Kiwi softballer Mikayla Lewin wants to bring home all she learns on the diamond and in the classroom in the US, and build bridges.
Mikayla Lewin is building up quite the résumé in the United States softball scene.
But the 21-year-old Kiwi also has plans to build a CV away from the dugout.
Once Lewin completes her civil engineering degree at Florida Institute of Technology, she’ll be building bridges and infrastructure, in the literal sense.
And bridges of a metaphorical nature: connecting what she’s absorbing overseas with the White Sox and softball communities back home in New Zealand. Lewin was a Junior White Sox when she got the call-up for the national women’s side, the Sky Sport White Sox, in 2018.
“Making it now means it’s more about continuing to get better and continuing to make those teams,” says Lewin. “We’ve got quite a few girls studying in the States at the moment so it’s all about getting better to help build the programme [in New Zealand].”
Before last year’s season was struck out because of Covid-19, Lewin made quite the impression in her freshman year at Chipola College in Florida. Now in her third year studying and playing away from home, she’s moved to Florida Institute of Technology to finish off a four-year bachelors degree programme.
“It was huge for me,” says Lewin of her first year in the US. “Our team did really well and we ended up winning nationals. I actually exceeded my own expectations so just seeing the amount of opportunities over here has been crazy and I’m just trying to get as many people as I can to come over.”
Lewin has notched up a few other achievements in the lecture rooms too. In 2019, Lewin received the Jean Williams Award – for the top softball scholar of the year in the state of Florida. She made the Dean’s list in all three semesters at Chipola, a feat recognising the top group of ‘straight A’ students.
In addition to winning the 2019 NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) national championship, her team took out the District H Region 8 and Panhandle Conference championships.
To top it all off, Lewin hit a home run with selection into the tournament team for all three championship events as well as the national and state all-academic teams. Before Covid-19 put a stop to the 2020 season, Lewin was leading Chipola in home runs with eight on the board.
And throughout it all, she still managed to give back to communities by coaching and volunteering her time and experience to local teams.
Lewin’s end goal is about giving back – something she’s seen first-hand and knows the importance of doing. She’s followed in the footsteps of White Sox captain, Lara Andrews, who spent four years at college in Delaware, before becoming the first New Zealand woman to play in the US professional league.
“Lara has given back hugely to the programme and softball in general back home,” says outfielder Lewin. “So that was a huge part in what led me to coming over here as well, because I’d grown up playing and watching her.”
Lewin’s younger sister, Caitlyn – another Junior White Sox member in the family – will join the ranks at Chipola College sometime this year on the same scholarship as her sister. “I know she’ll do crazy well over there. She’ll love it,” says all-rounder Lewin.
Growing up across the road from Fraser Park in Lower Hutt, the Lewin siblings got into softball because “it was the cheapest sport at the time for all three kids to get into,” explains Lewin; they also has a younger brother. “We stuck with it because the softball family has become such a huge part of our life.”
While back home last year, Lewin played the 2020 season and also coached an U11 softball team.
“That was fun,” she says. “It’s just cool because I love the sport and it’s kind of dying off, so I’ll do anything to get kids into the sport to help build it back up.”
But she says it’s a very different environment back in the States. “Covid changes a lot of things. We struggled to keep up with our schedule just because we have weekly tests so that we’re allowed to play,” she says. “Last week we didn’t have any games because the other team tested positive [for Covid-19].
“If your team tests positive, then you’re on lockdown for two weeks. And there’s no games or anything.”
Rules and requirements are also different in comparison to what she was doing back in New Zealand. “Just coming from home, we didn’t have to wear a mask at all,” Lewin says. “Everywhere you go here you have to wear a mask. Like around school and everything but also we have to train in masks so I’m drowning in my own sweat.”
On the study front, Lewin is managing her workload. She says it’s a lot of work studying engineering and trying to compete in a global pandemic, but Florida Tech is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) school.
“So pretty much everyone in my team has a full workload as well because they’re all in science-y majors,” says Lewin. “It’s really nice actually because we’re all going through the same thing and our coach is really helpful and supporting our study.”
She’s always been into math and science so things have worked out well for her. “I know that it’s a big field back home so this degree is going to be really useful. And its stuff that I’m interested in,” Lewin says. “Dad was also definitely happy about the amount we’re saving for the degree side of things.”
It’s usually a four-year playing eligibility window for student-athletes like Lewin, but there’s now an option for her to stay on for an extra year after last year was called off.
“I could potentially play two more years if I want to,” says Lewin. “I’ll either finish my degree next year and go home, or I could stay on for my fifth year and start my masters programme.”
After finishing Hutt Valley High School, Lewin decided to head over to the US who are, she says, the best in the world in softball. “I just wanted to see how far I could go because we don’t have the same opportunities back home,” she says.
There was a bit of a curve ball this year when trying to find another university to attend after her two-year stint at Chipola finished. “It was really hard because I didn’t have anything to go off from last year’s stats, so I was just sending out emails to a bunch of different schools, hoping to hear back,” Lewin says. Florida Tech responded and their engineering programme is “really good.”
The move meant starting all over again but it’s nothing new for Lewin. “I just love the idea of new experiences and new people so I wasn’t too afraid to start from scratch,” she says.
She wants to encourage as many people as possible to look into heading offshore to study and play softball. But admits the route to the US is “pretty hard.”
Lewin says there is next to no communication with coaches so New Zealand players have to organise everything themselves or rely on people they know. Lewin initially made contacts through the previous women’s national coach.
“It is hard to get over here. It’s a lot of work because there’s all this behind the scene stuff, like transferring your high school credits and all this,” she says. “But it’s so worth it.”
The experience alone makes the rough road easier. She could’ve easily stayed in New Zealand and attended university but the opportunities were too much in the US, says Lewin.
“For someone like me who has grown up playing softball, over here you really get to live and breathe softball,” she says. “That’s all I’m doing at the moment, studying and playing. It’s so good not having to worry about working or anything. I really get to just focus on what I love to do.”