Marissa Panko always could pick it at shortstop like few other gloves her age.
In two years at Benet, she's developed a lethal lefty bat to boot.
Numerous colleges noticed, and the Benet junior made her decision this past week by committing to Northwestern.
"They're well-known for their academics and softball. Both combined, it was a perfect fit," said Panko, who chose the Wildcats over Notre Dame, Drake and Illinois-Chicago, among others. "It will challenge me to play at the next level. That's all I could ask for."
Panko enjoyed a solid freshman year, hitting .330. She became one of Benet's most clutch bats in the 2011 playoffs, delivering the eventual game-winning hit off Richards star Brianne LeBeau to send the school to its first state softball appearance.
She was only scratching the surface.
Last spring Panko hit an area-best .587 with 50 runs scored, 15 doubles and 35 runs batted in for a Benet lineup that scored nearly 10 runs a game. She again showed a knack for the big hit, delivering a walk-off single to beat Marist and a game-winner days later off Downers Grove North ace Elaine Heflin.
"Think about where she was two years ago," Benet coach Jerry Schilf said. "She was just learning to hit left-handed."
Indeed Panko hit right-handed up until freshman year. She switched to the Illinois Chill summer travel team and to a new hitting coach Mark Doran, who Panko credited with her development.
"I thought I would just be a slapper," Panko said. "He helped me find my power and ability to drive the ball. I feel more confident in the box now."
Panko is the fourth player at Benet to commit to a Division I program, joining Maeve McGuire (Georgia), Julianne Rurka (Providence) and Rowan McGuire (Georgia Southern). Rowan McGuire transferred from Downers Grove North this school year; Benet is appealing to the IHSA to make McGuire eligibile this spring.
Panko will join a Northwestern program that made back-to-back Women's College World Series semifinal appearances in 2006-07. Last spring the Wildcats advanced to the NCAA Austin Regional championship round.
"They're a national presence," Schilf said. "For her to be recruited there, that's pretty big."
Gagliano new Wheaton Academy coach:
Wheaton Academy didn't need to look far to find its new softball coach.
Paul Gagliano, whose daughter Marissa was an All-Area shortstop for the Warriors and a junior now, has been named Wheaton Academy's new coach. Gagliano has coached the U-10 and U-12 Wasco Diamonds travel softball teams the last four years. Last summer his U-12 Diamonds went 54-21-1 and won the USSSA Central Illinois State Championship. Gagliano is a senior vice president of retail accounts at CytoSport, Inc.
"I'm grateful for this opportunity," Gagliano said. "I look forward to building upon the foundation that is here and creating a positive, successful and respected program."
Last spring the Warriors went 10-19 and advanced to a regional final for the third time in four years.