By Ray Hamill — McKinleyville senior Mikayla Minton will join one of the top Division-III programs in the nation later this year, after signing a letter of intent to play softball at Linfield College after graduation.
Minton, who signed the letter in front of a gathering of family, friends and teammates on Wednesday, will join a Wildcats team that has established itself as one of the most dominating on the West Coast over the past 15 years.
More importantly, it’s a perfect fit for the Panthers pitcher, both athletically and academically, and exactly what she was looking for.
“It was top of my list,” said Minton, who will study pre-law while playing softball for the Wildcats.
Minton is the latest in a long line of H-DNL softball players taking their game to the collegiate level, joining Arcata senior, Makayla Bernald, who announced recently she will be playing at Mendocino College next year.
In addition, four of Minton’s teammates from last season’s history-setting McKinleyville team — the first-ever to win the Big 5, the H-DNL tournament and the NCS in one season — will play for College of the Redwoods this season.
And like those before her, Minton has put in a lot of work honing her skills both with the high school team as well as with the Mad River MIST, a local club that has done a tremendous job in recent years preparing the local players for the collegiate level.
In her own words, Minton attended “many, many” camps over the past few years, including one put on at Linfield, which changed everything.
“Linfield was the last camp I went to, and I ended up staying in the dorms there and I just loved it and everything about it,” she said.
Linfield is situated about 40 minutes from Portland, and the school’s softball team has become the pride of the sports department under the guidance of head coach Jackson Vaughan.
The long-time coach, who also coaches football at the school, has been in charge of the program for 18 years, while leading the Wildcats to a pair of national championships.
They have also won nine regional titles and 13 Northwest Conference championships, winning 39 games in each of the last two seasons, including a 49-7 mark in conference in that time.
So Minton will be joining a perennial national contender, and she’s not shying away from the challenge.
And she’s excited about playing for Vaughan.
“I really like his coaching style,” the Panthers ace said. “He’s all about technical skills and really to the point.”
Quality coaching is nothing new for the Mack senior, who says she has benefitted tremendously from the influence of McKinleyville High and travel team coaches Shanna McCracken and Drew Riddle, as well as local pitching coach Kelly Helms.
“She’s like another mother to me,” Minton said of Helms, who has influenced countless local pitchers. “We have a really strong connection.”
As for her time at Mack High, Minton has been busy, and has been involved in a lot more than just softball.
“I’m in a lot of clubs,” she said with a smile, adding that she’ll remember them all fondly.
“I’ll really remember the community and the family aspect (at McKinleyville High). It’s small, but it’s like a family here.”
Before she heads off to college, Minton and the Panthers have some unfinished business to take care of on the softball field.
They are the defending Big 5 champions, and although they graduated a lot of talent from last year’s team, Minton believes they will be a tough proposition for anyone once again.
“Coming off the championship last year we lost 11 seniors, but we have a lot of returning players that have been working hard,” she said. “It’s a rebuilding year but at the same time we’re ready. We’ve got a lot of good freshmen.”