WAVERLY — Relaxed at the plate with a song from Disney’s Moana stuck on repeat inside her head, last spring Mara Forsyth put together the most powerful season in Wartburg’s softball history.
The Charles City native belted a school record 14 home runs, drove in a record 60 and finished with a gaudy .929 slugging percentage that was 77 points higher than the Knights’ previous single-season high.
Midway into her third season at Wartburg, Forsyth tied the school’s career home record mark with her 29th blast last Saturday at Loras. Coincidentally, her co-school record holder — Ashley (Rogers) Winter — viewed the achievement from the opposite dugout as the head coach of Loras’ softball team.
“To be honest, I had no idea,” Forsyth said when asked about her most recent record.
The battle-tested senior has learned to embrace the process more than the end result. That mindset began with a mini-slump early into last year’s historic season.
“I expect a lot from myself, and when I don’t perform the way that I want to, I can get easily frustrated,” Forsyth said. “Last year, I really learned it’s more about who I become as a result of the chase than what I’m getting at the end of it.”
Attempting to not place as much pressure on herself, music records helped Forsyth produce softball records.
“I actually started singing every time I went up to the batter’s box and it stayed consistent throughout the whole year,” Forsyth said. “I couldn’t tell you what my stats were, I couldn’t tell you necessarily how many games we won or lost, but just the energy I had when I was up there and enjoyment level I had definitely changed and continues to stay with me this year.”
Recapturing that love of the game is part of what drew Forsyth to Wartburg and Division III athletics after spending her freshman season on Northern Iowa’s softball team. Her older sister, Micaela, was enjoying a positive experience on Wartburg’s softball team at the time after her oldest sister, Maddie, played volleyball for the Knights.
Mara’s younger brother, Max, has since joined the Wartburg wrestling program, while her mom, Donna, was a former volleyball player at UNI and her dad, Mark, competed as a club wrestler for Iowa State.
“The DI lifestyle wasn’t for me,” said Mara Forsyth, an education major who decided to transfer to Wartburg at a time when the head softball coaching position was vacant. “I’d seen my sister play here and the type of environment that this school provided, and I knew that it was the type of family I wanted to be surrounded by. ... I’ve definitely enjoyed the relationships that I built with my teammates.”
Shortly after Jamie Mueller was hired as Wartburg’s head coach, Forsyth stopped by to introduce herself before classes started. Together, they’ve been key parts of a rapid rebuilding project.
Wartburg went 7-7 in league play during Mueller and Forsyth’s first season at the school after the Knights won just 10 conference games over the previous six years. Last year’s Knights were 22-16 overall and 9-7 in the Iowa Conference for the first winning league record since 2009.
“Mara has been the same person with me from the first day,” Mueller said. “I think it shows a lot of trust on her part that she was willing to transfer into a program that didn’t have a coach at that time. Mara has obviously been a really big part of our program, a really big leader on the team and probably my biggest advocate from day one.”
Among the changes Forsyth embraced was a regular weightlifting routine supplemented with daily trips to the batting cage. Through increased strength, Forsyth admits she’s been surprised by the number of “miss-hits” that have left the park.
“I hardly ever get that feeling of, ‘Oh yep, that’s it,’” Forsyth said. “The girls always make fun of me and say that I run the bases way too fast. I tell them that’s because I never know if it’s over.”
Mueller says Forsyth continues to make major adjustments on her swing well into her senior year.
“She hits every day because she wants to feel comfortable, but on top of that, she’s not just doing things to be comfortable, she’s doing things to get better every single day,” Mueller added. “If she doesn’t feel good about something she always wants to know how she can do it better.”
Beyond the impact she’s made on the field, Forsyth has also embraced her role as a leader for a team that includes nine freshmen. That rookie class happens to feature another Charles City native in Sara Marin, who is one back of Forsyth for the current team lead in home runs. They are tied with 18 RBIs.
“Being a leader is something that I strive for because it’s the one thing I can control in the game of softball,” Forsyth said.
After graduating in May, Forsyth will continue to coach at the developmental level with eighth graders and junior varsity softball players in Osage. The future teacher figures to be a presence in dugouts beyond this spring.
“I’ll continue to coach softball and have it be a part of my life,” Forsyth said. “Softball is not something I’m ready to give up, and I don’t think I ever will be.”