BY DAVE RICCI firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The Lady Jacks are back.
It’s been a while since the North Tonawanda softball team has been above the .500 mark. Far too long, for loyal followers of the team in the Lumber City.
But the spring of 2014 has brought a reversal of fortunes, as the Lady Jacks opened up with three straight wins in the Niagara Frontier League and held down first place for the first time since legendary former coach T.K. Murphy was at the helm.
“Like (before we thought) we never win. Now we actually have a chance. And we know we have a chance every game,” said senior first baseman Lyssa Carlson, who experienced the lean years. “Last year, I remember, we were like ‘oh, we’re gonna play Ken-West. We’re gonna lose. There’s no way, we’re probably gonna get ‘mercied.’ Now, we have a chance to win. And we know that.”
The players all agreed that the turning point came last year when coach Samantha Rajski took over. Rajski, a former star at St. Bonaventure and Frontier High School, brought the winning attitude that she lived by during her playing days. Rajski also found a way to tap into each girl on an individual basis and increase their confidence by helping them find their best skills. Most importantly just the simply gesture of returning to the job, after seeing coaches come and go, was the show of faith the Jacks had been waiting for in a coach.
“We’ve had coaches leave and so ‘we’re just not good enough’ Things like that,” Carlson said.
Under Rajski, the Lady Jacks have returned to the mindset that winning is an expectation, not just a nice surprise.
“It’s helped a lot having her here for the last two years. We hope she’s here for a long time because she’s a great coach,” said sophomore pitcher/infielder Rachel Krawczyk. “She’s done a lot for the program.”
The Lady Jacks feel that with Rajski here, they now have consistency in the same message, coming from the same person.
Having more time together with the girls has allowed Rajski, and her assistant coach/dad Dave Rajski, to teach the girls more complicated drills which has resulted in more efficient play on the diamond. From little things like backing each other on throws to better approaches at the plate, this team is fundamentally sound and improving everyday.
“I have to give credit to my dad also because he’s helped me teach them things,” Rajski said. “It is so much easier having him around because we are able to walk them through different ideas and teach them.”
On day one of camp this season, Rajski gave the girls the basic motto of ‘compete.’ Just compete wire to wire every game, every day, and good things will happen. Even in recent losses to Niagara Falls and Niagara-Wheatfield, the Jacks have competed to the very last out, especially against the Falls on April 28. NT, thanks in part to a two-run blast from Savannah Haner, held a 4-2 lead at one point. The game was tied 4-4 going into the seventh when the Wolverines were able to break through for more runs. But the Jacks fought until the very last at-bat and never gave up. If not for some questionable calls by the umpiring duo, maybe one more timely hit, that game could have just as easily gone in NT’s favor.
“The biggest thing is they don’t give up. They keep fighting,” said Rajski. “Each game they’ve scored a run at the end of the game just to make it a little closer. They don’t give up. That was our motto last year and it’s carrying over into this year. You can’t give up because you never know what’s going to happen.”
While Rajski said it will be tough to eventually say goodbye to seniors like Carlson, Natalie Harack and Olivia Miller, who have been at the core of the turn around. But the contributions of underclassmen like Krawczyk, Heather Fontana, Meaghan Danaher, Amanda Szynkowski and Sami Whalen shows the Jacks are on the rise.
“We’ve been so pumped the last few games,” said Krawczyk. “We just want to go out there and show them what we’ve got and prove that we’re back and we’re here.”