With a steady gaze, Megan Garst looks ahead. The senior is a pitcher on the University of North Alabama’s softball team and is no stranger to focusing on what is in front of her. In the game she is indomitable. In this moment, however, she is not in the circle, but looking toward her future.
“It’s bittersweet …” Garst said.
This is Garst’s final season with the Lions. She has been playing softball since she was four years old, and pitching since seven.
“It’s just my whole life, that’s all I’ve ever known really,” Garst said.
Last year, she was named The Atlantic Sun Conference’s pitcher of the year. She holds the school’s lowest earned run average as well at 0.83. Here lower is better — like in golf — and it’s the best in UNA’s history.
“Her character shows in everything she does. She works hard, is respectful, and will always do the right thing. We never have to question that,” head coach Ashley Cozart said. “She leads by example and a lot of young softball players look up to her.”
Garst, a Columbiana, AL native, enjoys the competitive nature of the sport and working alongside her friends. They seem to enjoy being around her as well.
“I love playing alongside Megan,” said senior Veronica Westfall. “Not only because she strikes out most of the people she pitches to, but because she is my best friend and she always has trust in her defense behind her. We can always count on Megan to just come in and spin the ball. She’s a team player and it’s awesome to have a pitcher that believes in everything our team does.”
Westfall is her roommate and fellow teammate. She has known her since Garst transferred in three years ago. She plays third base, but her enthusiasm hits home.
“I feel sorry for everyone that doesn’t have a chance to play with Megan Garst,” Westfall said. “I know she’s going to dominate again this year.”
Along with being awarded ASUN pitcher of the year for 2019, she has had a number of accolades in recent years — such as ASUN Pitcher of the year from a season ago, the single-season ERA record for Lion history and much more — but whether or not you hear it from her is a toss-up.
“Megan Garst is one of the humblest people I know,” junior Meleah Hargett said. “No matter how many awards she wins or how many strikeouts she has, she is never the one to boast about it.”
Hargett, who plays centerfield, is her friend as well. She matched Westfall’s confidence in their friend’s abilities.
“Playing alongside Megan Garst is honestly unbelievable,” Hargett said. “I have seen her strikeout amazing hitters like it’s nothing. The way she faces adversity is like no other. If someone gets lucky and hits a homerun, she gets right back in there like nothing happened.”
Designated hitter Hannah Schollenberger is yet another friend of hers. She is a senior as well and recalled a time in which Garst threw a no-hitter. She threw another the very next game.
“One of my favorite memories with Meg is when she threw a no-hitter against Liberty and she had no idea that she was throwing one …” Schollenberger said. “She kept looking in the dugout because she would miss a spot and give us the biggest eyes ever wondering how they didn’t just hit it.”
Their assistant coach is in the mix as well. Having come onto the staff the year Garst transferred onto the team, Lindsey Thompson spent the same amount of time getting acquainted with the players.
“She is just special,” Thompson said. “She takes the game very seriously and is somewhat [of] a perfectionist. Megan has a mentality on the mound that makes her fearless. I tell her all the time that she has ice in her veins.”
“Ice in her veins” meaning she stays calm under pressure. All of the support from those around her must must be why, or it may even be that she simply loves it. One could suggest that the two go hand-in-hand.
“She has all the respect for the game itself and every hitter she faces,” Thompson said. “but the fact that she absolutely loves to pitch and can have fun doing it is fun as a coach to be a part of.”
Though supported by many, Garst’s roommate does something special to help push the star player. Westfall playfully jeers her efforts, even when things go well. She recounts that it is to keep her grounded and that it is all done in good fun.
“One of my favorite memories is every year after Megan strikes out someone on the field I’ll run up to her in the circle and tell her that ‘she sucks’. I also tell her every year that she’s not gonna be our ace pitcher jokingly,” Westfall said. “She always tells me that this fuels her fire and makes her hold herself accountable knowing that someone isn’t always telling her that she’s really good.”
Westfall then shared a sentiment that resonated with what others on the team had stated.
“Megan is not only a great teammate but a great person all around,” Westfall said. “I wouldn’t trade her for the world.”
The moment that goodbyes are exchanged will mark the end of the reign of Megan Garst. In the team’s memories she will live on as humble, steady both in gaze and character … and even a little goofy. Head coach Cozart had a few words to say concerning Garst’s remaining time in the pitcher’s circle.
“Well I get emotional every time I think about it,” Cozart said. “Because I do not want her career as a Lion to end of course, but she has definitely left her mark on this program and will go down in history as one of the top pitchers at UNA and one of the best who I have ever had [the] privilege to coach. I try not to think about it honestly, just try to look ahead and focus on the moments I have with her.”
The Lion’s softball team will lace up their cleats as they travel to play the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, GA. After just two years in the ASUN conference, teams have already taken notice of Garst’s abilities, making her one of the most powerful players in recent memory from the conference.
Garst, also has a chance to go down as one of the best pitchers and players of the North Alabama team in decades. The Lions come in at number four in the preseason conference rankings with hopes to return and maybe even host the tournament at Hilda B. Anderson Softball Stadium.