Less than a month into the college softball season, the University of Illinois has put together an impressive résumé. The team’s 8-0 start marked the best beginning of a season in school history.
During a 5-0 weekend at the season-opening Rosemont Rumble this month, the team showed it could react to a curveball off the field as well.
After winning its final game – 4-1 against Central Michigan – Illinois (8-2) was delayed in its return to Champaign by a disabled bus.
With no transportation available, the Illini made the best of the situation by eating lunch in a large group, laughing, joking and watching other games.
“We love being together, and being around each other,” said senior catcher Jenna Mychko, a Huntley graduate. “We’re telling jokes all the time. We have a good time.”
As one of only two seniors on the squad, Mychko said the team has benefited from a youthful roster of exuberant personalities.
Mychko has enjoyed expanding her leadership on the team, which includes 12 freshmen and sophomores.
“If I’m confident behind the plate, our pitcher is going to be more confident and our infielders are going to be more confident,” she said.
Mychko’s confidence has grown immensely on offense.
Through 10 games, she leads the Illini with a .429 batting average and a .586 on-base percentage. Her six RBIs is halfway to her total from last season, when she started 34 games.
“I’m more confident in myself,” she said. “We have a new hitting philosophy this year and it’s really helped us. We’re more disciplined, but we’re always more aggressive earlier in an at-bat.”
With Mychko’s help, Illinois ranks third in the Big Ten this season with a .333 team batting average and a .482 slugging percentage.
Even while batting .235 last season, Mychko was a strong defensive presence. Over the past 44 career starts, she has made one error.
Mychko credits her development to a busy offseason playing for the Elgin-based Illinois Lightning summer team.
Her demanding offseason continued over the holidays when she and her father worked out at Huntley High School every day.
“We did a lot of hitting and catching drills,” she said. “It’s nice to see the hard work paying off.”
Vaulting victor: Ames, Iowa, has been a special place this season for Minnesota pole vaulter Zach Siegmeier.
The Crystal Lake Central graduate won the Iowa State Classic indoor track and field title in his event last week with a vault of 17 feet, 6½ inches.
Two weeks earlier, Siegmeier won the event at Iowa State’s Bill Bergan Invitational with the same mark of 17-6½.
Siegmeier, a senior, posted a career-best vault of 17-9, which ranks second in the Big Ten Conference and 14th nationally this season, Feb. 7 at the Thundering Herd Classic in Fargo, N.D.
Freshman finds groove: McHenry East grad Alexa McClaughry is batting a team-best .438 as the starting shortstop for D-II University of Illinois-Springfield’s softball team.McClaughry, a freshman, ranks second on the team with seven hits and four runs scored for the Prairie Stars (4-2).
McClaughry has scored a run in four of the team’s six games and posted a season-best 2 for 3 performance at the plate in a 4-1 loss last weekend to Northwest Missouri.
Senior night star: D-III Lake Forest College women’s hockey goaltender Stacey Dierking enjoyed a memorable senior night last weekend.
Dierking (Crystal Lake Central) made 22 saves to help the Foresters (13-4-3) beat Northern Collegiate Hockey Association rival Adrian (Mich.), 6-3. The victory made Dierking only the second goalie in the program’s history to achieve 30 career wins.
For the season, Dierking is 5-2-2 with a .882 save percentage.
Huskie happenings: Northern Illinois junior women’s tennis player Nelle Youel (Crystal Lake Central) is off to a 4-0 start with partner Arantza De La Torre as the No. 1 doubles team for the Huskies.
Youel is 1-3 as the No. 1 singles player this season for NIU, which is 3-1 in dual meets.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryOnCampus.