When Mariah McKee took over the North Callaway varsity softball program from Brandi Thomsen several years back, she was well aware that meant balancing all the existing pieces while still keeping a winning program on top and moving forward.

That's far from a simple task when egos and attitudes become part of the process, especially from a squad that was devoid of any real championship hardware, yet former skipper Thomsen went on to lose to Mexico in the Class 3 title game in her first season with another program. Still, the die had been cast and a tradition had been started. From that point forward former Thunderbird's Activities Director Mike Emmons did all he could to treat that team with the mindset that it was something special.

From those fires rose several hard-burning champions who simply refused to be held down and instead continued stepping up time and time again until they finally defied all expectations and reached heights greater than anyone ever expected them to. One of those success stories was former Ladybird Hanna Knipp, who just completed her freshman season at William Woods University and looks to be getting better and better now that she's hit the approaching the halfway point of her collegiate athletic career.

This past season, 2019, the former Ladybird, who plays infield and stands in at 5-foot-5, started a half-dozen games for William Woods. In that time she was able to clock 26 at-bats and charted six hits with four RBI, two walks, and a run with seven strikeouts. What that equated to was a .231 batting average, but, head coach Tracy Gastineau obviously understands Knipp well because she didn't have any pitching or fielding stats.

Highlights for last season for this North Callaway grad. include April 15 during a win at Harris-Stowe, where Knipp had a 1-for-1 showing with one RBI. Knipp was almost a mirror image of herself amidst a defeat to Williams Baptist on April 29 when she also charted a 1-for-1 performance in Arkansas with a RBI.

In 2018-19 Knipp helped the Lady Owls finish with a record of 23-27 overall, 12-12 American Midwest Conference. This includes losing in the National Alliance of Intercollegiate Athletics postseason tournament in Hattiesburg, MS., on May 13 to No. 9 Vanguard 6-1 and to William Carey University 5-0 on May 14 to end the season.

During her time at North Callaway not only was Knipp All-Eastern Missouri Conference as a junior and a senior, but in her final year as a prep athlete she hit .444 with 30 RBI and three homeruns according to wwuowls.com. That year she also had a .500 on-base percentage and a .964 fielding percentage.