Two Jacobs High School senior female athletes recently made their college choices, and both have decided to stay close enough to home to allow their friends and families to continue to see them compete.
Katie Kirker, a softball player who has overcome two ACL surgeries, has committed to play for coach Becky Stenning at Judson University while Lauren Grady, who transferred to Jacobs from Marian Central before her junior year, has decided to join coach Chris Koenig's women's soccer program at Lewis University in Romeoville.
For Kirker, earning a softball scholarship has come the hard way. She burst onto the softball scene as a Golden Eagles freshman, going 4-0 and showing tremendous potential for the future after coach Jeremy Bauer called her up at the end of the 2009 season.
Then she suffered an ACL injury during the final game of the sophomore girls basketball season in February of 2010, an injury that took two surgeries to repair completely, forcing her to miss out on her sophomore and junior years of high school softball, as well as the 2010 travel ball season.
But Kirker's strong Christian faith, a lot of hard physical work, and the support of her parents and coaches all led her back to the softball field, where this past summer her pitching, outfield play and hitting helped lead the Northern Illinois Lightning 18U team to a fourth-place finish at the ASA Northern National championships in Kansas City. Then, this fall, she was 7-1 with a 0.74 ERA, 106 strikeouts in 66 innings (and only 5 walks) as well as a .387 batting average for coach Jaci Corn's Lightning 18U team.
As timing goes, though, Kirker had missed out on the most important recruiting period and there was a point where she wasn't sure about playing college softball.
"When I first came back in the summer I knew I had missed most of the recruiting from my sophomore and junior years," said Kirker, who will study art at Judson and brings a 5.76 (weighted) GPA and a 21 of 576 class ranking to the Elgin campus in the fall. "My parents were really on me to contact colleges; we weren't sure I'd be able to get any kind of scholarship. It was slow at first but then coaches started contacting me and that encouraged me to email more coaches and they actually came out to see me."
While Kirker caught several coaches' eyes this fall, she had been one that Judson's Stenning has wanted for the entire seven years Stenning has been giving Kirker pitching lessons.
In the end, Kirker made the decision to choose Judson. She also visited Dominican in River Forest, North Central in Naperville, Milwaukee School of Engineering and Wisconsin Lutheran.
"I always knew Judson was an option," Kirker said. "After the recruiting process and after the visits I went on I felt I fit in best at Judson. That kind of surprised me but I had a feeling that's where I should go. I was looking farther away from home but then I thought about all the benefits of Judson and that I shouldn't disregard it just because it was close to home."
At Judson, Kirker will be joining an NAIA program that has gotten better every year since Stenning came to town. Last spring the Eagles won their first conference championship in softball and the program has set records for wins the past two seasons.
Grady 'flyin' to Lewis
Meanwhile, Golden Eagles' soccer standout Lauren Grady, one of five Grady sisters, also looked at several schools further from home than Romeoville but decided on Lewis for two main reasons.
"I wanted to stay close to home and go to a Catholic school," said Grady, who will study elementary education with a minor in Spanish and take a 5.59 weighted GPA and a 52 class rank to the NCAA Division II school this fall.
"The first thing that really attracted me was Coach Koenig. He's really positive and he runs a great soccer program."
Grady also considered UW-Parkside, Upper Iowa, Carthage, Dominican and Illinois Wesleyan but her final decision to attend Lewis comes with a message that all aspiring college athletes should listen to.
"I wanted to choose a school and not have a school choose me," she said. "Several colleges offered me more than appealing scholarship packages and I feel so very blessed to have made the decision to become a Lewis Flyer. It was a very difficult decision but I feel Lewis is the perfect fit for me."
Grady plays for the highly successful Crystal Lake Force Elite 18U team, which is coached by Judson women's soccer coach Diego Cevallos.
Speaking of softball
Softball is alive and well at Elgin Community College, and new Spartans' coach Lizzy Jacobson is putting out the word that she's looking for players to fill her roster for the coming spring season.
Jacobson, a former standout at Elgin High and Judson University, was recently hired to replace Anne Vogt as ECC's head coach. Vogt left ECC to take the head softball job at Larkin, her alma mater.
Jacobson has coached at Larkin and is teaching in Elgin Area School District U-46. She was a three-time all-conference player at Judson.
Any ECC students interested in playing softball for the Spartans should contact Jacobson at email@example.com.