During her early days of playing softball, Brenna Bourdage had always been a pitcher for her Little League teams simply because no was else wanted to and she figured she would continue to take the mound once she got to high school.
Alpena High School softball coach Paul Marwede had other ideas.
One day at a camp, Mr. Marwede was like 'Brenna, you need to either be a hitter or a pitcher.' At first I was like, 'I want to pitch and he told me no, you're gonna hit,'" Bourdage said.
That nudge from Marwede changed Bourdage's perspective on the game and opened up a lot of new possibilities if she worked hard. Her hard work paid off in a big way as she signed her Letter of Intent Wednesday to play collegiate softball at Saginaw Valley State University beginning next season.
"It's definitely a huge relief just because I've been working really hard for this over the past few years and just to have out of the way and be able to focus on just softball and all my hard work is really a big achievement," Bourdage said.
Rather than coaches coming to recruit her, Bourdage, a senior, did a lot of leg work herself. Beginning last year, she and her dad, Romeo, spent time sending emails to coaches highlighting Brenna's achievements, hoping to get them to come and watch her play. The process proved to be stressful and Bourdage said she felt that she was annoying some coaches rather than getting their attention.
While she looked at schools like Alma, Western Michigan and Grand Valley State, Bourdage, who plans to study occupational therapy, ultimately caught the attention of Cardinals' softball coach Todd Buckingham, who was impressed with her fielding during a Blue Chip camp this summer. It also helped that Bourdage was on fire at the plate that day.
"I really loved the coach. He's loud. He's outgoing. He fits in with the coaches I've been with and it's a really good program and it all just fell into place for me,"Bourdage said. "They have a really good record. They have a really good coaching system. I'm just really excited to be a part of it."
Bourdage's skills as a power hitter and top-notch fielder will be of great value to the Cardinals' who finished 21-25 last season before Buckingham took over as head coach in June. The year before that, the Cardinals went 42-18 and made it to the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Softball Championship.
Though Bourdage plays first base for the Wildcats and earned a Division 1 all-state honorable mention last season at the position, she also seen some time in right field. She played fall softball with the Kalamazoo-based Michigan Athletics and hit .500 while playing in the outfield.
Bourdage plans to play in the Cardinals' fall ball program to prove to Buckingham that she's hungry to earn a spot at first base and a spot in the starting lineup.
"I'll use fall ball as the time to prove myself (and show) that I'm a versatile player. I can play first base, outfield, anywhere he wants to put me and I can hit anywhere in the lineup," Bourdage said. "That's my goal, to prove myself."
Now that she's signed her letter, Bourdage can focus her full attention this spring to improving her game in several areas and helping the Wildcats toward another postseason run after Alpena made it to a regional final last season.
Among Bourdage's areas of focus this coming spring are playing first base without the aid of a fielding mask, working on improving her play in right field and breaking some school hitting records. Bourdage said one of her main goals is to hit above .500 this season.
Though she may have been skeptical of Marwede's decision to turn her into a hitter several years ago, that decision ultimately made Bourdage want to work hard to perfect herself as a hitter, especially once she realized she could hit when she was called up to varsity as a sophomore.
"He put me in the hitting lineup and I finally realized that I wasn't just a below average hitter and fielder. I knew I had a lot of potential in me and I wanted to bring it out," Bourdage said. ""I worked hard on hitting and realized I could be a power hitter," Bourdage said. "I'm really glad I made that choice because hitting is my favorite part of softball."