Katie Dustin fell in love with softball the moment she put on a glove, even though she put it on backwards the first time. At 10 years old, Dustin had never stepped on to a softball field or seen a game. 

 

Now, 11 years later, six travel teams and four seasons playing Division I softball for the University of Maryland, Katie Dustin is taking off her glove and hanging up her catcher’s helmet.

 

Dustin, a senior, has decided to forgo her two remaining years of eligibility, which were granted to her after injuries and coronavirus put her on the sidelines.

Path to Maryland

Softball found its way to Dustin one afternoon in fifth grade while she was sitting in the lunch room of Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School in Ellicott City.

 

“One of my best friends came into lunch and said ‘I need more girls for my softball team,’” Dustin said. “So I started playing softball and it kinda just worked.”

 

“She really wouldn't be playing if it wasn't for her childhood friend Nikki West,” Molly Dustin,  the middle of the three Dustin sisters, said. 

 

Dustin was stronger and faster than the girls her age in elementary school. She quickly fell in love with the sport and the team aspect. Since the beginning of her career, Dustin played catcher; she started out catching for Nikki. 

 

“I remember when Katie first started playing softball, every time she'd swing the bat, she'd close her eyes and there are pictures of Katie with her eyes closed,” Molly Dustin said. 

 

Dustin played on multiple travel teams throughout her middle and high school career, where she wore the number 10, to commemorate how old she was when first started playing. 

 

Although she was the first in her family to play softball — her mom ran track and her dad played lacrosse — Dustin inspired her two younger sisters to play. 

 

Molly, a sophomore who plays at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, and Lily, a senior second baseman at Glenelg High School, each credit their interest in softball to watching Katie play. “Katie is the whole reason why I'm here,” Molly Dustin said.

 

Katie and Molly Dustin even played together in high school and were on the same travel teams for about 5 years. Both Katie and Molly’s favorite softball memory was winning the World Series together in Myrtle Beach for a “country hillbilly of a team… the PA Poison” Dustin recalls. 

 

“We were on the same team and we actually won a World Series. I was playing third base and Katie was catching in the last out was a strikeout. I remember Katie caught the ball and we just like ran into each other's arms and she jumped like super high.” Molly Dustin said. 

 

In eighth grade, Dustin began the recruiting process. She invited coaches, particularly from the University of Maryland to watch her play and would attend practice camps hosted by different universities. “In seventh grade, I got really good all of a sudden, don’t know how, God’s gift I guess, and I fell in love with Maryland,” Dustin said.

 

Dustin got the university’s attention during the recruiting process because she was able to catch for pitcher Courtney Wyche. Wyche, who was also being recruited by the University of Maryland, was throwing 60 to 70 mile an hour pitches. “She was the only catcher brave enough to catch me at the time,” Wyche said. 

 

“She made me a better catcher and I made her a better pitcher,” Dustin said. 

 

Courtney Wyche, a junior pitcher, committed to Maryland in eight grade. “Because of our relationship and our bond… and us just complementing each other she’s actually the reason I’m here,” Dustin said. 

 

Dustin committed to Maryland at the end of her junior year. “Playing at the University of Maryland is as big as it’s really ever going to get for me. I get to represent my state and represent my hometown and the people I love,” she said  

 

College Career 

When Dustin arrived at the University of Maryland, her beloved number 10 was already taken. She wore number 39 in its place. That season, Dustin tore her ACL. “That number has only ever brought me bad luck or bad juju, so back to number 10 I went,” Dustin said. 

 

Throughout her career Dustin has had an enormous impact on her team, even if it isn’t always reflected in statistics. This year, she had a game-winning pinch-hit against the University of Minnesota, but head coach Mark Montgomery says her main impact is her leadership on and off the field. 

 

“Katie’s impact is a little less defined because it's more in a back up role in terms of performance but in terms of her impact the positivity is so felt because of what she does,” Montgomery said. “We ran a community service event for special olympics on our field that was 100% done by Katie, orchestrated, organized, executed the plan with no help from coaches, other members of the department. It was all one by Katie.”

 

Dustin’s first game of her senior season was played at Florida International University against the University of Tennessee. Although the Terrapins lost 2-1 Dustin said she was proud of her team's effort in holding one of the top teams in the nation to only two runs and noted that the location of the game was extremely special.

 

FIU was where she played her last game before the coronavirus pandemic stopped the softball season. “I love full circle,” Dustin said. 

 

For Dustin, scoring runs herself is nice but “bringing in my teammates is what really makes it worth it.” 

