This weekend, the MSU Sports Hall of Fame inducts five new members. Each day this week, we’ll be highlighting one of those individuals in this space.
Taking instructions from their head coach, the members of the Lewisburg High School softball team may not realize just how great an athlete Chelsea Bramlett Malone was when she was their age, or maybe a few years older.
She hardly realizes it herself, actually. Often, it takes seeing the success of her players to remind Malone of the incredible career she had her in own playing days for Mississippi State softball. This week, Malone gets another reminder when she is inducted into the MSU Sports Hall of Fame, one of five new members and certainly one of the most deserving to ever have their name enshrined.
She’ll be introduced with words, and her acceptance will come in the same form, but a single slide showing her incredible numbers would likely suffice. One of two players in SEC history to be named All-American in all four years of her career, the MSU record book is practically an homage to Malone’s career.
The three-time national catcher of the year is MSU’s career leader in batting average (.461), runs scored (219), hits (359) and stolen bases (207), and she also holds single-season records for batting average (.536, 2010) and stolen bases (61, 2010). Her .536 average in 2010 still stands as the 10th-best season in NCAA softball history.
It’s easy to see why Malone was selected, even if it’s often easy for her to forget.
“Sometimes I look at some of my kids and they’re hitting .300 and they’re doing so good and colleges are looking at them,” she said, “then I look at some of the numbers that I put up, and it was just like, wow. I don’t know how I did it sometimes.
“In the heat of the moment, I really didn’t pay a whole lot of attention,” she continued. “I knew what I needed to do for the team. That’s really what I was focused on. Looking back, it’s just kind of like wow, I had records that I never even really thought about.”
Malone had enough records, and enough talent, more specifically, that she was even selected to play for Team USA and helped them win a world championship in the summer of 2010, something she called a dream come true.
Her career was impressive on paper, but to MSU Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, the real excitement came in actually watching her play in person.
“You don’t think of a catcher being that fast,” he said. “Such a unique combination. If she put the ball on the ground, you weren’t going to throw her out. And if you weren’t careful, an infield grounder was going to become a double. She had just great speed, was a very good defensive player, and that’s quite a weapon when you’ve got a catcher who can be that effective on the base paths at the same time and you have her for four years. She played at a high, high level. She was a special talent.”
Part of what made Malone so successful in her career is the same thing that kept her from realizing exactly what she was doing until after the fact. Her commitment to bettering herself as a player was unwavering, and her approach was one that kept her in front of all others. She never stopped training and preparing, and every offseason was spent studying herself. She would figure out what opponents would try to do to stop her, then she would work until she could beat that, too.
“My big thing my junior and senior year was always to make my weakness my strength because I knew, the next year, that’s what they were going to come at me with,” she said. “I just tried my best to stay ahead of the game.”
Clearly, she was successful. With her schedule as a coach, Malone doesn’t often have time to reflect, or even much of a need to. She uses what she learned as a player to teach her team, while all the personal accomplishments stay tucked away in a nice, nostalgic corner of her mind.
Being inducted into the hall of fame has given her the opportunity to bring those memories back. In doing so, it’s not the numbers she remembers, but the opportunities softball gave and continues to give her.
“All the experiences that I got,” she began, “the ability to play for an SEC school and be in Starkville and go to all the events. Being in that kind of area. Then having the opportunity to play USA Softball. It meant the world to me to be able to get an education and then come back and coach these girls now and watch them sign and go to college and play college ball. There’s so much good that came out of every bit of it.”