Raising their game
Kaneland High School softball players Lauren Zick (left to right), Lexi Roach and Lanie Callaghan signed their college intent papers on Nov. 13 at the KHS library, surrounded by teammates, family and coaches. Zick signed with St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y.; Roach signed with Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio; and Callaghan signed with Valaparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind. Photo by Kimberly Anderson
Three Lady Knights sign letters with D-I softball programs
by Mike Slodki
KANELAND—Lady Knights athletes are not only continuing their respective games beyond Kaneland, they’re doing so in a big way.
The latest was the Nov. 13 letter of intent signing of softball star Lanie Callaghan to suit up for the Valparaiso Crusaders softball program in the 2014-15 school year.
The Crusaders, part of the Horizon League of Division I fame, can welcome a middle-of-the-order outfielder who has a 2012 regional championship under her belt.
The feeling is mutual on Callaghan’s part.
“The coaches are amazing,” she said of Valparaiso’s program. “We had to follow guidelines of when we could talk. But coach (Jordan) Stevens really made an effort. I fell in love with the program.”
Callaghan, one of seven signees to the “Valpo” program, will join Lexi Roach, who chose the Youngstown State University team, and Lauren Zick, who is headed to St. John’s University in New York, as Lady Knights to recently sign letters with D-1 softball programs.
Callaghan, who battled illness and injury to begin her varsity career as a freshman, has been a slugging force on the Lady Knights team, coached by Brian Willis, and she’s provided a deft glove presence, as well.
The Elburn resident feels fortunate to have another year to improve her skills and to drive in runs for the Lady Knights program, which fell in a dramatic regional final in May.
“We were disappointed with how the last season ended against Rosary. The players will be ready to step up. I think I’ve matured as a player and speak up more. We’re going to miss the seniors that left, and the juniors from last year are going to have big shoes to fill,” Callaghan said.
The Crusaders program, located in Valparaiso, Ind., has gathered 77 victories in coach Stevens’ three years, and has Chicagoland-area flavor familiar to Kaneland fans, with players from locales including Huntley and Lisle, Ill.
What’s appealing to Callaghan is not only the proximity to the Chicago metro area, but also to family elsewhere, specifically older brother Tyler, who just completed his junior football season for the Division II St. Joseph’s Pumas of Indiana.
“I consider myself very close with him,” Lanie said. “It’ll be close enough for family, and I can visit them if I’m home sick.”
Lanie, who has also brandished a right-handed bat for the Kane County XPlosion team, coached by Rick Neubauer, plans to major in nursing.
“They’ll always need nurses, and after talking with some of the professors, I could tell they were really dedicated,” Lanie said.
The Crusaders softball team will begin their 2014 spring season as part of the Hampton Inn Invitation in Blues Creek, N.C., on February 7, 2014.
Roach, who has done a great service to Kaneland softball with top-of-the-order talent, heads to Youngstown, Ohio, to try and take care of business within the Penguins lineup in 2014.
“I’m a slap hitter, and I have to move the runners around,” Roach said. “I just have to focus on what I can do this year and next year.”
Roach, who had visited Manhattan College in New York, went through the college search with the feeling that people she came across had her best interests at heart.
“My travel team (Wasco Diamonds) was able to send video of me playing to Youngstown State. The assistant coach handled most of the recruiting and asked how I was feeling; the college had me speak with professors. I want to be a wedding planner, which is kind of rare. They had me talk to an event planner,” Roach said. “I’d like to travel abroad to Spain or Italy once I’m in school. It seemed other schools were putting softball first, but Youngstown knew I won’t be playing softball forever and that school comes first.”
Roach is thankful the pressure is off when it comes to one of the most important decisions she’ll make in her young life.
“There would be travel showcases, and we’d play in tournaments and I’d be thinking, ‘Oh my God, I have to be perfect,” Roach said. “Now I think all I have to do is stay focused.”
The Horizon League outfit, located in a city hit by economic woes, still looks to feel home to the Kaneland senior.
“It’s been hit hard by the economy,” Roach said. ‘But the campus is beautiful, and they’ve re-done the campus and have new athletic facilities.”
Zick, who has mastered the business of state qualifying for Lady Knights track, will bring her talent to Big East Conference staple St. Johns, which has isolated charm even in a big city.
“It’s actually in Queens, and the campus is gated and away from the city. It’s almost like Sugar Grove like that,” Zick said.
Zick, who plays off the beaten path in the travel softball circuit for the New Lenox Lightning, had a seemingly built-in connection to the school.
“The assistant coach, who handled most of the recruiting, is from the Chicago area and knew the Lightning coaching staff, so he was sent video and then I was able to come for a visit,” Zick said.
The top-of-the-order asset is ready for the new experience.
“My first time on the subway in New York was an experience,” Zick said. “The team is a different kind of team. They have some girls from California, so it’ll be a new experience, too.”
Having spoken with professors and wishing to major in biology or chemistry enroute to the radiology field, Zick looks forward to the D-1 challenge.
“I’m glad that part of it is over, and that this is more of the direction I’m going to go,” she said.