The last two years playing softball for Wichita State has changed the life of Sydney McKinney.
During that time, McKinney transformed from a good leadoff hitter with a solid glove at shortstop to arguably the greatest player in program history. She’s now a two-time All-American, a top-10 finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year, an American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and is coming off a season in which she hit .522 to lead the country in batting average.
The success has opened doors McKinney never imagined, like an invitation to play with Triple Crown Colorado this past week in the Canada Cup, an international softball tournament where McKinney proved herself against elite competition by hitting .429 in eight games against national teams. She hinted to The Eagle on Wednesday an even bigger opportunity is on the way later this summer.
Being one of the nation’s best players on a team in the American Athletic Conference has brought the inevitable question from the softball world McKinney’s way this summer: why stay at Wichita State when you could have your choice of team in the SEC, Big Ten, Pac 12 or Big 12?
She has been hounded this offseason, whether it through text messages, direct messages on social media or in person to consider the transfer portal for her final season, but McKinney shrugs it all off. There’s no changing her mind: she’s finishing her career at Wichita State for Kristi Bredbenner, the coach who believed in her before every program in the country would take her.
“People ask me about it and I’ve had coaches talk to me, but I tell them that Wichita is home,” McKinney said. “Wichita is where I grew myself as a person and as a player and everyone has always supported me, even when I didn’t have all of the accolades. They love me for who I am here. I’m definitely finishing here. I definitely want to continue to represent Wichita State.”
There’s a level of gratitude McKinney feels toward WSU and she carries it with her even when she’s not in a Shocker uniform. Being able to represent WSU along with teammate Addison Barnard on the Triple Crown Colorado team made for one of the best softball experiences in McKinney’s life, she said.
The team, made up of college players from all over the country, congregated in Denver and then traveled to Surrey, British Columbia to take part in the week-long competition. Triple Crown Colorado was the surprise team of the Canada Cup, beating Team USA two times and finishing runner-up in the tournament.
“The girls on the team, we had only known each other for like a week and a half, but as soon as we started playing together it felt like we had been playing with each other our whole lives,” said McKinney, who started every game at shortstop. “We just vibed and there was no pressure and I think that’s why we succeeded because we were just out there having fun together.”
McKinney enjoyed being outside of her comfort zone: traveling to a new country and competing against foreign teams from the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Australia, China and South Korea.
She appreciated the introduction to new cultures, new strategies to softball and new rules. She was also left in awe of a 55-year-old woman who was still competing for the Canadian national team.
“The whole experience was just so cool,” McKinney said. “I had never been to Canada before, so just to experience something new was pretty cool. It was pretty funny, the locals came up to us and warned us there was going to be a heatwave coming through. The heatwave ended up being 80 degrees.”
McKinney had just returned to Wichita on Wednesday, just in time to turn around and receive yet another accolade later that evening at the Greater Wichita Sports Commission banquet when she was named the Female College Athlete of the Year.
It was just another reminder of her appreciation for the Wichita community.
“I wasn’t really prepared for the speech, but it was awesome,” said McKinney, laughing. “Just getting recognized for playing the game I love here in Wichita for the people I love in front of this community was so great.”
Greater Wichita Sports banquet winners
High School Female Athlete of the Year: Andover Central’s Brittany Harshaw
High School Male Athlete of the Year: Andover Central’s Ashton Barkdull
High School Coach of the Year for Female Sports: Valley Center softball’s Corey Jones
High School Coach of the Year for Male Sports: Goddard wrestling’s Brett Means
High School Team Award of Excellence: Andale football
Junior College Female Athlete of the Year: Butler softball’s Madi Young
Junior College Male Athlete of the Year: Hutchinson football’s Malik Benson
Junior College Team Award of Excellence: Hutchinson men’s golf
College Female Athlete of the Year: Wichita State softball’s Sydney McKinney
College Male Athlete of the Year: Wichita State baseball’s Cameron Bye
College Coach of the Year: Wichita State softball’s Kristi Bredbenner
Professional Athlete of the Year: Wind Surge’s Simeon Woods Richardson
Buster Posey National Collegiate Catcher of the Year: Georgia Tech’s Kevin Parada