Crown Point Softball Head Coach Pete Iussig stands before his team, recounting the success and failures of their most recent game. It’s a warm, sunny, Monday afternoon, and the team is attentive.
“Don’t be afraid to fail,” he says, referring to a team member's recent strikeouts at-bat. “When she strikes out, she comes back even more intense and focused.” His advice suggests the entire team stops to fearing failure and focus.
It’s a day of celebration for the softball team at Crown Point High School. They celebrate Natalie Klingberg's recent 18th birthday with cake, just before outdoor practice. She’s one of 5 seniors on the team, and one of two softball players who would sign with a National Letter of Intent later that day to play collegiately.
“This year has been great. I really could not have asked for a better season to end my high school career,” Klingberg said. “In college, I’m hoping to grow as a person and major in nursing. I’m very lucky to be able to continue playing softball.”
Klingberg signed to Grace College, and Lexi Madrigal signed to Purdue Northwest University.Both of the newly-signed seniors also reported that they are very excited to begin their journeys.
Madrigal is a catcher, and she’s been playing since 11 years old. Her family has been with her every step of the way.
“My grandma has been to every game, she’s never missed a single one,” she said. “My mom has been to every game too. They’re super supportive.”
The other three seniors, Stephanie Renner, MacKenzie Dunlap, and Alexis Holloway, had their signing day event in November, and can’t wait to get started. Renner will attend Aurora University, Dunlap will attend Northwestern University, and Holloway will attend the University Notre Dame.
Holloway chose Notre Dame for its reputation. “It’s a great academic institution with a great softball program. I’m excited to enjoy the sport while I’m there, and also leave with a great education.”
She’s quite the pitcher today, but she didn’t start that way.
“I started playing at 8, but I started pitching at 9 and I never looked back,” she said.
Renner has some big goals for her softball career at Aurora University. “I’m hoping to get the opportunity to pitch. That’s going to be hard as a freshman but I’m going to try really hard to make that happen.”
Dunlap has her heart set on softball, but not on a major. She’s sure she’ll figure it out soon. Her history with softball spans back to when she was six years old.
“I fell in love with the game at such a young age and with the competitiveness of the game with growing up, I couldn’t get away from it,” she said. “I love the feeling of the competitive drive that pushed me, and still pushes me.”
Her family pushes her as well. Her brother can’t make it to the games, but watches and supports her all the same.
“My brother is stationed in California right now, he’s in the Navy,” she said. My mom actually Facetimes him every time I’m at bat so he can see that and he’ll send me texts like ‘Great job Mac!’ and that’s really touching and really special and they’ve all been so supportive.”
Coach Iussig has really enjoyed working with the special group of seniors this year.
“I can’t say enough good things about them. They’re wonderful leaders, they’re always positive, and they’re willing to do stuff like help rake after a game, or help the younger girls carry equipment,” he said. “I hope the younger girls take a cue when these girls graduate, and we get the same kind of leadership over the next few years, based on the fact that they’ve all been around these seniors and learned what leadership is.”
The rest of the team certainly has been paying attention. Junior Lydia Byrd has been on the team for three years.
“I grew up with a bunch of the seniors," she said, "I’ve always looked up to them and they’re supportive and great leaders. I’ll miss them,” she said. They taught me to always stay positive, work hard, show the most effort you can, have a good attitude, and how to be a good softball player.”
The Crown Point softball team is currently 9-0, and ready for the rest of the season as they soon bid farewells to the graduating class of 2017.