sports   |   softball

'Rally squid': Westmoreland still in search of identity, on and off field


Then-freshman catcher Maddie Westmoreland, now a sophomore, yells to the outfield in the final inning of IU’s game March 18, 2018, against the University of Illinois at Chicago. Matt Begala

Commotion is brewing on a partly cloudy Saturday afternoon at Andy Mohr Field , but it’s not from the action taking place on it. Rather, it’s a crimson, eight-legged creature sitting atop a set of blond hair that has captured the attention and imagination of players and fans alike.

A set of googly wide-eyes turns the oddity into a spectacle, but still not distinguishable by name.

From the seats behind the third base dugout all the way up to the press box, the object remains indiscernible. Take a few steps closer, though, and it becomes abundantly clear.

On top of IU sophomore catcher Maddie Westmoreland’s head is a stuffed squid.

It’s "Little Sis" day for the IU softball team, a yearly event that gives young girls an opportunity to hang out with players and take part in pregame festivities with their designated “Big Sis”.  Some, like Westmoreland’s “little sis”, come bearing gifts for the players.

“When I opened up the gift I was in such awe," Westmoreland said. "I was like, 'This is totally me. My boyfriend will get me jewelry and stuff, but when I opened up that squid hat, it was probably the best gift I’ve ever gotten.”

For many, a plush toy is little more than a kind gesture that will likely end up on a shelf or in a storage closet collecting dust, but to Westmoreland, it personifies who she is.

A Glendale, Arizona, native, Westmoreland committed to IU knowing very little about the school or state beside the fact that she’d be 1,700 miles away from home and in search of a fleeting identity.

There have been many labels thrown around over the years to describe Westmoreland: slugger, leader, All-State, future All-American, just to name a few. The way the Westmoreland describes herself, however, doesn’t come from the aforementioned word bank. It reaches much further than her athletic abilities.

“Just in general, I just like to have fun,” Westmoreland said. “And my personality, I like to be a jokester and be goofy and be laid-back.”

Well, that explains the squid hat that has since become the unofficial mascot for IU softball this season. It also gives context to the happy-go-lucky attitude Westmoreland brings to the batter’s box. Whether it’s her patented, wide smile that’s seemingly plastered to her face, or the dance moves that she likes to bust out following a clutch base hit, it all speaks volumes to who she is.

Coming out of Sandra Day O’Connor High School , where she was a four-year starter and led her team to a state championship, Westmoreland was heavily recruited as a power-hitting catcher. Her intimidating 5-foot-9-inch frame was ideal for the position, especially in the Big Ten where a sure-handed backstop is a necessity for every contender.

Plans changed when Westmoreland arrived to Bloomington. Already armed with an experienced and capable catcher in then-sophomore Bella Norton, IU Head Coach Shonda Stanton was stuck with an ultimatum: sacrifice defense and leadership in order to get Westmoreland’s impact bat into the lineup, or shake up her role within the team entirely. Stanton chose the latter.

In 53 starts, Westmoreland caught 26 of them and slotted in as the designated player for the other 27 games. The day-to-day positional uncertainty was a lot to ask from an 18-year-old freshman, but it didn’t seem to faze her.

During her freshman campaign, Westmoreland led IU in home runs and runs batted in, resulting in two Big Ten Freshman and Player of the Week honors, the first time an IU player achieved the feat since senior Tara Trainer did so in the 2016 season.

“Pretty early on she showed power and the ability to drive the ball,” Stanton said. “I would say it was about 10-12 games in that you could see that.”

Then came Westmoreland’s second season, where expectations were heightened and her days of catching were becoming few and far between.

“For me right now, my role turned more into a DH position, which I love so much," Westmoreland said. "I feel like I fit the role really well. I do miss catching, but Bella’s been doing an amazing job behind the plate. We have a great relationship, we really push each other.”

What’s gotten lost in the hype of her sophomore campaign, though, is Westmoreland’s propensity to live in the moment. It’s difficult not to drool over the statistics of the former All-Big Ten freshman, but numbers aren’t what she plays for.

“I really just want to make the most out of every moment – just knowing these will be my last few years ever playing softball, and for me, I just want to make the most memories with my teammates and coaches,” Westmoreland said.

This humble, grounded side of Westmoreland is rarely noticed by outsiders even though it’s what her parents, Randy and Pam Westmoreland, said they have seen everyday since she was born.

Since she was old enough to swing a bat, the Westmorelands never missed watching a single game in person. That was until she donned the cream and crimson for the first time and her parents had to settle for watching most of the games on television, but it still wasn’t the same.

The 1,700-mile gap between Westmoreland and her parents was becoming too much, so instead of transferring to another school, it was her parents who made a life-changing choice.

“My parents love watching every single game, and they were upset they had to fly back and forth,” Westmoreland said. “So they said, ‘Why don’t we just move to Indiana?’”

Now residents of Ellettsville, Indiana, the Westmoreland’s are just a 17-minute drive from Andy Mohr Field, and more importantly, much closer to their budding superstar daughter. Westmoreland says she wouldn’t be where she is if it weren’t for her No. 1 support system making the move when they did, and it’s paying dividends.

Following a slow start to the 2019 season, the sophomore has since rediscovered her slugging ways. Through 49 games, Westmoreland paces IU in batting average and slugging percentage and is second in home runs with six.

The Hoosiers will surely need to rely on her if they want to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament and beyond.

Then again, maybe she isn’t all that IU needs. Perhaps the fate of the team lies in a crimson, eight-legged, stuffed hat.

“Rally squid,” Westmoreland said. “There it is, rally squid.”

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