By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, Nov. 12 — While this week marked a major milestone for Maddie Gordon, in many ways, it was simply a formality.
In the fall of her freshman year at Page County High School, Gordon was already touring the campus of Penn State University. Her performance on the softball field with high-level travel teams since the sixth grade had already drawn attention from Division I coaches. Before she ever finished her freshman campaign for Panthers’ head coach Alan Knight, Gordon had already made a verbal commitment to play softball for the Nittany Lions.
Yesterday’s National Signing Day saw that verbal commitment get inked, as the PCHS senior became one of four high school standouts from across the country to sign letters of intent to play softball for Penn State in 2021.
“I’m excited…It will be challenging, but it will be fun,” Gordon said on Thursday.
During her freshman and sophomore seasons, Gordon earned first-team All District honors as she aided the Panthers to a state title in 2018 and a return to the state tournament in 2019. En route to helping capture one district title and two regional titles for PCHS during those seasons, Gordon also earned second- team All Region in 2018 and first-team All-Region in 2019 — the same year she also captured first-team All State.
Gordon, an infielder, is currently ranked No. 71 by Extra Inning Softball.
With a much shortened softball season in 2020, Gordon just started volleyball practice under Coach Knight this week. Teams, coaches and fans across the state are waiting to see what the upcoming shortened seasons will look like — or if they will even happen as amended due to the rising case count in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Panthers’ spring season is scheduled to begin as volleyball concludes, but Gordon says she’s unsure (like everyone else) what her final days of high school softball will hold. Some school districts across the state have considered pushing back schedules and start dates, as well as even potentially canceling spring seasons.
Gordon is a three-sport athlete, who also plays basketball. Academically, she is a member of the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society. She intends to major in nutritional sciences, according to a softball press release on the Penn State website.
In spite of the uncertainty of her senior year, Gordon can’t help but take a moment to enjoy the collegiate milestone she crossed this week as a Division I signee from a small, rural community.
“It’s been a goal of mine, to play Division I, since I was young, and I couldn’t have done it without my family, my coaches, my teammates…really everybody — and I am just so grateful for all of their support,” she said.
To say athletic ability — especially in baseball and softball — runs in the family would be an understatement.
Maddie’s older sister Kate, is a redshirt, fifth-year senior playing softball at Division I James Madison University. Kate earned her undergraduate degree in the spring, but she is still enrolled at JMU in a continuing studies program. She will use her final year of eligibility this spring through a medical redshirt allowed by the NCAA due the shortened 2020 season during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kate holds JMU’s record for home runs with 50, as well as the highest career batting average and slugging percentage in school history. The outfielder was named a preseason All-American by Softball America and made the USA Softball Top 50 Watch List.
Maddie’s older brother, Tristan, is in his freshman year at Milligan College in Tennessee (near Bristol and Johnson City), where he plays baseball. Tristan was a part of the Panthers’ baseball team that won the 2018 state championship.
“It’s fun…it’s competitive,” Maddie says of her siblings. “Me, Kate and Tristan push each other, but we also support each other.”
Maddie’s father, Buck, spent three years in the Cubs organization, after playing both football and baseball at Bridgewater College. Her mom, Megan, played volleyball and softball at Bridgewater.
“[Coach Knight] picks with me and tells me I should have gone [with a college] closer,” Maddie said this week. “But he congratulated me and said he was happy for me.”
Maddie heads to Happy Valley in 2021 to help a Nittany Lion softball program that hopes to improve their standing in the competitive Big Ten Conference. Penn State believes that can be accomplished under new head coach Clarisa Crowell.
After spending six seasons at Oklahoma State as an assistant and eight years at Miami of Ohio as a head coach, Crowell was named Penn State’s head softball coach just 14 weeks ago on Aug. 3.
“We are ecstatic to have attracted someone with Clarisa’s experience, intellect and character to lead our softball program,” Penn State University Vice President for Athletics Sandy Barbour said. “During the interview process, Clarisa’s passion for the game of softball and dedication to her student-athletes was abundantly evident, as she rose to be our top candidate in an extremely competitive pool. Throughout her career, she has made a strong commitment to develop student-athletes both on and off the field…We believe she will be a tremendous addition to our Nittany Lion family, and I can’t wait for our student-athletes to begin the ‘Coach C’ era.”
Cromwell is only the eighth coach in the Penn State softball program. She comes to Happy Valley after being named the 2019 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year and leaves Miami of Ohio as the winningest coach in that program’s history.
“I would like to thank Sandy Barbour and Charmelle Green for entrusting me to be the next head coach of Penn State Softball,” said Crowell. “I firmly believe in the vision, mission and values of Penn State, and it is an incredible honor to be a part of this prestigious university and athletic department. I am excited to meet our student-athletes, staff, other coaches and the entire Penn State family. It is my intention to create a culture of comprehensive excellence and to take our program to the next level.”
Crowell was a decorated student-athlete at Virginia Tech as a four-year letter winner and a three-time all-conference performer for the Hokies. In 2013, Crowell was inducted into the Virginia Tech All Sports Hall of Fame.
Crowell graduated from Virginia Tech in 2002 with a bachelor of science degree in psychology. She earned a master of science in recreation and sports sciences from Ohio University in 2005.
According to Maddie, the four members of Penn State’s 2021 recruiting class were actually recruited by the former coach, who has changed careers to spend more time with her family. The assistant coaches they spoke with during the recruiting process are now working at Western Illinois and Bucknell.
However, Crowell offered the four recruits the same partial scholarships they had already been presented, and they have been talking through Zoom meetings since her hire in August.
As a testament to the level of talent that Maddie Gordon will be joining, here are her fellow recruits that the Nittany Lions signed this week:
- Lydia Coleman (Hoover, Ala.), an outfielder, earned all-state and All-Shelby County honors all three years ahead of her senior season. In 2019, she was named to the NFCA Southeast Region second team, as well as the academic team. Coleman won the 2017 14U USA National Championship and the 2019 USA 16A Junior Olympic Cup with her travel team, the Beverly Bandits.
- Courtney Eyler (Thurmont, Md.), an infielder, helped her high school team win back-to-back Central Maryland conference championship titles in 2018 and 2019 and a state final in 2019. As a freshman in 2018, Eyler had 37 hits, including six home runs, and 36 RBI for a .430 batting average. She earned second-team all-area and all-conference honors. She had an even better sophomore season with a .595 batting average with 44 hits, including eight home runs and first team all-area and all-conference honors. Eyler is ranked No. 79 by Extra Inning Softball.
- Lydia Spalding (Youngstown, Ohio), a pitcher and outfielder, helped her high school team win back-to-back sectional championships in 2018 and 2019 and a AAC championship in 2019. As a freshman in 2018, Spalding was named the AAC Player of the Year, while earning First Team AAC and second team all-district honors. She broke the freshman and sophomore strikeout records and was named team MVP both years. Spalding earned First Team AAC honors and an All-Northeast Ohio honorable mention as a sophomore in 2019. She is ranked No. 75 by Extra Inning Softball.
The new recruiting class will join the Nittany Lions in fall 2021.
“I am excited to announce the signing of our 2021 class, and I welcome all of them to our Penn State family,” said Coach Crowell. “This is a talented group of athletes who come from highly competitive and successful travel ball organizations. As a group, they will bring a wealth of athleticism and versatility to our team. Most importantly, I know they will strive for excellence on the field and in the classroom, and I believe they will have a positive impact on our program.”
Maddie Gordon will receive a partial athletic scholarship from Penn State that will cover a portion of her expenses for tuition, room and board, and books.