It’s been a banner month for UMS-Wright alumni.
Recent graduate Maddux Bruns was named Mr. Baseball, which annually goes to the top high school player in Alabama. Bruns, who is named after legendary pitcher Greg Maddux, has signed to pitch for Mississippi State next season. But he has a huge decision to make before then. Bruns is projected by many as a first-round pick in next year’s Major League Baseball Draft. Others have him lasting until the second round. Either way, Bruns will have a multimillion-dollar decision to make before he turns 19 years old.
Bruns is 6-foot-2, left-handed and throws 95 mph consistently. Sometimes his fastball threatens triple digits.
If Bruns delays his professional baseball career, he could conceivably play with fellow UMS-Wright alumnus Tanner Allen.
But in reality, that’s not likely to happen. Allen was named SEC Player of the Year this season on the way to leading Mississippi State to the College World Series for the third time in a row. In Omaha, Neb., Allen lived up to his star billing. He was in the middle of nearly every rally of the Bulldogs’ historic run.
Allen is expected to begin his professional baseball career shortly, meaning he and Bruns will never be college teammates.
As impressive as Bruns was this season (and he was very impressive), we’ve had Mr. Baseball award winners from Mobile many times before. Most recently, Jeremiah Jackson of St. Luke’s won the award in 2018. Interestingly, Jackson also signed with Mississippi State, but decided to begin his pro career straight out of high school after being selected in the first round by the Angels.
As impressive as Allen was this season (and he was very impressive), our area has had many players go on to great success on the college level. Faith Academy graduate Josh Donaldson was one of the best players in the SEC at Auburn before becoming the American League Most Valuable Player for the Toronto Blue Jays. That’s just one of many examples.
But there aren’t any comps for the year UMS-Wright graduate Paige Madden is having.
As a senior at Virginia, Madden led the Cavaliers to the national championship in swimming. She wasn’t just a member of the team. She was named the Most Outstanding Performer in the national championship meet. The national championship was the first-ever for Virginia and the first for any team (male or female) from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Her performance led to an invitation to the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha.
Madden was stellar in the national spotlight, qualifying in two individual events for the team that will compete in Tokyo this summer.
She will be Mobile’s first Olympian since LeFlore High School basketball star DeMarcus Cousins won gold in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Madden will be a favorite to bring home a medal from her first Olympic experience.
I reached Madden by phone when she was in Charlottesville, Va., packing her apartment in anticipation of a hectic summer. Her next stop is Honolulu, where the U.S. team will train until it’s time to leave for Tokyo.
Opening Ceremonies are set for July 23, but Madden isn’t sure she will take part in the traditional spectacle that kicks off the Games.
“Usually the swimmers don’t walk in the Opening Ceremonies because we have to swim the next day and the coaches don’t want us to expend any of our energy,” Madden said. “I’m not sure what will happen this time because of the time schedule. Normally we do preliminaries in the mornings then the finals at night. But because of the time difference with the United States, that will be different this time. We will do preliminaries at night and the finals in the morning so that people watching in the United States will be watching the finals live at night.”
Madden was so strong at the Olympic Trials she qualified for the team even before her strongest event. She finished second to the legendary Katie Ledecky in the 400-meter freestyle to qualify for the team. She later finished third in the 200 freestyle, meaning she should also have a third chance at a medal in the 800-meter relay.
Madden, 22, overcame a positive COVID-19 test that derailed her training for the Olympic Trials. But now she’s ready to represent the U.S. and her hometown on the world stage.
“It means so much to me to have all the support from home,” Madden said. “I’ve had so many people reach out that I haven’t even been able to return all the messages. But I appreciate everybody so much. I can’t wait to represent everybody in the Olympics. Go, USA!”
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart app.
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