By Brian T. Chan, Sports Editor

Freshman Megan Blank is not the only country music fanatic on the diamond as she walks up to the plate to her favorite artist Miranda Lambert’s song “Gunpowder & Lead.” Sophomore Katie Rynex, a self-described “country girl” herself, has been another key addition to the George Mason University softball team’s corner infield pair.

Rynex, who entered the weekend with a .247 batting average, leads the Patriots with seven doubles and 22 RBIs.

Primarily as the cleanup hitter, Rynex plays a number of roles on offense, but her main role is to execute the task.

“I’m just worried about getting the job done,” said Rynex. “When I’m leading off, my job is to get on base; if there are runners on, my job is to get a base hit.

In addition to producing runs with the bat, Rynex also helps create runs with her speed. Rynex is one of the team’s top base stealers with five stolen bases out of six attempts.

“I love the fact that [Head Coach Joe Verbanic] has a lot of confidence in me [to steal bases],” said Rynex. “It’s all about using our eyes and knowing what to do.”

Graduating from Herndon High School, Rynex attended Ball State University and missed the bulk of last year due to an ankle injury. After a year, she opted to transfer back to her home state, finding a golden opportunity with Mason, one of the growing teams in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“I mesh better with this team,” said Rynex. “I love the coaches; they’re both doing great work with me and helping me relax.”

Being closer to home, she is able to play in front of her friends and family. Rynex also finds playing at the gorgeous George Mason Softball Complex another benefit in transferring to Mason.

Rynex is an enthusiast for water-related activities, which include fishing, tubing and jet skiing. In the offseason, she stays in shape by running continuously to improve her endurance for the upcoming season.

From the very beginning, Rynex found a way to fit in with her teammates, comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores.

Rynex sees that confidence and trust are vital elements in the team’s ability to compete in the CAA and defeat some of the top teams.

“It just continues with confidence because we all need to have confidence in each other and trust one another,” said Rynex. “As a building block, what we did, coming out and beating Georgia State, we stayed pumped and that’s huge; we need to build off that.”

Rynex continues to improve her individual play. She is second on the team with 16 runs scored and has a .360 slugging percentage. While she has been able to hit the ball into the gap for doubles, Rynex was able to put the ball over the fence for the first time in her career two weeks ago.

In a stunning upset over the Georgia State Panthers, Rynex scored the game’s only run. For Rynex, her most memorable moment thus far has been rounding the bases after hitting her first collegiate home run.

“Even coming in, one of the guys said that I looked like a little kid on Christmas — I had a huge smile on my face,” said Rynex. “I knew I hit the ball well because it came off the bat well, and I heard everyone screaming; when I got to hear that it was a home run, I’m just running around with a huge smile on my face.”

Across the diamond, Blank has seen substantial playing time as the team’s regular third baseman. In 34 starts in her 35 total appearances, Blank has a .247 batting average and is one of three players with 12 RBIs. Blank has been a useful asset to the team.

However, she was not originally penciled in to play the hot corner. After playing part-time in the outfield, Blank filled in and adapted to her position, but switching from the outfield to the infield posed challenges for her.

“As an outfielder, you have a long throw, but it’s a different mentality [than at third base],” said Blank. “At third base, you have so much more time — you can field the ball and just kind of sit there if you want to and you still have time to get the girl out.”

In addition to making adjustments on the field at the collegiate level, Blank has adapted herself to her own daily life in college.

“Fall semester was very difficult [for me],” said Blank. “I thought I had no time — I wanted to put extra time in practice; I always felt like I had too much homework to do.”

Since the start of the spring semester, Blank learned how to rearrange her priorities, putting homework aside for practice time.

While softball has been a major part of her life, Blank’s journey first began when she was just a toddler.

“My dad always tells the story [of] when I was 2 years old [and] I would carry around a Wiffle ball bat and he would pitch to me,” said Blank.

Blank is one of many in her family to play softball. Her mother and father, uncles and aunts and grandparents all played slow-pitch softball. Blank was the first in her immediate family to play fast-pitch.

After four years at Conestoga High School, the Leola, Pa. native chose to attend Mason for what it offered to the history major. Blank first heard about Mason from her father, who was looking at the school online and found something intriguing on the forum about Mason.

“I was looking at a couple of different schools all along the East Coast, and I chose Mason because of my major and being in the D.C. area was a good place for internships, and I wanted to play softball too,” said Blank.

Blank’s hobbies include hanging out with friends and playing tennis.

“I’m a social butterfly,” said Blank. “I love hanging out and playing Rock Band. We go off campus sometimes, like the other night we went to watch my friend’s sister’s lacrosse game.”

While her energy is a major part of her play at third base, Blank believes that her mentality to play the position is her greatest strength.

“The mental wall that you have to build for yourself and just attack the batter; you have to want the ball,” said Blank.

“As soon as you fear the batter, that’s when you’re going to miss the ball and that’s when you’re going to mess up and make mistakes, especially at a corner position when the ball gets on you really fast.”

Blank’s exceptional defensive play has been shown by her .925 fielding percentage. Blank credits her head coach for her success on defense. Ever since she set foot on Mason, Verbanic emphasized the fielding technique of funneling the ball to her body.

In addition to continuously improving her defense, Blank hopes to progress on offense and provide more to the scoring.

“For next year specifically, I want to swing a little bigger bat,” said Blank. “I really want to improve on my offense. It’s something I think about every day — it’s how you score, it’s how you win.”

The Patriots have made great strides this season, but while the improvements have led to greater confidence, Blank looks to continue this growth for the team in the near future.

“For 2011, I think we just need to keep setting the standard,” said Blank. “This year, we set a standard, and as far as building off that, I think that we just need to take it a step higher and not just say that we want to compete with these teams, we want to beat them.”