t want to miss anything or look unprofessional. We navigated through I would say about 15-to-20 colleges the last month or so, once Sept. 1 hit as far as recruiting. All the way from recruiting to offers."
Playing at the top level of the sport was always the main goal for Abby. She dedicated huge amounts of time and effort to getting as good as she possibly could. This past summer she played on the Midwest Bombers traveling team based in Bloomington, Minn., and had to make the three-plus hour drive back-and-forth to the Twin Cities for practices and training. With that team, she traveled all over the country for tournaments — including trips to Kansas and Tennessee.
“To be at the best of the best, you have to put in that time and the commitment,” she said. “Putting in those extra hours is what’s going to make you the best athlete. It was more of an achievement to reach my goal. It was all for the better at the end of the day, no matter how long the days got.”
Prior to this summer, Abby played for the South Dakota Renegades, coached by Michael Mook — now the head coach at Division II West Texas A&M. Her parents found that program through the softball coaches at Concordia after they moved back to North Dakota when Abby was 11. She started making the three-plus hour trip down to Sioux Falls on a regular basis.
“Abby has been fortunate enough to have many great coaches over the years, but Mike Mook is the best coach she has ever had,” Kelly Duchscherer said. “She played for him for three years. He took the job at West Texas A&M and as soon as he took that job, he wasn’t allowed to coach anymore. That’s when she started with Midwest Bombers.”
Duchscherer said this year was the craziest year she’s had yet. It was the first time she played AAU basketball in the summer on top of softball. The basketball season was supposed to end before the softball season picked up, but due to COVID, it got pushed back and the commitments overlapped. She was simultaneously playing on a basketball and softball team based in the Twin Cities.
“I did a lot of staying nights in hotels this summer going from softball to basketball,” Abby Duchscherer said. “Sometimes if I had basketball practice Tuesday nights we’d go back and then go to a softball practice on Thursday.”
Duchscherer is going to be sad to see her basketball career come to an end, but she knew softball was the path she wanted to go down.
“It was beyond hard to ever see myself not playing one or the other between basketball and softball,” she said. “I didn’t know what the future held for me or not. It was a hard decision to decide between basketball and softball. I’ve had a lot more time and commitment with softball, with all the traveling and trips across the country. I’m looking forward to focusing on just one sport and seeing how much better I can get.”
As for those unassisted triple plays that kicked off the journey — they helped her achieve her goal of playing at the next level. But it also helped her achieve her goal as a 7-year-old of getting another candy bar.
“Her coach gave her a big candy bar when she did it,” Kelly Duchscherer said. “So she wanted to do it again. The second time she could care less if she got those three outs, she just wanted the candy bar. Every girl loves chocolate whether they’re 6 or 16.”