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A ‘shot in the dark’ pays off

From New Ulm to Macon: Donner becomes 1st NUHS grad to play DI softball

Photo courtesy of Katie Linkner/Mercer AthleticsAshlyn Donner prepare to deliver a pitch during a game this season against Presbyterian College on March 13.

NEW ULM — After graduating from New Ulm High School in 2019 and finishing her senior season as the All-Journal Softball Player of the Year, former Eagles softball pitcher Ashlyn Donner had big goals in mind for her future in the circle.

One of Donner’s biggest goals was playing Division 1 college softball. This year, she accomplished that goal and made history in the process as she became the first NUHS graduate to play DI.

Donner agreed to transfer to the DI Mercer College in Macon, Georgia, last year and is currently nearing the end of her first semester there.

The road to DI ball was anything but easy for Donner, and it required patience and a lot of hard work.

After finishing her senior year of high school with 270 strikeouts, a 20-3 record, a 0.71 ERA and a multitude of accolades and honors, Donner made the move to Marianna, Florida, to start her college career at Chipola College. Chipola is a public college that is part of the Florida College System.

Photo courtesy of Jen Jones/Mercer Athletics Ashlyn Donner is currently finishing her first semester at Mercer College in Macon, Georgia. Donner became the first NUHS grad to play DI softball this year.

Many famous athletes got their start or spent time at Chipola, such as former six-time MLB All-Star José Bautista, former four-time MLB All-Star catcher Russell Martin and current MLB pitcher and two-time All-Star Patrick Corbin.

For Chipola last season, Donner went 9-2 with a 2.64 ERA and 42 strikeouts. She was out last season until February with an LCL sprain but returned two weeks before conference play.

The season was then shut down in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Chipola was a lot of fun, but Mercer just ended up being a really good opportunity to take,” Donner said. “I was only at Chipola for, I would say, a year total because we did get sent home from the pandemic and everything like that. So it was a short time, but I had a lot of fun there and got a lot of games.”

Donner added that she appreciated everything Chipola did for her and helping her get to where she is now, but she’s really enjoying her time with the Mercer Bears and the step up in competition. She also said that it’s been nice having senior leaders to learn from at Mercer.

Photo courtesy of Jen Jones/Mercer Athletics Donner prepares to deliver another pitch for the Mercer Bears in an earlier spring game this year.

Donner described getting to Mercer as taking a “shot in the dark.”

“Chipola just didn’t really feel like the perfect fit for me anymore, so I was ready to kind of move on and see what other opportunities were out there for me,” Donner said. “So I just ended up reaching out to coach Stephanie DeFeo [Mercer College softball head coach] and just being like, ‘Hey, I’m looking to transfer early and not complete my two years at Chipola. Are you in need of a pitcher?’ And it was just kind of like a shot in the dark to see if she could possibly take me in the middle of the year instead of me staying at Chipola to finish my two years. And it just happened that they were looking for another pitcher, and I just happened to be what they wanted. I had to send them some video clips and everything like that just to kind of show what I was about for spin and speed as a pitcher. It just happened that they needed me and wanted me, so I just packed my stuff up and moved from Florida to Georgia.”

After finalizing her transfer and officially becoming a Mercer Bear, Donner said that it didn’t feel real at first.

“It definitely didn’t feel real,” Donner said. “When I actually like committed to Mercer and signed my papers and everything, I definitely had a moment with my family just, like, crying and being like, ‘We did it, we made it to the top level.’ It was just really a really cool experience that we could share with my family and definitely give props to my dad because he’s spent all the years on the bucket helping me out, so I couldn’t have done it without him. … Then I was talking to Kristi [Andersen Loose, New Ulm Softball head coach], and she was telling me that she was looking back on the record books and history and she said that I was the first on to come out of [NUHS] to make it Division I for softball, so I thought that was really cool, too. So she just kind of put the cherry on top of how sweet it was to make it to Mercer.”

As of May 12, Donner had a 3.58 ERA with 32 strikeouts, 121 hits allowed and just 32 walks allowed in 107 2/3 innings of work.

Over the past couple of years, Donner has worked to increase her pitch velocity, going from being more of a spin pitcher to a speed pitcher in the process.

“I’m definitely learning each day and every day,” Donner said. “My pitching coach [Mollie Hanson], she played at Samford, which is another team in our conference. So she has a ton of knowledge that she shares with all of the pitchers, girls on my team and everything like that, so I’m definitely learning every day at practice. But I’m transforming from a spin pitcher, which I definitely still throw spins, but more into a speed pitcher because I do throw the hardest on the team at the moment — which I don’t throw, like, anything crazy — but definitely turning into a speed pitcher. So I don’t throw off-speed as much, I’m more just focused on throwing the ball as hard as I can and hitting my spots.”

Maxing out her fastball at 60 mph in high school, Donner said that she’s seen her fastball top out at 65 mph during her college career.

This offseason, Donner will be working to improve in any and every area she can.

“I would like to increase my speed as much as I can and just get stronger and more fit and everything like that,” Donner said. “And just try to be as accurate as I can, get more spin on my ball, just anything that can help me potentially in the future.”

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