Maddie Daigneau’s UMBC teammates were shook when they arrived in Tucson and felt the simmering heat of the Sonoran Desert for the first time.
“You lived in this?!” they asked.
“I was like, ‘yeah, I absolutely love the heat,”’ Daigneau said.
The Arizona native is happy to be back in her home state. The scalding temperatures are only one reason why. The Retrievers are opening the NCAA Tournament at the Tucson Regional, meaning Daigneau’s softball career will be coming full circle.
She cried when the bracket was revealed.
“It was probably the best feeling ever to be able to start softball and to be able to have one of my last tournaments here,” she said.
Daigneau used to star at Boulder Creek High School in Anthem, Arizona about 30 miles north of Phoenix. These days, she’s the leadoff hitter and senior leader of a UMBC squad that will be making its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance when it faces No. 11 Arizona on Friday.
Junior ace Courtney Coppersmith called Daigneau the “heart and soul of the team.”
Daigneau sports a .348 batting average and will depart as one of the most decorated players in program history. She’s one of only 11 Retrievers to record 200 career hits, as well as the all-time leader in triples. She’s a steady shortstop and leads UMBC in stolen bases.
“She’s got an exceptional eye, exceptional speed, she can hit for power,” said UMBC head coach Chris Kuhlmeyer. “Even though she doesn’t hit homers, she can hit over pretty much anyone’s head. She can drop a bunt, she’s just a tough out. She hasn’t struck out many times this year.”
Daigneau brings all the intangibles, too.
“She’s a hard worker and a great leader and just a great person in general,” Kuhlmeyer said. “She has good morals and is just someone that everyone looks up to on the team.”
In other words: a future coach.
Daigneau is planning to remain with UMBC as a volunteer assistant next season. Kuhlmeyer has leaned on her during some unstable times. A part-time assistant coach resigned this summer and UMBC’s pitching coach got pregnant during the pandemic, leaving Kuhlmeyer without much support.
Daigneau chipped in to help run practices.
“There’s a passion that I knew that she had, but it’s just grown and you can see it even more now,” Kuhlmeyer said. “When she told me that she was thinking about getting into coaching, it was a no-brainer for me to try to keep her on staff.”
Daigneau admits the frigid Baltimore winters have been tough to adjust to—“there’s no getting used to that,” she said—but otherwise she loves her new home away from home at UMBC. It has the biology program and small-campus feel that she was looking for after attending a bustling high school that housed more than 2,600 students.
Daigneau didn’t think twice about returning to UMBC for a fifth season when the pandemic presented the opportunity. She had worked too hard for her softball career to end with the shortened 2020 campaign.
Now, it could conclude with her first-ever games at Hillenbrand Stadium in front of family, friends and some of her old coaches, not far from where she first picked up a softball 14 years ago.
“Thinking that my year was taken away and to have an amazing opportunity to come back to Arizona, I mean, words can’t even describe that feeling,” Daigneau said.
It was the first thing Kuhlmeyer thought of when UMBC popped up in the Tucson Regional.
“Every little girl’s dream, every Arizona kid’s dream is to play in Hillenbrand Stadium and play for the Wildcats,” he said. “I know the Sun Devils are pretty good up in Tempe, but I think it all starts down here in Tucson for everyone that’s coming from Arizona. And for her to continue her career here, I think it was one of the most special storylines of the whole tournament.”