UCLA softball slugger Maya Brady steps into lead role

For three years, Maya Brady sat and relied on the upper classes and national champions to lead the way. UCLA stars such as Briana Perez, Kinsley Washington and Delanie Wisz would speak at all team meetings. Brady just followed.

Now a veteran on a team that hosted seven freshmen while pushing for their eighth straight finish at the Women’s College World Series, Brady sometimes finds himself waiting for someone else’s quiet voice to command the clubhouse. . Then she realizes that everyone is watching her.

On the field and behind the scenes, it’s Brady’s time.

The redshirt junior is having his best season as a Bruin, providing much-needed leadership at shortstop, lighthearted jokes in the dugout and consistent strikes at home plate. With Brady leading the offense, No. 2-ranked UCLA (50-4) will ride a 23-game winning streak in the inaugural Pac-12 Conference tournament. The No. 1-seeded Bruins play in the quarterfinals Thursday in Tucson against No. 8 seed Arizona or No. 9 seed Oregon State.

After hitting a disappointing .339 last year, Brady now leads the conference with a .453 batting average. With 57 RBIs and 16 home runs that rank second in the Pac-12, Brady was on course to become the fourth player in conference history to win the Triple Crown batting. Stacey Nuveman is the only UCLA player to earn this honor.

Speaking of Brady’s growth this year, UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez referenced the legendary hitter whose .466 career batting average is still the best in Bruins history. . It was Nuveman’s ability to turn bad pitches into hits that signaled his elite status. Brady had to prove that she had the same quality.

Brady played during his pandemic-shortened freshman season in 2020 and was named NFCA First-Team All-American in 2021 while playing alongside veterans Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles. Last year, with the Olympians leaving UCLA, opposing pitchers focused on Brady. She wasn’t getting the same pitches. Even when she had a successful game, Brady, who hit .317 during the regular season, felt like it was never enough. Expectations have remained very high for the niece of a seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback.

“I definitely got caught up in a lot of media and what people were saying about me,” Brady said. “At one point in the season I was so above that that it almost freed me from my own standards. If no one else was going to believe in me, then might as well believe in me.

Brady weathered her postseason slump hitting .438 with 10 RBIs, including seven in the Women’s College World Series. She gained confidence with the United States national team, going four of eight at the Japan All-Star Series over the summer.

During the fall, she met with hitting consultants and coaches at UCLA to hone her swing. For much of her career, natural athleticism was enough to get the results she needed.

“I was very results-oriented,” said Brady, whose mother Maureen was an All-American pitcher at Fresno State. “Because it’s worked for so long, I’ve never really judged my swing based on the little mechanics and I think the last two years I’ve really missed putting that work together.”

For the first time in his heralded career, it felt like Brady, the former No. 2 overall recruit in his high school class and a star of his elite travel ball team, was discovering new layers in as an athlete, Inouye-Perez said. In previous years, the UCLA coach noticed Brady turning away from tough drills, hoping to avoid the disappointment of eventually failing. This fall, Brady asked his coach to “make it as difficult as possible.”

Maya Brady moved from center field to shortstop this season, having to get used to a position she held in high school.

(Johm McCoy/Associated Press)

“She always wants [the results]“said Inouye-Pérez. “But she really understands how to get out of it now. This part makes me happy because it allows her talent to unleash instead of feeling the pressure of what she’s “supposed” to do. »

Expectations of what Brady would bring to UCLA were even greater than a typical highly touted prospect. His surname casts a long shadow. Even after Brady went six-for-12 with four RBIs in a three-game sweep of Arizona State that extended UCLA’s lead atop the Pac-12 standings, many social media outlets are focused on who was in the stands during one of the matches.

“Tom Brady, niece exchanges messages after UCLA softball appearance,” read a Sports Illustrated headline after the former NFL star posted photos he took at Easton Stadium while watching Maya drive in a race against Arizona State.

While Maya is proud to uphold the family name, the constant bond with her uncle has become tiring even for her teammates, who have watched Maya gracefully navigate her uncle’s shadow for years.

“It’s Maya Brady,” outfielder Aaliyah Jordan said defiantly. “She’s not just Tom Brady’s niece.”

A life following in her family’s footsteps has groomed Brady for her final stint on the court, where she’s to replace Perez, a five-year starter at shortstop. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is tied with Nuveman for the most games played in UCLA history at 264 and leads the program with 263 points scored.

The return to shortstop, where she played in high school, challenged Brady in a way she hadn’t experienced in college, she said. Not only did the former center fielder have to relearn old defensive techniques, but she had never seen the speed of college play at shortstop.

At the start of the season, Brady was touring with redshirt junior Seneca Curo at shortstop, but Curo suffered a shoulder injury. Inouye-Perez said she knew Brady could play shortstop ever since she saw him at camp as an eighth-grader when Brady, who fell in love with UCLA then that he was a preteen watching the Bruins win the World Series in 2010, fielded a fly ball on a moving short hop and struck at first. Whether Brady could thrive at the critical position this year was never about athleticism or dedication to the team, just his college experience.

After Curo’s injury, Inouye-Perez asked Brady to stay focused on the process of learning the position and not let any missteps affect his striking or, more importantly, his leadership.

That has been Brady’s biggest area of ​​focus this season.

The 21-year-old has rarely been the first person to raise her hand in team meetings. She never wanted to be the first in the exercises. She didn’t want to be the first to make a mistake.

UCLA's Maya Brady celebrates after hitting a home run against Oklahoma during the Women's College World Series.

UCLA’s Maya Brady celebrates after hitting a home run against Oklahoma during the Women’s College World Series.

(Alonzo Adams/Associated Press)

“As women, you’re kind of taught to kind of take it easy a lot,” Brady said, “and I think being part of this program where you have so many successful female role models…it really showed me, if you go first and get it wrong, whatever. Just do it.”

Jordan, a seventh-year power hitter at UCLA, called Brady “literally the perfect leader” for the way she combines her vocal leadership with an example of hard work. She doesn’t hold her teammates to a standard without first surpassing it.

Brady “rided the roller coaster” last year, Jordan said, allowing his mood to fluctuate with the ups and downs of the long season. This year, Brady’s temperament is more even, Jordan noted.

Brady knows her teammates are watching her. While she might have been discouraged by a strikeout in previous seasons, she instead turns to her teammates to relay critical information that can help her in the next at-bat. As she returns to the dugout, Brady often wears a smirk on her face as she thinks about her next opportunity.

“It’s a responsibility she takes on with pride instead of being a burden,” Inouye-Perez said, “and I think that’s powerful.”

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