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Johnson: Area alumni making an impact in college athletics

Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014 9:25 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 24, 2014 9:34 p.m. CDT
(Augustana Sports Information Department)
Krista Watson runs the bases for the Augustana College softball team. The Coal City native was recently named the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Hitter of the Week.
(DePaul Athletics)
Kirsten Verdun throws a pitch for the DePaul University softball team. Verdun has already won three Big East Pitcher of the Week awards during the 2014 season.

That no less than six players from a team as great as the 2010 Coal City softball team still are playing in college isn’t all that surprising.

It might not be surprising, given the talent that was required for the team to go 40-0 overall, but it is fairly amazing nonetheless. I don’t know of a single local team that I’ve covered – in the non-Morris-football and non-Minooka-track category anyway – that can claim such a high number of simultaneous college athletes from the same group.

“It was a really special group of kids in 2010, and I think it’s just says a lot about them that they are still able to compete at a high level,” former Coal City softball coach Brad Schmitt said in an email this week. “They are a confident group of kids who knows what it takes to compete, and I’m glad to see them all having their individual and team success at the collegiate level.”

They’re doing it on opposite ends of the state, but the batterymates from those Coalers are excelling today as college seniors.

Krista Watson recently made news for being named the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin Hitter of the Week. An Augustana College release dated April 16 said Watson batted .538 with a home run, six RBIs and a .739 slugging percentage during the previous week’s games.

Watson, who has moved back to the middle infield after closing her Coal City career as a catcher, has started all 36 games for the Vikings this season. She has the second-highest batting average (.398) and on-base percentage (.489) on the team, leads the team in doubles (11) and is tied for the lead in home runs with four.

Watson’s former teammate, Kirsten Verdun, has generated a headline or 70 during her time at DePaul University. Verdun was named the Big East’s Pitcher of the Week this month for the third time in 2014.

On the season, Verdun has a 23-5 record, a 1.89 ERA and a 211-50 strikeout-walk ratio over 178 innings. She also has remained an offensive force, batting .336 with six doubles, five home runs, 17 RBIs and a .483 OBP.

Another Coal City alum, sophomore Molly Manietta, became the first player in University of Illinois-Springfield softball history to win a Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Week award in early March. She batted .545 and slugged .727 over four games to net the honor.

Manietta has started all 43 games for the PrairieStars, hitting .224 with three doubles, three home runs and 23 RBIs. One of her teammates is Madison Giordano, a freshman outfielder who also was a freshman for the Coalers in 2010. Giordano is hitting .300 in limited playing time.

Bryanna Phelan, a junior outfielder, continues to be a regular part of the lineup at Northern Illinois University, where she is batting .284 with a .336 OBP. Roosevelt University sophomore Morgan Youskevtch has pitched in 11 games and batted nine times, with a .222 average.

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