FARMINGTON — Growing up in San Juan County, a young Kellie Mason couldn't help but look up to players like Farmington High pitcher Benita Sanchez, dreaming of winning state softball championships just like the older girls she idolized.

As her own high school career comes to a close, Mason's left a mark of her own on the local prep softball scene.

Her pitching helped lead Bloomfield to four consecutive state championships, while her competitive nature and leadership skills helped the Lady Bobcats break a long drought by winning the District 1-3A volleyball championship this year. Those qualities have earned her the right to be named The Daily Times' Prep Female Athlete of the Year for 2009-10.

"One thing I'm really going to take from the whole experience, the five years here at Bloomfield, is that you can do anything you set your mind to," Mason said.

Mason was thrown into her role as the Bobcats' top pitcher virtually as soon as she was eligible to don the blue and gold of Bloomfield High as an eighth-grader. Despite playing against girls much older and stronger than she was, she never let it bother her.

"I think pressure is a privilege to have," Mason said. "Not everybody gets to go through this, not everybody gets to be in the spotlight. I think it's pretty fun, and it only makes you better.

"I was a little 14-year-old eighth-grader playing these 18-year-old seniors and blowing it by them," she added. "You feel pretty invincible, but that was all due to hard work."

That didn't come as a surprise to current Bloomfield coach Bruce Armenta, who coached Mason and many of her teammates in summer ball from the time they were in elementary school.

"I knew when I was coaching her when she was young — she always threw hard," Armenta said. "I knew if she ever got her control down and got that arm circle down, she was going to be pretty tough. You kind of knew that she had the talent, but her working so hard — that's what made her the pitcher she is today."

By the time she was a freshman, Mason was well on her way to becoming one of the state's dominant pitchers. She threw a complete-game one-hitter in the state semifinals that year against St. Michael's, and yielded only one hit in six innings in the championship game against Portales.

"This was part of our goal, to win this and start a tradition," Mason said then. "I think this is where it started today. So we plan on winning a couple more state championships."

If only she knew then what would unfold over the next three seasons.

Bloomfield collected another championship the next season, beating St. Michael's in the "if" game in the double-elimination format. There was no "if" game in 2009, as Mason and the Bobcats yielded just four runs in five state tournament games en route to their third straight championship.

And last Saturday, the Bobcats made it four in a row with a thrilling 7-3, nine-inning win over Raton that saw Mason pick up 18 strikeouts.

"It's been quite an amazing experience," Mason said of her career. "We had to put in a lot of hard work to get where we are today — all of us as a team, as individuals, staying committed to the sport all year long. It was really something great to be a part of."

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She was able to take some of that winning mentality over to volleyball season this past fall. On the north wall of Bobcat Gymnasium, there are numerous blue-and-gold banners honoring each of the school's district championship-winning teams since it opened.

Conspicuously absent from that wall was a recent volleyball district title banner — the last one displayed the year 1997. Mason and her teammates set about changing that, and on Nov. 7, they reached their goal with a 25-23, 25-22, 25-18 win over Wingate.

"It felt really great," said Mason, a First Team All-District 1-3A selection in volleyball. "All of us girls who play sports together in the senior class are really close, and we've grown up together, playing together. Just to finally get to that higher level and accomplish something like that that hasn't been done in a really long time, we felt special. It was a great way to end our senior year together."

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As for the future? Mason has her sights set on playing for the University of New Mexico next season, though she does have some additional offers on the table from other schools should that not work out.

However, she sees quite a benefit for local girls wanting to play softball if she does end up in Albuquerque.

"You don't see many New Mexico girls go Division I, but when you do, you feel like you've set a bar," Mason said. "You inspire a lot of the younger girls coming through here. They have someone to idolize. It feels great when they come to you and ask you for your home-run ball."

Fitting, as the little girl who once peered through the chain-link fences of the Ricketts Park Softball Complex to watch her idols now is one who other young girls look up to.

  • Other athletes considered for this award included Aztec's Meghan Gerry; Bloomfield's Shelby Walker; Farmington's Kamy Blackwood; Kirtland Central's Kourtni Ashcroft and Amanda Kerr; Navajo Prep's Alexis Archambault; Piedra Vista's Karysta Donisthorpe and Ali Rhodes and Shiprock's Kalen Henderson.