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Baranek: Lincoln-Way East’s Jenny VanGeertry rides fast track to success

Lincoln-Way East's Jenny VanGeertry.  | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

Lincoln-Way East's Jenny VanGeertry. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 6, 2013 6:09AM



If Jenny VanGeertry turns into the power-hitting team leader Lincoln-Way East softball coach Elizabeth Pawlicki predicts she will, there will be plenty of great tales to tell about the Griffins sophomore over this spring and the two to follow.

But I’ve got one about her today that has a pretty good chance to stay at the top of the list.

It goes back to the 2012 season, and it’s about the craziest beginning to a high school career you could possibly imagine.

It started in the preseason with a kid who, after eight years of playing organized ball, had some above-average, but reasonable expectations.

“My goal was to shoot for making the (sophomore) team,” VanGeertry said. “I worked very hard, but I didn’t think I was going to make the varsity.”

And she didn’t. She didn’t even make the sophomore team, for that matter, assigned instead to the freshman squad.

But things started happening fast.

As Pawlicki remembers it, VanGeertry made quite a splash in her debut, smacking a home run.

If freshman coach Caitlin Dolan had been selfish, she might have kept that information to herself. But she didn’t.

“Our coaching staff communicates on a day-to-day basis,” Pawlicki said. “Talking to one another, (Dolan) mentioned, ‘Hey, here’s what’s been happening.’ So I said, ‘All right, let’s try her with the sophomores.’ ”

Two games and some extra-base hits later, another conference took place.

“The sophomore coach (Melanie Nowicki) relayed more information to me,” Pawlicki said. “So I watched her at program practices, saw her in the cage a couple of times and figured if somebody has a slump let’s see if she could fill the spot.”

And that was that. In practically the blink of an eye, VanGeertry had moved from the freshman team to the sophomore team to the varsity.

But was she varsity-tough? That didn’t take long to find out.

During VanGeertry’s first varsity practice, she was in doing drills in left field when she misjudged a toss from Pawlicki and smacked her head just under the protective shield on the fence. The chain-link fence left a cut, but VanGeertry didn’t even notice. She got right up and returned to the drills.

“I didn’t think it was that bad,” she said. “I honestly didn’t really feel anything. I was just like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ But then one of my teammates came up to me and said, ‘Jenny, you’re bleeding.’ I was like, ‘Bleeding? I’m fine.’ ”

When Pawlicki took a look at it, she disagreed.

“It was bruising, and you could tell. I was like, ‘Mmm ... You might want to see a trainer,’ ” Pawlicki said. “And then the trainer came back out and said it would be a good idea to send her in to the hospital.”

VanGeertry’s mom drove her to Advocate Care Center in Frankfort. Five layers of glue later, she was home. The next day she was at practice, ready for another challenge.

“It wasn’t scary or anything,” VanGeertry said, smiling. “To me it was just more of a learning experience. Now I know how to feel for the fence.”

VanGeertry went on to establish herself as an effective DH in 2012, hitting .447. This season she’s the starting left fielder, and in four games through Wednesday was hitting .462, with a .533 on-base percentage and .555 slugging percentage.

In Tuesday’s 7-6 eight-inning victory over Andrew, VanGeertry was 1-for-3 with a walk, a stolen base and two runs. In the field she had three putouts, including two in top of the eighth.

She’s still full-speed ahead on the fast track to success.

“I kind of look at it as a really positive thing about my work ethic,” VanGeertry said. “I’m happy that I have everyone around me pushing me. My dad is pushing me, my mom is pushing me, my friends are pushing me, my teammates are pushing me — all of it to help me to get better.

“I’m really looking forward to the next few years here. The coaches here are great. They make me feel really comfortable. And the seniors do a great job of making everybody feel comfortable. I’m excited to see what happens next.”



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