By JACK ROSSI
IOWA CITY, Iowa — After two seasons at Kirkwood Community College, there was no question junior DoniRae Mayhew was going to finish her career at the University of Iowa, but enrolling as the Junior College Player of the Year was not something she could have predicted.
A five-time all-state honoree at Bettendorf (Iowa) High School, Mayhew played her first two years of college softball in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she hit .446 with a nation-leading 30 home runs and 90 RBIs during her sophomore season.
“When it was happening I was in shock,” Mayhew said. “I went in to every game doing what I’ve always done.”
No game better highlighted Mayhew’s talent than a four home run, 12-RBI game last April as her incredible season earned Mayhew the distinction as the nation’s best junior college player.
“I put forth a lot of effort outside of softball to better myself and better my skills and that showed this past spring,” Mayhew said. “I did a lot of softball training on my own and I took it upon myself to become healthier, lose weight, and get stronger. All of those things helped me have a great season.”
Following her sophomore year, Mayhew turned her attention to her next destination — Iowa City.
With many more doors open for her to continue her academic and athletic careers, Mayhew’s relationship with her parents strongly influenced her decision to remain close to home, while the University of Iowa’s strong academics spoke for itself.
“I am very close with my parents. I consider them my best friends in the world,” Mayhew said. “Iowa fit all of my dreams and what I wanted to do — going to a Division I school and being in a power 5 conference. The school has a good post-graduate program for my degree and all of these things added up.”
When head coach Renee Gillispie was named as Iowa’s head coach in June, Gillispie reached out to all of her current and future players, including Mayhew.
“She called me over the summer after she was announced and wanted to meet up,” Mayhew said. “She sounded nice over the phone and I was excited that we had a coach that wants to shake things up in this program and continue to let me play here.”
Sustaining the momentum Mayhew generated at Kirkwood was going to be a challenge for Mayhew as the coaching staff implemented changes to the program last fall.
“In the fall I think she was nervous and she was holding back,” assistant coach Trena Prater said. “She was trying to adapt from junior college and adapt to our new system. She struggled a little bit in the fall, but in the end, I think she came into her own. This spring, she has blossomed into being the Junior College Player of the Year we think she is.”
With a week left until the 2019 season begins, Mayhew and the Hawkeyes have worked off the rust and will spend this final week finalizing their lineup.
“The coaches have brought a lot of great things and put us through a lot that have made us so much better,” Mayhew said. “I can see how much better we are getting every week. I am excited and I think we are going to do well this season.”
Iowa opens the 2019 season next Friday, Feb. 8 against Bucknell at 9:30 a.m. (CT). Season tickets for Iowa’s 13 home games are available at hawkeyesports.com/tickets.