If she doesn’t know already, Mississippi College head softball coach Brooke O’Hair should be aware that Shayla McKissock is a self-described “goofball”. Of course, O’Hair already knows that she’s a very good softball player. That’s why she offered the Bryant senior a scholarship to continue her education and softball career at the Clinton, Miss., school.
On Monday, McKissock, the daughter of Lance and Karen Bonvillain, officially accepted that offer by signing a letter of intent at a signing ceremony at Bryant High School.
“The first thing to say about Shayla is she’s an over-achiever,” said Robby Wilson, who has coached McKissock the last two summers with the Arkansas Angels. “The second thing, which is kind of the thing that made a bond with us immediately was, she’s the biggest goofball I’ve ever met.
“And she understands that you can have fun and bust your butt to achieve what you need to achieve,” he continued.
Asked about her greatest asset, McKissock explained, “It doesn’t really have to do with my athleticism or anything like that. I think it’s my leadership qualities. I’m goofy. I goof around but when the job needs to be done, we’re going to get it done and I’m going to help my team get there.”
“She was one of the quietest kids when we first got her but the leader came out,” Wilson said. “Now she coaches the 14’s. That’s how big of a leader she is. She turned around and turned the 18’s into a championship team then started mentoring the 14’s on what work ethic and being a selfless person really means.
“You see the girls around her want to continue to get better,” he added. “The girls around her want better grades. The girls around her want to do better because her positivity and her work ethic were contagious.
“When a teenager can motivate me to do better, to motivate me to be a better coach, motivate me to do better during a game, that’s when you know there’s something special about a kid,” Wilson said. “To say Shayla is something special is an understatement.”
Bryant Lady Hornets’ new head coach Lisa Dreher said, “I’ve seen an extremely hard worker, a good leader, one that leads by example. And I know that she’s an excellent student. “I know she’s going to do great things at Mississippi College. If I had to paint a picture of a good college student-athlete, it would probably be Shayla.”
McKissock has been a mainstay at second base for the Lady Hornets but has shown her versatility during the summer.
“Shayla’s, by far, the most versatile player I’ve ever coached,” Wilson said. “When she came to us, she came basically as a third baseman and only hit from the right side. When we figured out her athleticism, just for grins, we moved her over to shortstop, moved her to center. Then we had a catcher go down and one of the other catchers wasn’t there, she had to learn to catch in the middle of a championship game and ended up throwing every runner out.
“We moved her to the left side and taught her how to slap right before a game just because a college coach wanted to see it,” he added. “After that game, the college coach ended up making an offer to her.”
“I know she can play wherever we need her,” Dreher acknowledged. “Offensively, we’re going to try to switch her around to the left side and utilize her speed a little bit more. She’s done a really good job so far.”
“It’s been really difficult,” McKissock said of hitting from the left side and slapping the ball. “It’s like learning a whole new thing over again. Slapping is difficult but, once you get it down, there are so many more options at hitting.
“With slapping, you can really control where you put the ball and it’s more of a mental game,” she noted. “I think that’s a big reason they wanted me to do that, because I have a really strong mental game. So, being able to place the ball and know the holes and know the defense’s weaknesses, it’ll end up being really good for me once I get it perfected.”
Defensively, O’Hair wants McKissock in centerfield for her Choctaws.
“That’s not my key position,” McKissock said. “I’m normally a middle infielder, third baseman, something like that. But they saw my athleticism and they really liked my speed in the outfield so that’s their plan for me my freshman year, play centerfield and work for a position.
“My favorite position so far has been third base,” she added. “I grew up playing second and I loved it but third base is a big challenge. I played a little centerfield in travel ball and I really love that too because it’s a lot more risky. You’re the last line of defense in the outfield.”
McKissock said she had offers from other schools including a few NCAA Division I programs.
“But none of them felt the same,” she related. “When you compared them, it was obvious to me that Mississippi College was the place for me.
“I was really looking for some place that wasn’t too close to home,” she continued. “I was looking for a place with a great Biology program and my softball coach (Wilson) actually got me hooked up with Mississippi College. They came to watch me in a tournament and they were interested. So we started talking and, when I went there, I just felt so loved. They have a great community feeling and they’re really faith-based. It made me fall in love with it.”
Playing in college, she said, was, “just a dream until really I hit my sophomore year. I saw other people working hard and getting college interest so I said, ‘Well, I can do that.’ That’s when I started going to a lot of college camps.
“But softball’s a little different. They start recruiting earlier. So, if I would’ve started my recruiting when I was younger, I would’ve had a better chance to go to a bigger college. But I think that was God’s plan for me, to start later. And I ended up at the place I belong.”
As a junior last season, McKissock hit .346 with an on-base percentage of .455. She earned all-conference honorable mention. She also played a key role on the back row for the Lady Hornets’ volleyball team this fall.
“I started playing (softball) when I was 5 years old,” she recalled. “I started playing serious travel ball when I was 13. But it was always serious to me. I’m not a play-for-fun kind of person. When I was about 10 I quit all the sports that were just fun. If I wasn’t good at it, I quit it because I was going to focus.
“I always took things seriously as a kid. I know how to have fun but I always take sports seriously. In high school, it was going to be softball and volleyball and that’s it. I was going to work to be the best softball player and volleyball player I could be.”
And now it’s all softball.