Despite life throwing numerous obstacles in her direction, Yukon native Jewell Lee kept going back to work and turned her freshman year at Panhandle State University into one she will never forget.
Lee was named to the 2018 NAIA Softball All-America second team and to the 2018 National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Region first team for her accomplishments on the field this spring for Panhandle State.
The 2017 Yukon High School graduate was the Sooner Athletic Conference’s top hitter with a batting average of .456. She was sixth in the nation with 88 hits and led the SAC in triples with six. Lee had a fielding percentage of .963 in centerfield and hit in the lead-off or two-hole spot the entire season.
Lee also was named to the Sooner Athletic Conference first team and led her team to its best record since 2002 at 26-32 and to the SAC Conference Tournament for the first time in 10 years.
Despite the enormous amount of success Lee had in her freshman campaign, things didn’t always come easy for her.
In the fall, Lee suffered not one but two quad injuries that sidelined her for much of the fall season.
“I got off to a rough start,” Lee said. “I pulled both my quads in the fall and couldn’t do much. I worked really hard over Christmas break to get myself back into shape. I came into college thinking softball was going to be easy and it wasn’t. I came back after Christmas break and my coach told me how much I had improved in that time.”
However, it wasn’t the smoothest start to the 2018 season for Lee.
“We had our first preseason tournament in New Mexico and it didn’t go well,” Lee said. “It was one of the worst tournaments I have ever had in softball. I was really frustrated and I came home and asked my dad what was wrong. I went to see several of my old hitting coaches and tried to work some things out with them. I just went back to the cage and went to work.”
Lee had several weeks to get herself right before the regular season started. She said she decided to go into the new season with a clear head.
“I just went in open minded,” Lee said. “I crushed the ball in that first game. I just played free.”
Lee started the season on fire but about a quarter of the way into the season, she experienced yet another obstacle. This time it came in the form of a knee injury she sustained when she was diving for a ball in the outfield during practice.
Lee didn’t know it at the time but she had torn some cartilage in her knee. When she went in to have the knee checked, doctors saw the cartilage damage and said she would need surgery to fix it. She decided to put the surgery off until the season was over.
Before the injury occurred, Lee was batting close to .600 but she went into a slump towards the end of the season.
“It was really frustrating,” Lee said. “I think I went without a hit for several games but I decided to go back to work and get back on track. I wasn’t going to let that slow me down.”
The Aggies qualified for the SAC Conference Tournament and took on national power University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma on its home field. Panhandle State played the eventual NAIA national champions tough but Lee faced another obstacle during the game.
“I had strep-throat and still played,” Lee said. “When I was going after a ball in the outfield to catch it I passed out and had to leave the game.”
The Aggies couldn’t recover after Lee’s exit and fell to USAO.
“It was a crazy year,” Lee said. “It was a learning experience but a good experience.”
Growing up in the Yukon area, Lee knew she was in for a culture shock when she signed to play collegiate softball at Panhandle State.
“I had to get used to the college life and had to learn how to plan my schedule,” Lee said. “There is not much to do out there, and there aren’t a lot of people, so I was able to focus on practicing and getting better with softball and also focus on studying.”
Lee said one of the toughest adjustments to life in the panhandle was the weather.
“It’s hard having to play in the cold and the wind,” Lee said. “Sometimes, the wind will be blowing 50 mph and then sometimes it will be 20 degrees outside but we have to get our practice in and we have to get our games in, so we played through it. I learned a lot about the game of softball playing in 50 mph wind. It makes it really tough.”
Lee was an honorable mention All-State softball player her senior year in high school. She said college softball and high school softball are very different.
“It’s a whole different level in college,” Lee said. “You have to work a lot harder and earn everything you get.”
Lee entered college with plans to pursue a career in nursing but Panhandle State dropped its nursing program just before Lee arrived on campus.
“I changed my major to biology but I still am going to pursue nursing,” Lee said.
Lee had the knee operation to clean out and repair the damage a week after she returned home from college on May 18. The doctors were happy to find less damage than they had originally thought.
Lee said she will be back to playing the sport she loves in only a couple of weeks.
“It’s hard for me to sit around and not be able to go and play softball,” Lee said. “But the doctor told me I could start throwing in a week and then start running and hitting in two weeks. I am not going to play games this summer. I am going to use this time to improve on the areas I need to improve on in my game to make myself a better player and also give my body a chance to rest from playing games.”
Panhandle State coach Meghan Mulcahy was proud of her freshman in a statement released by the university.
“I am beyond proud of Jewell (Lee) and her accomplishments this year,” Mulcahy said. “She is a player who holds herself to the highest of standards and it shows in her performance. Jewell is more than deserving of this recognition and with the experience she has gained this season, I am excited to see what she can accomplish in the future.”