Last Saturday the Minooka softball team put the wraps on its first softball state championship ever. Seven seniors on that team are planning on continuing their careers at the collegiate level.
Count Indians’ now-graduated senior captain Mikayla Melone amongst those.
In between cleaning out her locker at MCHS and making plans to attend Elmhurst College this fall, she took time out of her schedule to engage the MDH as this week’s question and answer subject.
Q. What was the best part of playing ball down in East Peoria last weekend?
A. Getting the chance to go to State was an experience I will remember the rest of my life. The best part off the field was getting to stay in a hotel and do team bonding. On the field, was the medals ceremony when we got our first-place trophy.
Q. Did the State experience live up to your expectations?
A. It was everything I could have imagined; from the field, to the fans. It was amazing I wish I could re-live it over and over again
Q. Had you ever played in a bigger two games? If no, where have you played in a tournament that was even close?
A. Those two games had the most ‘on the line’ of any games I’d ever played. During travel ball, there are so many tournaments you can win. State is something that most players never even get the chance to go to and I’m so happy we made the most out of our opportunity.
Q. What do you suppose was the big reason for the huge offensive output for the Indians at state?
A. We have a solid offense. During the regular season we didn’t always put it all together. When the postseason came along, we were due for big-hitting games. Once our offense got started, no one could stop us.
Q. I’m sure you’ve seen the records the team broke, what do you think of having the team’s stamp put in the programs for a long-long time?
A. Ten years from now, people will see us in the record books. I’m proud today that my team and I made history. Not only by winning the State title game, but breaking various records in the process.
Q. Everyone has made a lot about the Lockport game and the 15-14 outcome. That was obviously a tough game. But you guys beat Central only 4-2 and Lincoln-Way East 3-1. What stands out about these games in your mind?
A. The regional championship against Lincoln-Way Central was a huge game for me. Mainly because I had the hit that drove in the three runs that put us ahead. Also, it was awesome to beat Central because they beat us out of the conference title.
Q. There has been talk that this team went through some adversities this year. Many mention the lack of SPC wins and not even being conference champs. Can you talk of that disappointment and was there something else the team had to overcome in addition to that?
A. That was tough for us. We had been the SPC champions the last two years and to not be able to do it this year was disappointing. But after we beat Plainfield Central to win sectionals that didn’t seem to matter anymore. What became important was making a deep run in the playoffs.
Q. Tell me about playing for coach Mark Brown and Amy Saelens.
A. Brown is a great coach. He always came up with very productive practice plans and he made me a better player in my three-years playing for him. He has always been like an older brother to us. A great motivator and always did what he had to do to give our team the greatest chance of success.
I learned a lot from Saelens. She played softball at Bradley so she knows a lot about the game. Saelens was my rock throughout the entire season. If I had a problem she was always there. Always the one who would ask me if I wanted to hit extra or take extra ground balls. She cared deeply about each of us and made it her job to make us better players, as well as people. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her next year
Q. How does playing for the Indians varsity compare to playing club ball?
A. I love all of my coaches and teammates on both teams so it isn’t that different. I play for the Illinois Hawks in the summer. Eight (including me) of our Minooka varsity players play for my travel team so I get to play with my best friends all year round. It helps with team chemistry a lot.
Q. Speaking of club ball, can you take us though the teams you have played for over the years?
A. I started off with Minooka Magic for 12- and 14-under.
Then I played for the Dirt Devils the next two years for Ramsey Harkness
After that I played one year with the Illinois Hawks playing for Lauren Zembruski, and that’s the team I’m on now as well
Q. What is your earliest memories of playing the game?
A. My earliest memory is going to Nationals in Kansas and taking third with my Minooka Magic team.
Q. Who was your biggest influence as a kid?
A. My brother. He played baseball and was always the best. I strived to be like him at sports my whole childhood.
Q. Finally: If you had a piece of advice for a young kid who wanted to play ball for the Indians varsity some day, what would your advice to them be?
A. Make sure you love the game, because if you have a true love for the game, you will want to work hard and want to get out of there any play every day. If you just play because your parents want you to or any other reason outside of yourself, it won’t last long.