Madelyn Hickingbottom and Alexis Lucyshyn have a lot in common.
They’re from the same country.
They play the same position.
And they both committed to UB as freshmen in 2018.
But they never met before last winter, when the two played on a travel team together. Now, their shared experiences have made them teammates, roommates and best friends.
They are perhaps UB softball’s two most important players: freshmen pitchers on a freshman-only pitching staff. And they’re embracing it. Hickingbottom and Lucyshn arrived on North Campus as wide-eyed freshmen from across the border. But just a few months later, they’ve learned to lean on each other for support and encouragement.
The two first bonded during the U-19 Women’s Softball World Cup, where they helped their home country, Canada, win bronze for the first time in the nation’s history. Lucyshyn had a .357 batting average on 5 hits and a triple. Hickingbottom had a team-best 0.43 ERA in 5 appearances.
“That was an amazing experience,” Lucyshyn said. “When I was named to that roster, it was a dream come true. It was something I always wanted to do. Playing for my country was a blessing. I can’t even explain the experience. It was amazing.”
Hickingbottom and Lucyshyn may have met last winter, but their friendship has taken off since coming to the Queen City.
“It was really nice because we were already friends,” Hickingbottom said. “We’re roommates, too. We have each other. We push each other to be the best.”
Since the season began on Feb. 7, Hickingbottom and Lucyshyn have evenly split pitching duties. On a typical night, one will start the game, and the other will finish it.
“If you want to say we have a number one or a number two, we really don’t,” head coach Mike Ruechel said. “They’re both number ones, they’re both number twos.”
Hickingbottom started the first game, and has made seven total appearances on the mound, where she has allowed 19 earned runs to 27 strikeouts. She has been working up in the zone, but Ruechel said she’ll “have to learn to work occasionally down, because hitters are going to see that tendency.”
Lucyshyn started the second game and has allowed 14 earned runs to 12 strikeouts in five contests. She has been strong down, but is going to have to “be able to work up in the zone” to have long-term success, Ruechel said.
Hickingbottom and Lucyshyn will have their work cut out for them, but they have the drive and pedigree to be successful at the collegiate level.
Hickingbottom grew up playing soccer but says she didn’t like it. So she asked her parents if she could try a different sport.
“I asked [my dad] to play baseball, and he was like, ‘Maybe you should try softball,’” Hickingbottom said.
Hickingbottom did, and she instantly embraced the sport. From the moment she learned how to throw a softball, she started to pitch. Living in Glen Williams, ON, she was forced into pitching because her team didn’t have any pitchers.
She became invested in softball at age 14. By the time she was a senior in high school, she had her mind set on Buffalo. Even though the Bulls haven’t enjoyed much success on the diamond in recent years, she felt comfortable at the school.
“My brother was always here, and I would always be coming down with my family,” Hickingbottom said. “I got really used to it. It’s just so close to where I’m from that it doesn’t feel like I’m gone sometimes. My parents can come up whenever. It’s like my parents are still with me at school.”
Lucyshyn, too, has always been an athlete. Growing up, she played basketball, volleyball and field hockey. She also took part in track-and-field events. Anything she had time for and could do to keep herself fit, she did.
But softball was different. Softball was always her favorite.
“I knew that was going to be my number one,” Lucyshyn said. “But if I had time to do any other sport, I loved doing it. Meeting new people, playing different sports — it’s just what I loved to do in my free time.”
After beginning the season with two wins in their first three games, UB has dropped its last six contests by an 18-run margin. Over that stretch, Hickingbottom and Lucyshyn have struggled with commanding the inside part of the plate.
“They’re good players. They’ve got really good skill sets,” Ruechel said. “But they’re freshmen. They have to learn how to pitch. Before getting here, you can throw the ball by people — now you can’t. Now they have to be able to hit their spots. They have to be able to come up with some offspeed pitches.”
Hickingbottom and Lucyshyn are on their way.
The 2020 Bulls have an unusual mix of freshmen and upperclassmen. But everyone understands the significance of the next generation of UB stars.
“I know myself, there’s so much to work for. I’m just excited,” Lucyshyn said. “We’re all pushing to have as many wins as we can. Having these upperclassmen as such great role models to push us — we’re all excited to be the best we can this season.”
Justin Weiss is the senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @jwmlb1
Justin Weiss is the The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.