Fittest loser
Article updated: 11/6/2012 9:00 PM

Wonders takes independent study route to NIU softball

Stephanie Wonders

Stephanie Wonders

 
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With her slice-of-Americana last name, Stephanie Wonders understands the teasing is in good taste, so to speak.

"I hear 'Wonder Bread' a lot," Wonders said with a laugh.

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How about "Girl Wonder," instead?

After all, Wonders, who graduated from Lake Zurich in May, didn't exactly go the conventional route in earning a roster spot on a Division I softball team.

Yet, there she was last month, taking advantage of a start at shortstop in a practice game for Northern Illinois University against Illinois Springfield and going 3-for-4 with 3 RBI.

"I'm really proud of that," said Wonders, who, after that, pinch-hit against Southern Illinois and knocked in a run with a groundout.

She takes pride, too, in knowing she beat the odds, making NIU's squad as a walk-on after not playing her junior and senior years of high school. She had played JV as a freshman and then made Lake Zurich's varsity the following spring as a utility third baseman/outfielder.

When the spring of her junior season rolled around, she made a tough decision. Wonders wound up missing out on a wonderful season for the Bears, who came a win away from advancing downstate.

"I thought it would benefit me more," she explained, "if I would take lessons privately at the indoor sports complex in town and just work on getting in shape and working on my skills by myself and with private coaches."

"I'm not going to lie," Wonders added. "At the beginning, it was pretty tough. I didn't even make up my mind that I was not going to play high school until pretty much the week of tryouts. I went to the winter open gyms to keep my options open. I weighed out the options and I took a very, very, very long time to think about it because obviously there are pros and cons to both. ... It felt weird not being on a team at that point, but it's not like I was sitting idle. I was still working and practicing and working out."

A softball player since she was little, she says she always had a goal of playing in college. That no doubt fueled her during her workouts at Homerun Sports and Fitness in Lake Zurich. During the summer entering her senior year, her hard work paid off.

"I actually got recruited and spotted at a recruiting tournament by Kalamazoo College (in Michigan)," she said. "But the coach ended up leaving so I wasn't sure how I wanted to go about that. I tried to explore other schools and came across NIU, and I really liked it."

NIU appealed to her thanks to its proximity to her hometown, so she enrolled at the DeKalb university. After a Sunday tryout in early September with other hopefuls, Wonders got invited back by new head coach Christina Sutcliffe to try out some more. After four more days of tryouts, Wonders would learn if she made the team.

"But after Monday's tryout I had to talk to the coach," Wonders said. "I said, 'Excuse me. I'm going to miss the tryout (Tuesday) because I have class.' She said, 'You need to change your schedule. You're going to make the team.' "

Sutcliffe knew a little about Lake Zurich softball. She came to NIU from Mid-American Conference rival Miami University, where, as an assistant, she coached ex-Bears ace and former Wonders teammate Megan Mattera. New NIU assistant coach Heather Han came from the University of Illinois-Chicago, where former LZ star Coryn Schmit went.

"It's a small softball world," Wonders said.

As tough as it was missing out on her final two seasons of high school softball, Wonders wouldn't change a thing.

"I do not regret it," she said. "I think I learned a lot about myself and about my work ethic outside of high school. I was working alone, basically. I wasn't with any other players. I was by myself with a coach (Chris Dorsey), one on one. I really improved my physical skills, my softball skills, and also my mental skills -- my confidence."

Last February, Homerun Sports hired Wonders to be a part-time receptionist.

For Girl Wonder, the gig includes unlimited use of the facilities. Talk about a home run.

How wonderful for Stephanie Wonders.

jaguilar@dailyherald.com

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