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Former Bethel standout softballer Whitten assumes leadership role at Tulsa

Brian Johnson

Mikayla Whitten is set to graduate with a bachelor's degree in exercise and sports science from the University of Tulsa in May.

The former Bethel High School softball standout and a member of the Golden Hurricane, was in the thick of her 2020 spring campaign when COVID-19 shut down her senior season way too early.

“It was very disappointing. We had a meeting early in the day and they were telling us that the season might be delayed until later in April,” said Whitten. “Later in the day, it came down from the NCAA. It was sad because none of us (teammates) got to say goodbye.”

Whitten, who says she hopes she eventually obtains a graduate degree in occupational therapy, has been in contact with her academic adviser and is seeking the possibility of playing a fifth season after the NCAA recently granted the opportunity to spring sports athletes. However, Whitten is undecided whether she will pursue the extra year of play.

Individually, Whitten was having her best season with a .281 batting average with five doubles and 10 runs batted in for 13-11 Tulsa. Heading into this spring, she had a .237 career average with two homers, 34 RBIs and 56 runs scored for the Golden Hurricane. She was a 2018 American Athletic Conference Second Team pick as a sophomore.

“At the beginning of the season, I was hitting lower in the lineup but moved up. I was starting in center field and probably hitting the best of my whole career,” Whitten said.

That success can be attributed to experience and patience at the plate.

“I think a lot of it is being a senior and having a lot of experience,” said Whitten. “I think things got clicking. I realized I needed to do better with my pitch selections.”

Whitten also attributes it to increased strength and steady defensive play in the outfield.

“I think one thing that has helped me is out new strength coach (Dan Huebsch). He has helped with power and I felt like I was able to hit into the gap and people weren't able to get to it,” Whitten said. “I'm very comfortable (in center field) and have been a lot during my career. Playing center field is more of a leadership position and I'm able to make the plays I want to.

“This year, I stepped up into more of a leadership role and was being more vocal. I hope I can go back (and play one more season). I like this team. They are some of my favorite girls.”

Whitten, a four-year letterwinner at Bethel High School, was a Class 4A All-State pick by the Oklahoma High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association in 2015 and was part of three state tournament teams.

“(Bethel) Coach (Tommy) Block was really behind us and pushed us. He always held a standard for us and I think he always knew the potential I had,” said Whitten. “My parents (David and Tina) paid for me to play travel ball across the country and send me to camps and my coaches at Tulsa, including (head coach) Crissy Strimple, gave me this opportunity.”

Should Whitten return for one more season, she believes she can work more on her approach at the plate.

“My hitting can always be improved,” Whitten said. “I want to be a good teammate and stay positive...something I feel like I can be better at.”

As for some of her career memories at TU are the team's conference crowns.

“Over my career, we won the conference two years in a row (as a freshman and sophomore),” said Whitten.

She now is weighing the possibility of going back and trying to earn a third one.