MAAC 40th Anniversary Spotlight on Manhattan Softball

by, Pete Janny & Alexa Schmidt, Sports Editor & Arts & Entertainment Editor

2020 marks the 40th year the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has existed. Since its inception, the conference has experienced many changes, highlighted by the additions of new sports and member schools throughout the years. But while a lot has happened over four decades — with much more still unwritten — there may never be a more confusing and unpredictable time in the conference’s history, let alone our own lives, than what is being experienced now during the coronavirus pandemic. 

For two former Manhattan softball players, there is hope that the school’s softball program will come out of this crisis better off by drawing on the examples set by themselves and others who came before.

Kate Bowen ‘14 and Elena Bowman ‘16 know more than a thing or two about what it takes to succeed in a Manhattan uniform. Both are former teammates who played with each other for two years, including on the 2014 Manhattan team that advanced as far as the MAAC Championship Game. Each is a program legend in their own right, and has set the bar extremely high for those who have come after them. 

If their legacies were not already heralded before, they are now, in light of both of them being included in the MAAC’s 40th Anniversary feature on the best players in Manhattan softball history. The other honorees for the program outside of Bowen and Bowman were Stacy Cohen ‘92, Jennifer Drum ‘95, and Danielle Yearick ‘94. 

Bowen, who is a native of Newtown, Connecticut, was a pitcher and second baseman at Manhattan from 2011 to 2014. During her time at the school, Bowen proved to be a difference maker at both positions, putting together one of the all-time great careers in program history. On offense, Bowen racked up big numbers, emerging as one of the top performers in program history in hits (211), runs (122), doubles (39), home runs (18), and RBIs (103). Her success at the plate also translated to her work on the mound, where she ranks among the leaders in program history in wins (29), innings (396), strikeouts (170), and complete games (35). 

“I pitched and played in the middle of the infield for so long so for me coming to Manhattan wasn’t anything new,” Bowen said. “I was really happy that I was able to do both.”

Bowen’s career at Manhattan was the epitome of consistency. She was a full-time starter all four years for a program that played a crucial role in her development. Bowen would not have wanted to spend her college years anywhere else.

“I just love Manhattan softball,” Bowen said. “For me, Coach [Pardalis]  just believed in me from the beginning and really thought I could have a good career in Manhattan. I’m just super grateful. I have so many great friends and teammates that I still stay in touch with.”

Elena Bowman 16’ was named the MAAC Player of the Year for women’s softball in 2015.

For the 2013 season, Bowen was assigned a new battery mate in Bowman, a talented, yet unproven, freshman catcher from San Mateo, California. At the time, the partnership between the two appeared to be nothing more than business as usual between a veteran pitcher and rookie catcher. In reality, that introduction marked the convergence of two careers destined for greatness.

“After my first few years, in my junior year I had a great catcher [Bowman],” Bowen said. “The energy she brought and trying to make me better each day was just such a great thing my junior and senior years.”

The 2015 unanimous MAAC Player of the Year, Bowman had one of the most prolific careers in Manhattan softball history. She holds the program records for career slugging percentage (.723) and home runs (52), while ranking second in career RBIs (154) and third all-time in both hits (201) and runs (130). 

“From the time I went on my recruiting trip, I just fell in love with the campus and the team, the city and the opportunity to play in New York,” Bowman said. “So it was a phenomenal experience for me, I am still close with a lot of my teammates and Coach [Pardalis], but I’m really just grateful for the experience overall.”

Bowen and Bowman grew up on opposite sides of the country before their paths crossed at Manhattan ­— the former from Connecticut and the latter from California. Despite this geographical gap, both got acclimated to the small community at Manhattan well and promptly felt a sense of belonging with their softball teammates. After all, the notion of going to school in New York City made Manhattan stand out to them in the first place, and it lived up to expectations.

“I felt really comfortable, just with how close the team was and how tight knit all the players were,” Bowman said.

Even in Bowen’s case, the relatively close proximity from her home in Connecticut to Manhattan did not make her any less excited to move to the big city for school.

“I realized I didn’t want to be too far from home but I was in a completely new and awesome atmosphere in the city,” Bowen said.

