CHATHAM – This spring when Mollie Charest took to the pitcher's circle for the Monomoy softball team, she had a secret. She played most of her 2019 season with a sprained ankle and wrist, soldiering on when the Sharks made the playoffs.
Recently she had another secret, one she's beyond excited to let out: Charest has committed to play Div. 1 softball for Manhattan College in New York.
“I've been trying to get the Manhattan coach's attention since last year,” Charest said. “She's Div. 1. I've gone to at least 10 camps where she's been and tried to get her attention, but haven't been able to.”
This summer, all that changed when, first, a 2020 graduate committed to the school had to step out due to a career-ending injury. Then the Manhattan coach, Cat Clifford, happened to be at one of the smaller Connecticut tournaments where she caught sight of Charest doing what Charest does best.
“She happened to walk by and saw a girl throwing hard,” Charest said.
Clifford told Charest that she was familiar with her and wanted to see her in action again at least three times during the coming weeks, and wanted her to attend the program's Fall Prospects Camp on Sept. 1. Charest said the pressure was on when she noticed Clifford, an assistant coach poised to step into the head coaching position, keeping tabs on her as she pitched for both the Connecticut Freedom Elite program and the 18U Gold-Card team of the Connecticut Eliminators as a full-time and a guest player respectively.
At one point, one of her Connecticut coaches pulled Charest aside and told her that as long as she pitched a decent game, an offer from Manhattan would be forthcoming. Instead, Charest pitched what she said was a “phenomenal” game against “a really good team,” the Polar Crush.
“I shut them down,” Charest said.
The next week an offer was presented for a full scholarship.
Her choice of schools came down to Assumption and Manhattan. Charest said she took an interesting approach to making her final decision.
“If I broke my leg on the first day, what would be the best fit for me?” Charest asked herself. “I think New York has the best opportunities. I can get internships in the city, jobs in the city. The education overall is better. Plus, I knew the coach. I love her. She's hard, Coach Cat. As soon as I met her and went to a few camps, I looked into the school. It's basically one of the closest school you can get to before Ivy League.”
Charest is going to major in psychology, with the hope that after she graduates from Manhattan she'll attend Assumption to obtain a degree in criminology and also work as an assistant coach for their softball program.
Along with the scholarship, the commitment to Manhattan means something for Charest that many first-year players don't see: time in a game.
“I'm pretty much guaranteed playing time my freshman year,” Charest said. “It's literally a dream come true.”
That dream has been firmly in place since Charest was 4 years old and started working with her first pitching coach, later progressing to the Monomoy Middle School team coached by Craig Andrews. Though her parents, Jodie and Jason, cautioned her not to rule out quality Div. 2 and 3 schools when looking to further her softball career and her education, Charest kept her sights set on Div. 1.
She took a hard look at Central Connecticut, but the offer wasn't enough to defray the financial impact schooling there would have had. When Charest and her parents learned of the Manhattan offer, they were elated.
“My coach (Wayne Card) called my mom and was so excited he told my mom, who wasn't supposed to tell me, but of course she did,” Charest said. “We had to keep it a secret for almost a week. I was speechless.”
For Charest, the commitment is the realization of years of hard work coming to fruition.
“It's nice to finally see that I did everything for a reason,” she said. “My summers the past six years I haven't had friends. I don't get to see anyone. I work on the days I don't play softball and I play softball all the other days.”
Charest said the grind hasn't been easy as it often removed her from the life of a “typical” high school athlete.
“Since 4 years old, every Sunday at 8 a.m. I'm out there pitching,” Charest said. “Throughout it all I've gained and lost a lot of friends. There have been a lot of tears, a lot of bad times. A lot of times having to follow these great opportunities instead of staying with my best friends, instead of staying with a team.”
But she's had experiences that have helped her achieve her goals, including working with former Olympic softball coach Ralph Raymond, getting to play with one of the best teams in Connecticut, and then getting seen by the best team in Connecticut, the Eliminators, for whom she now plays.
Although Charest is already sporting Manhattan attire, wrapping her mind around the fact that she's been offered the opportunity to play for the Jaspers and get a top-notch education is still boggling.
“I don't think I've comprehended yet that my dream is coming true,” she said. “I'm a small-town girl, I play for Monomoy High School, not one of the bigger schools. I feel like everyone has had such hope in me and I was going to have to go Div. 3. For a while I was kind of freaking out, feeling like my dreams wouldn't come true. Then this woman saw me and within two weeks I had an offer and committed.”
Charest said that in those two weeks Clifford saw her talent. Two years ago, Charest's goal during that summer was to throw 60 mph. This summer she hit 65, and was throwing 64 when Clifford saw her.
“The first game I was throwing heat and no one could touch it,” Charest said. “I know she was looking at the pitcher on the other team, but it came down to who pitched better and somehow I did.”
Things went slightly awry when her team was forced to forfeit their next game, which Clifford was slated to come to solely to see Charest pitch. Fortunately, Charest was able to join another team as a guest, allowing Clifford to see solid pitching and movement. Movement and speed in later games sealed the deal, though Charest's personality, her ability to remain upbeat and focused, played a big part.
Summer ball has made a world of difference. While Charest has sharpened her skills during her four years with the Monomoy Sharks, her summer experiences playing all along the Eastern seaboard have taught her how to become a college prospect, throwing at a D1 level.
“I think really it was summer that has gotten me to this point,” Charest said. “I think being able to play all those amazing teams and play for a team with all these Div. 1 and Div. 2 players, made the difference. And the coach, he's tough but he has confidence in you. He's a great coach. He teaches you what to do in what situation, and turned me into a Div. 1 pitcher.”
Though her Olympic dreams are on hold due to the sport being removed for the 2020 games, Charest isn't complaining. In fact, she's been enjoying sharing her exciting news with everyone who has had a hand in her success.
“My middle school coach cried when we told him,” she said. “It's kind of big to tell all those people that turned me into who I am.”
She is most grateful for her parents' sacrifices, which included time and money even when both were in short supply.
“Literally, they gave up absolutely everything for me to be able to chase my dreams, and it's paying off now,” Charest said. “It's huge. Ever since I was little this was my dream.”