There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2021-22 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players.
This week: Gopher soccer players senior Patricia Ward and juniors Keziah Inniss and Izzy Brown; and Gopher softball player Makenna Dowell
Makenna Dowell makes her Gopher softball debut this Saturday as Minnesota opens its five-game fall schedule against Dakota Wesleyan University. The graduate student is completing her final year of eligibility after a stellar career at Auburn.
Dowell helped the Tigers to three NCAA tournaments, including the 2019 regional finals, and was the only member on the team to start all 51 games last season. “I’m in the graduate program for sports management,” she said in a recent MSR phone interview. “I believe Minnesota has one of the better ones.”
A psychology degree earner from Auburn and a two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll honoree, Dowell chose the Gophers after a campus visit earlier this year. “When I went on campus,” she recalled, “I just kind of fell in love, and the coaching staff was very different from Auburn. I was looking for something different, and I felt [Minnesota] fit me as a person and an athlete.”
Dowell is the Gophers’ only Black player this season. She is among the 11 percent of Division I softball players who are Black, up from five percent between 2014 to 2019.
“It is getting better,” she believed. “Of course, I always think there’s improvement. I think recently within these last few years, there has been a lot more diversity, at least in the SEC. I can’t really speak for the other conferences.”
Softball became Dowell’s sport of choice early on. “I had two older brothers and they play baseball. My dad played baseball. So from a really young age I was out in the yard, trying to be like one of the brothers.”
She is in her high school’s hall of fame at North Gwinnett (Ga.) High School, where she was a four-time all-county selection and an all-stater as she led her school to three regional championships along with a state title.
“We had some good runs every year,” said Dowell proudly. She says she believes it will take at least three semesters to complete her master’s degree work. After graduation, “I want to be a sports psychologist.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.