 

During Sunday's senior day doubleheader against Ohio State, Dustin led individualized cheers for every member of the team going up to bat. She even switched up the cheers depending on the number of strikes or balls. 

 

Dustin says her senior season has been her most fun yet. “I have 47 days to play the sport I love and just have a great time,” she said.

 

Dustin isn’t just a leader within the softball team. This year, Dustin was elected president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) after serving as a representative for two years. She advocates for student-athletes, especially for their mental health and safety, to leaders of the university, Big 10 and the NCAA.  

 

“This role as SAAC president has allowed me to find out what her calling is and what I need to do next so that my future and the unknowns aren’t as scary… maybe one day I’ll be the next athletic director,” Dustin said. 

 

Preparations for Graduation… “I’m more than just softball”

 

On senior day, Dustin took the field one last time in her all red, number 10 uniform. As she crouched with her catchers pads for the bittersweet end of her time as a collegiate athlete, Dustin had made peace with moving on away from softball.

 

“Softball has taught me so much about myself. I’ve learned throughout my collegiate experience as a student-athlete that I’m a phenomenal public speaker, and I have a platform to make real change in college athletics,” Dustin said. “[Softball] has shown me my passion, which is serving student athletes and being the voice for student athletes and not allowing female athletes to feel like they’re less than male athletes.”

 

To assist his student-athletes throughout their careers, Montgomery emphasizes the journey being more important than the outcome. “Your sport does not define you. Your success within your sport does not define you,” Montgomery says. “If you enjoy the process the outcomes don’t matter.”

 

He tells his players “we are daughters, we’re students, we’re athletes but we are not softball specific performance pieces.”

 

Dustin has taken his message to heart to help her through her transition out of athletics. “I’m losing softball but I’m not losing my sport or sports necessarily… I’m not just Katie Dustin who plays softball, I’m Katie Dustin who’s loud and passionate and crazy.” 

 

Student-athletes schedules are a balancing act between practicing, training, community involvement for 40 to 60 hours a week with classes and trying to have a social life. For Dustin, it can be downright draining at times but it’s all about perspective. 

 

The hectic schedules can take a toll on a student-athlete's mental health, but losing the rigorous daily schedules that comes with being a Division I athlete can be shocking to many student-athletes after graduation. 

 

“That’s the scariest part, all the extra free time I get, like I’m not just going to sleep I need stuff to do because I’ve been on my feet for the past four years constantly,” Dustin said.

 

Montgomery says student-athletes with strong time management skills will learn how to build their schedule during their time in college, which eases their transition into life with free time. 

 

“What makes ultimately a college athlete successful is what do they do in the couple to three hours a day they have free time… do they go back to their room and watch spongebob or do they instead say I gotta study during this time and work on my paper during this time,” Montgomery says. 

 

“We've seen, kind of on the negative side, going into the professional world and not having that structure already set for them. We've, you know, reflected on that and talked about what ways could we help them build kind of that independence and be able to create their own structure without being so dependent on set resources,” Chasity Fresion, assistant director of the Gossett Student-Athlete Center for Academic & Personal Excellence and the former athletics academic counselor for softball, said. 

 

To help her with the transition out of being a student-athlete, Dustin plans on picking up hobbies. First on the list, learn to crochet. She’s also excited by the opportunity to hang out with her friends or watch a movie with her family on a weeknight. 

 

She thinks that assisting student-athletes transition out of college could be as easy as providing them with a mentor. “I know we have a mentorship program at Maryland for student athletes, I’m in it, but it’s very hard sometimes to get in contact with your mentor, or honestly someone you can trust and rely on and have those real conversations to talk about the good, bad and the ugly,” Dustin said. 

 

For upperclassmen thinking about future careers, the Gosset Transitions Program provides the InTerpship Academy to help student-athletes get the internships they need before graduation, and the Gossett Fellows Transition Program. 

 

“That partners them with different people within athletics, again, the campus community or we've even branched out kind of nationally, especially for those students that aren't from this area, connecting them with different internships or alumni,” Freison says. These mentorships can help with professional development, resumes and interviewing etiquette. 

 

Montgomery says there aren’t as many resources for graduating athletes as there should be. “We get wrapped up on where we spend our money and right now its name, image and likeness… what we should be trying to do is trying to ease their transition into life … [like] continued medical care for injuries they had happen while they were playing. Those types of things are what we should be doing,” he said.

