Trust me. You can be great. That simple pitch from former James Madison softball coach Mickey Dean sold Megan Good on playing softball in college and doing it close to her home for the Dukes.
Good, the local prospect initially more interested in playing volleyball than softball in college, sat and listened as Dean bluntly declared that Good had the potential to become a multiyear All-American.
“She turned to her mom and just said, ‘This is where I’m coming,’” Dean said this week.
Trust me. You can get through this surgery and get back to the top of your game. That was Dean’s message — from afar — to Good after a knee injury cost her last season, what would have been her senior year.
Dean had left JMU to take over at Auburn in September. A few months later, Good would have surgery to repair damage in her left knee, a repetitive-use injury that she contemplated trying to play through until Dean and others persuaded her to undergo the procedure.
As Good faced the physical and emotional hurdles of making a comeback, the man in whom she had put her trust was coaching another roster of players approximately 650 miles south.
It wasn’t easy for either of them.
“It tore at me. It really did,” said Dean, an Elkton native and former Radford coach who gained national acclaim for his work with pro softball star Jennie Finch. “I knew the anger and the disappointment that she was going through and then the injury happened — I felt like I had abandoned one of my own kids.”
Good doesn’t blame Dean for taking a job in the SEC, the best softball conference in the nation, and a gig that more than doubled his JMU salary.
Not that she was particularly pleased with his decision at the time. Going through the injury, surgery and rehabilitation without him there only added to the challenge for the Mount Sidney native.
“It was really hard for me. Me and him had that special bond,” Good said as the top-seeded Dukes prepared to host the CAA tournament this week. “I trusted him and he taught me everything I knew. But at the same time, I knew why he did it. It was a better opportunity for him. I can’t fault him for that, but I do miss him. It was hard. It was really hard.”
Arriving at JMU with a fastball high school batters couldn’t catch up with and blessed with what Dean described as “flawless mechanics,” Good allowed Dean to mold her into a college pitcher, adding a rise ball and, later, a curve and drop ball. She had been an all-district pitcher as a junior and senior at Fort Defiance High School, even throwing a perfect game in her final prep season.
But it was on the volleyball court that Good had made her name, setting Virginia career records for kills and digs and ending up with her jersey being retired by the Indians’ program.
She was a draw and current JMU catcher Kierstin Roadcap counted herself among those who made sure to check out what all the chatter was about. Roadcap was a junior when Good, then a senior, and Fort Defiance came to play a match at her high school, Turner Ashby.
“I’d never seen anyone hit a volleyball as hard as Megan,” Roadcap recalled. “It was scary.”
A year later, Roadcap became Good’s teammate at JMU. Good already had made good on Dean’s prediction she’d be an All-American, earning that distinction as a freshman when she led the CAA in wins, ERA and strikeouts.
Now, it was Good’s stuff in the circle that Roadcap labeled scary — for her to catch and opponents to try to hit.
“You’ll even hear hitters sometimes say, ‘Wow,’” Roadcap said.
By the summer of 2018, Good was 99-9 as a college pitcher, a three-time All-American with an ERA that had dipped each season, dropping to a micro 0.63 her junior season. Dean, meanwhile, had built JMU into a CAA power and an NCAA tournament regular.
And then summer ended and the chill set in. Dean, who had agreed to a contract extension two years before, took the Auburn job in September. By January, JMU announced Good would undergo surgery and miss the season.
“When all that happened, with surgery, with Coach Dean leaving, everything was up in the air,” said Dukes coach Loren LaPorte, the longtime Dean assistant who took over JMU after his departure. “There was a lot of gray. Nothing was black and white.”
Good leaned on LaPorte, teammates and family during her recovery. She stayed in touch with Dean but didn’t want to rely on him too heavily. It would have made his being gone harder for her to handle, she thought.
“I just wanted to move on,” Good said. “It was a hard year. You just keep moving forward, no matter what happens.”
Good worked her way back, pitching with anxiety in her first practices back, wondering if the knee would hold up as she fired her signature fastball 43 feet over and over. But by the time she toed the mound in February, taking on and beating a pair of nationally ranked teams in Oregon and Tennessee at a tournament in Florida, the nerves had given way to the adrenaline.
“That morning, in the hotel, she was all business,” Roadcap recalled. “I think she was just ready and I think she was so excited to get back out there. When she threw the first pitch I was like, ‘She’s got this.’”
Good is 18-5 this season with a CAA-low 1.49 ERA heading into this week’s tournament, and is batting .338 with 15 home runs and a team-high 56 runs batted in.
The No. 16 Dukes (44-7), the league’s regular-season champions, opened the CAA tournament Wednesday with a 12-0 rout of Charleston in five innings. After losing just once in conference play, they hope a strong showing this week will give them the momentum in the NCAA tournament to reach the program’s first Women’s College World Series.
For Good, there’s the satisfaction of coming all the way back, and the desire to go further.
For Dean, the man who left, then watched his pupil struggle to get back on the mound from a distance, there are emotions, too.
“It’s a culmination of pride, relief, just thankfulness,” Dean said. “Like a proud father.”