Softball: Joliet Herald-News outside the numbersDick Mandella
Updated: March 14, 2012 8:42PM
on the diamond
When Dick Mandella retired as Lincoln-Way Central coach after the 2009 season, he said he might be back coaching softball some day.
The Hall of Fame coach is back this season as an assistant to Heather Novak at Lincoln-Way West.
“It’s been great,” said Mandella, who moved to West as a guidance counselor in the 2010-11 school year. “I don’t have the responsibility of deciding who plays and who doesn’t.
“I’m doing a lot of teaching and working with kids on hitting, baserunning, all sorts of stuff. It’s been fun so far.”
Novak, who was Heather Kunkel when she won the Illinois Gatorade Softball Player of the Year award at Oak Forest in 2001, is happy to have Mandella on board.
“We are very lucky to have coach Mandella on our coaching staff,” she said. “ ‘Warrior Softball’ as a whole is really going to benefit from having a Hall of Fame coach in our program. He knows the game and what it takes to be successful.”
Mandella’s influence can be felt down U.S. Route 30, too. First-year Lincoln-Way East coach Elizabeth Pawlicki played for Mandella at Providence and coached under him as a lower-level assistant at Lincoln-Way Central from 2006 to ’09.
“He’s phenomenal,” she said of Mandella. “He’s been a very big influence in my life and had a big impact in who I am today. I take a lot of his philosophy and his dedication of hard work to achieve goals.”
Pawlicki, who graduated high school in 2000, was a three-year varsity player for Mandella at Providence.
Not full of Pihl
All Seneca’s Nicole Pihl did as a sophomore in 2011 was break a 29-year-old state record for most home runs in a season. She slugged her 19th — and record-breaking — homer in dramatic fashion, a walk-off, two-run blast with no outs in the bottom of the ninth to give the Irish a 6-5 win over Chicago Christian in a sectional semifinal.
Pihl, who batted .530 with 18 doubles and 79 RBI, and went 28-9 in the circle, has committed to DePaul. Seneca coach Dan Stecken thinks she can be even better this season.
“Statistically, her numbers might not be as strong, as teams will pitch around her,” he said. “But we hope to limit that because the two girls surrounding her have improved as well. She just has put a ton of time on her own to get better: lessons, trips to the cages, tee work, everything.
“She has a love of the game that is enviable.”
Where’s the senior-ity?
Joliet Central and Joliet West are entering their second seasons as separate programs, but neither is loaded with seniors.
“We had three seniors last year, too,” Central coach Erin Douglas said “I don’t think the program splitting affected the older girls, because I don’t think there weren’t any girls from Central on the varsity Township team prior to the split. The lower-level freshmen and sophomores were already split so it didn’t affect them. I think it has more to do with getting softball to be a sport girls know about and are involved in prior to coming to Central.”
Two of the top Steelmen players will be sophomores Rosa Gonzalez and Emily Eichholzer.
At West, where the top returnees are senior Jordan Davis and junior Tresa Fahrner, the senior numbers are up from last season.
“I have five seniors and six juniors,” West coach Heather Suca said. “Last year I had only two seniors and more sophomores.”
Lowery in at Morris
Jen Lowery is the new coach at Morris and will look to get the Redskins back to good heights after a .500 season in 2011
Lowery, who look to seniors Morgan Akre and Tori Hanford, was a lower-level/assistant coach at Morris the past five years.
In 2008, Plainfield South won a Class 4A sectional title. The program hit hard times the past couple of seasons, including a 6-21 record in 2011.
Coach Tara Singler is optimistic about 2012. She returns four key players: juniors Alyssa Manucci, Whitney Lanphier and Kayla Kendall, and sophomore Lina Medo.