All in. All the time.
That is the way Missouri State senior Kyana Mason plays each time she steps on the softball field.
“That is her M.O.,” head coach Holly Hesse said.
Mason, the only senior on a young Missouri State softball team, brings that same mindset pitch-after-pitch, inning-after-inning and game-after-game for the Bears.
“That is her core value she talks about before every game,” Hesse said. “She is all in. She doesn’t care who we are playing. She doesn’t care what is happening. She doesn’t care what might happen. It is about being all in every pitch to her.”
Mason said she used to be more of the quiet leader, but playing with that mentality has helped her take on a role as a vocal leader on the team, and she has run with it.
The third baseman has flourished this spring and become one of the better offensive threats in the Missouri Valley Conference, leading the conference with 46 total hits and ranking third with a .418 batting average.
“I love the Bears,” Mason said. “I’m trying to just take it all in and do what I can to help the team win.”
Hesse said Mason has stepped up, taken the entire load of being a leader and put it on her shoulders.
“Her leadership has been outstanding on and off the field,” Hesse said. “She takes a lot of pride in it. She is the heart and soul of this team.”
The numbers and opportunities have not always been there for Mason, though.
Early in her career, she was stuck behind Bethany Sullinger, an All-Conference third baseman for Missouri State in 2017. That left Mason with limited playing time, appearing in only 34 at-bats over her first two seasons.
Mason’s playing time increased in her junior season last year, but that was before the NCAA approved a new rule that overhauled the art of slap-hitting.
Batters are now prohibited from having any part of their foot touch the ground outside the batter’s box when bat-ball contact is made. If the rule is violated, it’s an automatic out.
Previously, a batter’s foot was able to step outside the box so long as part of it was touching the chalk.
“That is something that held her back from being in the lineup,” Hesse said. “She worked really hard on that this summer — to get her footwork right so she would not be called for being out of the box. That has made all the difference for her.”
The change is to ensure slap-hitters do not gain an unfair advantage that other batters do not have by being allowed to contact the ball while outside the batter’s box.
Mason said simplifying her approach and trusting the process has helped her make that adjustment from being a slap-hitter.
“A lot of times I try to be too perfect,” Mason said. “I’m just simplifying it and trying to make contact. It is just seeing the ball and hitting the ball. That is it.
“I have just kept trying to get better and better each season. I don’t really know if there are any hardships. Of course, there are some slumps in a season. I made adjustments, and now I’m keeping it moving.”
Lindsey Ramsey, who was Mason’s high school coach at William Chrisman High in Independence, Missouri, saw the talent and leadership traits she exuded during a standout high school career as their lead-off hitter and spark plug.
“Coming into her freshman year, Kyana had an abundance of athletic talent,” Ramsey said. “We knew right away she was going to be a leader on our team. She started varsity her freshman year and just continued to grow. By the time she was a senior, her defensive skills had grown and offensively started to hit for more power.”
Mason started and lettered all four seasons at William Chrisman, earning both All-Conference and All-District honors as a senior. She was named the team’s MVP in her freshman and sophomore seasons as well.
Ramsey also said Mason left a lasting impact on their program.
“She literally was a game changer for Chrisman,” Ramsey said. “She could play anywhere on the field and lead-off every game for us. We definitely felt a huge loss when she graduated, but of course, we were excited for her to continue her softball career.”
With the adjustments she has made, Mason has earned regular playing time with the Bears and then some. Hesse has been impressed with her in all facets of the game.
“She has been outstanding at leadoff for us,” Hesse said. “I could not be happier for her to have a senior year like this. Defensively, she has been perfect in conference play. Offensively, she is our spark. I couldn’t be happier for her.”
Coming into this season, Mason certainly did not expect to be mentioned among some of the best players in the Valley numbers-wise.
“Nope, I did not expect it,” Mason said. “I have just been trying to do my best, and it is working. It is just exciting. I didn’t even know half the stats. I’m just going out there having fun and playing. It is really cool to get that recognition, but I didn’t expect it at all.”
Mason is a psychology major, who is looking to return to Missouri State next fall and start pursuing her master’s in counseling. She will also help her brother Kelvyn, who will play football at Missouri State next fall, get settled in on campus.
Mason said as she finishes up her softball career, the biggest goal she has set is to help her team go on an uphill battle for the conference tournament and ultimately win a ring.
“I think it would take being gritty,” Mason said. “We have to keep playing pitch-by-pitch and not try to win it in one swing. We have to keep playing pitch-by-pitch and being all-in.”