Away from the diamond, Bowen and Bowman were paragons of the fine academic reputation attributed to Manhattan student-athletes over the years. 

Throughout her career, Bowen amassed a collection of academic honors, including two Capital One Academic All-District honors and a Capital One Academic All-American Third Team selection. Most notably, Bowen was the valedictorian for the class of 2014 as a physical education major — a rare feat for a student-athlete at any institution.

“It was special giving the speech and I really tried giving the best speech I could for my class,” Bowen said. “I found Manhattan because of the softball program but I didn’t at the time think I was going to have such great professors. I enjoyed my experience academically just as much as I did athletically. Manhattan truly gave me the all-around experience.”

Caption: Kate Bowen is in her fifth year working at Springfield College. She took over as head coach at the start of the 2017 season. COURTESY/Springfield Athletics

Like Bowen, Bowman compiled a host of honors for her success in the classroom as a Jasper. A few of the notable accolades she received were a 2015 Capital One Academic All-America First Team honor and a 2015 Capital One Academic All-America First Team selection.

“I think I thrived on the small classes,” Bowman said. “It goes back to Coach [Pardalis]. He always was big on school first.”

For both Bowman and Bowen, head coach Tom Pardalis was instrumental in their careers as someone who was there for them in times of success and failure. Pardalis is now in year 12 of his tenure as head coach at Manhattan and continues to positively impact the lives of his players.

“The word I give for Coach [Pardalis] is invested,” Bowman said. “He showed me how bad he wanted me to come play for Manhattan softball and that made me want to go there. And the way that I personally always describe Coach [Pardalis] is just such a character person.”

Pardalis left a lasting impression on both women, so much so that they carried his lessons and advice with them to their later careers. 

Today, Bowen is in her fifth year working at Springfield College, a division III school in Massachusetts. Under her leadership, the softball program at Springfield has made strides both on the field and in the classroom. Her first campaign at the helm came in 2017 when she led the Pride to a 32-11 record. Those 32 wins were good for third most in program history and came following three seasons as a graduate assistant coach with the school. 

“I love what I do,” Bowen said. “We just had a few practices and the freshmen were so nervous. I told them to just take a deep breath and do the best you can… Coach [Pardalis] was a great role model as a head coach. Bridget Herman was my assistant coach and I don’t think there was a harder working assistant coach around at that time.”

Likewise, Bowman has also stayed connected to the game, having worked at HitTrax — a baseball and softball data analytics company based in Massachusetts — for the past two years. She cherishes the opportunity to give back to the game she loves from an analytical point of view.

“Coach [Pardalis] fostered such a love of the game in all of us,” Bowman said. “When I graduated I really wanted to stay around the game and I knew that. I didn’t know if coaching was totally for me but I knew I wanted to stay around the game.”

In this time of crisis, Bowen and Bowman have thought about the extraordinary difficulties athletes are currently facing. While they did not experience a cataclysmic phenomenon like COVID-19 during their college years, they themselves learned how to respond to adversity.

“My advice for the current players would be if we’re going to get out of this so where do you want to be when we get out of this,” Bowen said. “Because I would hope that Manhattan and any other team will try to get ahead instead of dwell on what we can’t do.”

From personal experiences, Bowman and Bowen are able to acknowledge that while the attitude towards women in sports has improved, there are still ways to go in pursuit of equal treatment with men’s sports.

Bowman has been following Athletes Unlimited League, an agency based in NYC that offers competitive opportunities for elite female athletes who play softball and volleyball — two sports that have received less airtime, sponsorships, and compensation in the U.S. 

“I think that we’re taking incredible strides towards funding women’s sports and being engaged with women’s sports across the board,” Bowman said. “It’s really changing the paradigm of how we engage with women’s sports and how we respect female athletes. With that being said I do think we have a significant amount of work to go.” 

As two professionals in the sports industry, Bowen and Bowman remain hopeful of the direction women’s sports is heading in. It is pioneers like Ruth Bader Ginsburg whose example looms large in the ongoing fight for women’s rights.

“I think a big part of success is investing,” Bowman said. “Whether you’re investing human capital, in your energy, your resources, so I think to that point of closing that gap there’s still some work to be done for sure. Like RBG said, women belong where all big decisions are being made.”