Nikole Schulty-Gunter’s positive experience as a volunteer assistant softball coach at Woodstock North reaffirmed what she already knew.
“I’ve always wanted to coach, and I’ve always wanted to coach in the town that I grew up in because I have such great memories of playing softball in Woodstock,” said Schulty-Gunter, a 2006 Woodstock graduate.
“I’ve had such a positive experience with volunteering the past two years, and the girls just show their dedication. They have such a passion for playing, so it was a pretty easy decision for me to transition into a head coaching position.”
Schulty-Gunter, a special education teacher at Woodstock North, is set to take over as the school’s new head softball coach. She replaces Pete Riis, who went 35-85 in four seasons, including 13-15 this spring.
Schulty-Gunter pitched for Woodstock and earned all-state honors as a senior. She played collegiately at Oakland University (Michigan) and Wisconsin-Whitewater. She recently was inducted into the Blue Streaks’ Athletic Hall of Fame.
Her goal is to continue building the Thunder into a competitive threat in the Kishwaukee River Conference that features state powerhouse Marengo, last season’s Class 3A state champion.
The Thunder were knocked out by Marengo, 4-2, in the regional semifinals, a year ago. That game included a rain delay that suspended the game a day. North led, 2-1, after two innings before play was suspended.
“Build it up to that high standard of being competitive, and motivating the students to reach that high level of play,” Schulty-Gunter said of her immediate goals. “We encourage the girls to play travel, and ultimately, if they want, college, which hopefully I’ll be able to bring some knowledge.”
Some early season injuries to starting players hurt North’s chances during the regular season, so Schulty-Gunter is emphasizing offseason conditioning and weight training.
“It’s the last sport (in spring), so they’re getting tired, and a lot of them are multisport athletes,” Schulty-Gunter said. “Building up that stamina is going to be key to maybe holding onto leads and finishing games.”
The Thunder finished fourth in the KRC last season at 6-6, trailing Marengo, Burlington Central and Richmond-Burton, but have many key players returning that should keep North among the top teams in the conference.
Ellie Thurow was named to the Illinois Coaches Association All-State Softball third team as a sophomore after posting a 3.14 ERA and striking out 190 batters in 1242/3 innings, while Chloe Vermett, also a sophomore, led the team by hitting .360 with 15 extra-base hits (six homers) and 29 RBIs.
Schulty-Gunter said expectations will be high again after the team set a school record for wins.
“It’s my job to teach them that they can achieve more than they think they can, so just to push that,” Schulty-Gunter said. “Hard work will pay off, and the dedication and having that drive to succeed and win is really going to make a good softball player and a good athlete.
“I love the game, and I want the girls to do well. I expect a lot from the girls. All of the coaches are going to hold them to a higher standard, and hopefully that is going to help them succeed.”