(Photo by BYU Photo)
This feature story was originally published in a 2016 BYU football program and was written by Mercedes Erikson.
As she prepares for her senior season at BYU, McKenna Bull is looking to break records left and right. Holding the No. 2 spot on the all-time career strikeouts list with 748 batters retired, Bull has sights set on being the best Cougar pitcher to ever take the mound.
“I want to finish breaking what records are left,” Bull said. “I’d also like to break a couple of my own records. I want to leave it all out on the field because it’s my last year.”
Breaking those records will not be hard for Bull. While the team only lost two seniors this past season, they gained one transfer student and four freshmen. Alongside experience they will have talent, which makes Bull confident this will be one of their better years.
“Last season was awesome, but it’s exciting looking ahead and thinking about what’s coming next,” she said. “We have a lot of girls who have had a lot of experience, especially in our senior class. We’ve all been starters since we got here. The more I think about it the more excited I get.”
And Bull should be excited. She’s played softball for 12 years and this could be her best year yet, the perfect ending to a beautiful career.
Bull began playing softball when she was 10 years old after watching her cousins play ball. She quickly picked up the sport and began playing competitive softball.
“Eventually I ended up getting kind of good,” Bull said.
“Kind of good” is an understatement. With the records Bull has already broken and the praise she has received from coaches, she is in a league of her own.
“I saw McKenna back in 2011,” BYU assistant coach Pete Meredith said. “I was teaching pitching and she came to me for lessons. The kid had skills. I notified coach right away that she was a kid we needed to keep our eyes on. She had tons of promise.”
Meredith and the BYU coaching staff worked quickly to get Bull on their team.
“I hadn’t though about playing college ball until my parents signed me up for one of the BYU softball camps the summer after my sophomore year of high school,” Bull said. “A few weeks after the camp I ended up getting a call. I came on a visit and committed a few weeks after that. “
Even though a few other schools were looking into Bull, she said she didn’t even give them a second thought.
“When I came (to BYU) I automatically knew this is where I needed to go. The facilities, the coaches and the environment itself were awesome. I loved it here.”
Committing and playing were two different things though. Bull was eager to play softball, but she didn’t realize how much harder college ball could be.
“In high school and even competition softball, it’s fast, but you get to college and it’s a whole another world,” Bull remembered. “Even our fall game I remember feeling like I was mentally five steps behind everyone else. It’s a whole different level. I know it’s like that for every sport, but in softball the pace of the game picks up completely.”
Bull was not alone in picking up the fast-pace game. She worked alongside coach Meredith in order to learn new pitches, play at a higher level and increase her velocity.
“McKenna came in with a good heart,” Meredith said. “She wanted to be the best and had this bulldog mentality, something you’re always looking for in a kid. Her freshman year she played 500 balls and it was tough for her because the level was so much harder. She’s made corrections and now she pitches at a higher level. All these things and her mindset are what is going to make her the best that BYU has ever seen.”
However, Bull’s hard work comes with a price: seclusion. While the team is on the field practicing, playing games and reenacting ESPN plays; Bull spends most of her time alone in the bullpen pitching.
“When we’re out on the field everyone is a team and that’s where it counts, but sometime I feel left out before the games or even at practice,” Bull said.
Luckily, Bull can always rely on her catcher, Libby Sugg. The pitcher and catcher relationship is unlike any other on the field and Sugg said she is lucky to have been able to work with Bull, despite a rocky start.
“I was intimidated the first time I met McKenna because she was a junior pitcher and I was a freshman catcher,” Sugg said. “I thought trying to find chemistry between us would be hard, but it ended up working out and she’s one of my best friends now.”
While the two have spent plenty of time bonding this year, their relationship has taught Sugg about more than just softball.
“I’m really grateful I have the opportunity to catch for her for at least two years. I wish it could be more. She’s taught me that no matter how bad the situation is you can always come back from it. She’s going to be really, truly missed when she leaves.”
More than anything, Bull admits she will miss the team the most after graduation and has confessed she couldn’t have survived college without them.
“Right when I got to school, I already had friends,” Bull said. “I like being part of a team, especially in college because you are always together and it’s nice to have that support system and family even when you’re away from home. I would have hated to be in college and not have this.”
But Bull was never truly far from home. Born and raised in Ogden, Utah, Bull’s family made sure to support her by coming to every game.
“They are very devout fans,” Bull said. “I love having them at my games. My mom’s voice is actually the only voice I can hear when I’m pitching. I’m usually numb to everything around me and can tune everyone out, but my mom’s voice comes right through. When she’s mad, she is mad and lets me know it. That part is hard. Sometimes I have to give her a look that says, ‘Be quiet, I’m doing my best.’ For the most part it’s nice to have a big support system.”
Bull doesn’t let softball consume her life. Somehow she has managed to play three years of softball, hold a job, go to school, have a social life and stay close to family. Between February and March, the BYU softball team plays in tournaments almost every week, making it difficult for players to attend class and go to work. But Bull says every year it’s become a little bit easier to figure out.
“Our professors here are awesome and will always work with you. Luckily work schedules me around school and practice so I am able to do it all.”
Bull doesn’t leave much time for anything else. She is pursuing a degree in family studies with an emphasis in family services. She plans on attending grad school after graduation next winter in order to pursue a career in social work.
Bull is excited to move on, but is grateful for the experiences she has had at BYU.
“I don’t have any regrets coming to BYU because I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything. I’ve learned so much and have made so many good friends who will be with me forever. I wouldn’t change my experience here for anything."
Her coaches and teammates are excited for her future and expect great things from her after her remarkable accomplishments in the softball world, but there’s still a season left to play and they have one piece of advice left for her.
“Leave it on the field,” Meredith said. “After this year it’s pretty much done. Don’t look back and be in the ‘if, would of or could of club.’ Make sure you tap into every resource you have. Work as hard as you possibly can, but most importantly, have fun along the way.”