 

Fresion says the fifth semester is typically when an academic advisor will try to sit student-athletes down to talk about their career, what classes they should be taking to help them prepare and what outside programs they can get involved in.

 

Dustin found career preparation advice from her academic advisor Miranda Matias. Matias helped her with mock interviews for graduate assistant (GA) positions and write resumes for different jobs. 

 

“Everyone in Gossett Hall, so that includes our academic services and student athlete development, they have been the most influential people in helping me with my transition,” Dustin said. 

 

She said that while she hasn’t expressed her concerns about what to do next to these academic counselors, they have been helpful with her preparations. “First, it would be me kinda gathering my thoughts and figuring out what I wanted to ask them and then also thinking is it professional for me to ask them like ‘if I’m free after 8 on Wednesday night what do I do?’,” Dustin asked. 

 

“Does [Maryland Made] encompass enough for everybody, I don’t know,” Montgomery said. “If you want help it's out there but you have to make sure you’re working hard to find out the resources are and then ultimately take advantage of them when they’re there.”

 

As SAAC president she’s reached out to leaders within the athletic department to see what she can do after graduation but hasn’t talked to anyone specifically about the upcoming transition. 

 

Life After Sports 

 

Every year during the NFL draft around 10 million viewers tune into the first round to see the success stories. While other professional sports provided 1,199 jobs to National Collegiate Athletic Association athletes in 2020, what happens to the other 480,000 student-athletes after their final game?

 

Although the University of Maryland does not track what careers their athletes pursue after graduation, Montgomery believes that out of college many former student-athletes pursue jobs in athletics at the beginning of their careers.

 

“I think there's a number of students who when they leave the athletic rigors of their program– softball, baseball, basketball doesn’t matter– they look for athletic careers because that's all they’ve known. I think several years later when other opportunities find their way to them, a lot of them then will leave,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know that the numbers 10 years later hold the same truth as the numbers do the first year or two after college.”

 

Former Terrapins’ softball infielder and Big 10 SAAC representative Taylor Wilson, graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in kinesiology in 2021. After graduation, Wilson interned as a community relations assistant for the Baltimore Ravens before being hired full time by the Philadelphia Eagles as the community relations coordinator. 

 

Freison herself is a former student-athlete. She played basketball at Southwest Baptist University while earning her Bachelor’s of Science in Sport Management. After graduation in 2013, she made the transition to be a GA after she’d played basketball her whole life. 

 

“That first year after I was done playing, I had an identity crisis. ‘Who the heck am I?’” Freison recalled. “What can I offer to society besides being a good student athlete… I just wasn't sure what I wanted to do, and honestly my best friend applied to a graduate system position at our grad school and she was like ‘you should I apply too.’” 

 

Freison ended up at Lindenwood University as a GA. She said staying close to athletics allowed her to keep some of her student athlete identity while transitioning into the professional world. 

 

“We have a lot of women that go into softball coaching as career but I bet the attrition rate is probably at about 50% of those that start out and actually stay with it because when they get there ‘oh coaching’s not what playing was, it’s what I exactly want to do, I want to spend more time with family, I want a more stable job and I don't want to travel that much’… and it drives it into different directions.”

 

Dustin’s undergraduate degree in criminology and criminal justice and economics may confuse people when she explains she plans on working with athletics. 

 

“Here’s how I explain it: econ, I’ve learned how to manage my resources. I understand money to the highest degree and I’m good with numbers,” Dustin says. “And then with crim, I understand the rules and I understand how to work the rules so if I have to work the rules for my student athletes, well, I have their back. Crim has also taught me the nitty gritty parts of research.”

 

Dustin’s impact through her work with SAAC has not only helped athletes across University of Maryland athletic departments but has also helped to solidify her career ambitions. The first of her sister’s to leave their home state of Maryland, Dustin has accepted a position as a graduate assistant for academic services for student-athletes at the University of Oklahoma. 

 

During her GA-ship she will be getting her masters degree in adult and higher education with a concentration in intercollegiate athletic administration. Dustin will work alongside academic counselors and help student-athletes manage their course load. 

 

“[I’ll] make sure they don’t fail, help them with study habits, create a study schedule, collect grades weekly and just be an extra person on their support staff,” Dustin said. 

 

While Dustin is excited about her future in Oklahoma and thinks fondly of her time with Maryland Softball, she thinks her dad is going to take the end of her athletic career the hardest. Her mom will be excited to get her weekends back. Dustin herself is ready to move onto playing softball for fun in local, casual adult leagues. 

 

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