Softball: Wauconda's Wedl captains Lake County all-area team
A day before the final North Suburban Conference championship game, hoping for a better final score this time, the best softball pitcher in Lake County gave one up.
Wauconda senior Kayla Wedl hung a tear.
"I've never seen Kayla Wedl cry," Taylor McCarthy, Wedl's catcher and best friend, said with a laugh. "She's not a very emotional person."
But on that one day last month, still bothered by an injury to her back, which she described as a "strained ligament connecting a rib to her pelvis," Wedl wept. Briefly, no doubt. She had gone to a chiropractor, who pushed against her back. He then pushed again, hard.
"It hurt," Wedl said. "I don't like crying."
The next day, with a wounded Wedl watching from the dugout, Libertyville beat Wauconda, denying the Bulldogs a victory in the NSC title game for the third year in a row.
No tears from Wauconda's star.
And there were none, neither, when Carmel upset the top-seeded Bulldogs in the Class 3A Wauconda sectional semifinals.
"I just thought that the success we had over the last four years was something to be proud of," Wedl said, "and not get upset over."
With that attitude, it's no wonder that she set a new standard for Wauconda softball and leaves as the greatest player in program history. Despite missing several games this season due to various reasons (school trip to Europe, inferior conference opponents, regional-opening forfeit, strained back), she still struck out 256 batters and walked just 20 in 136 innings, posted a 0.93 ERA, batted .523, belted 10 homers, drove in 33 runs and struck out just once.
The captain of the Daily Herald's softball all-area team for Lake County as a junior, she is a repeat winner of the honor. With Wedl in the circle, Wauconda won three sectional championships. Before that, the Bulldogs had one regional title to their credit. Now, they count four.
"Coming in freshman year, I wanted to change the program around," said the four-time all-area selection, whose sister Kendra starred for the 2010 Wauconda team that won a regional championship. "I wanted to change the program's reputation."
Consider it done after a career in which Wedl racked up 1,191 strikeouts (97 walks) in 714 innings. She won 74 games and also smacked 34 homers, 33 after her freshman year when she started hitting the weights. She posted stellar numbers in the classroom, too, graduating with a 3.85 cumulative GPA (4.0 her senior year) and pulling a 27 on her ACT.
"She brought a higher level of play by demanding that of herself all the time," Wauconda coach Tim Rennels said. "She wasn't one to complain often if the defense let her down or if someone wasn't doing her job. She was a quiet leader, but she led by example."
Quiet, yes, but the right-hander's lower right side was barking late in the season. And typical of the 5-foot-8, 131-pounder, she tried her best not to break -- or break down.
"(The injury) was happening over time from pitching and stuff. It was tolerable," said Wedl, who blames it on her lack of flexibility, revealing she can't touch her toes. "But then when I rounded second base on one of my hits (in a game at Lake Zurich in late May), it tweaked up again."
She tried resting, icing. She dipped in a friend's hot tub to help ease the pain.
"It's on the drag of the pitch that bothers me," said Wedl, who's resumed playing travel ball for the Illinois Chill but isn't pitching. "If I just take off for a little bit, then I should be fine. Hitting and fielding are perfectly fine. I'm not going to try to pitch until I feel like I should or I need to."
She pitched against Carmel and struck out 11 batters, but also gave up a career-high 4 homers, as the Corsairs advanced to the sectional final with a 6-2 win.
"The pain wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, but the (fastball) speed was not as high as it should have been," Wedl said. "I would say it was at 75 percent."
All the while, her coach could only guess at the level of hurt his star was feeling.
"She's like a brick wall," Rennels said. "I had only some insights from her sister and dad (Keith, assistant coaches) about the pain she was in at home. She didn't let on."
That's Kayla Wedl being Kayla Wedl. A competitor gives little away.
"We played against each other (in travel ball) up until high school," said McCarthy, who's known Wedl since the third grade. "(Batting against) Kayla was very scary (laughing). You didn't want to play against her. She threw the ball hard."
As Wedl heads off to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she plans to study kinesiology, her legacy at her high school is secure. Her impact on the program likely hasn't reached an end.
"A little girl who used to live across the street from me is a young pitcher now," Rennels said. "She's been to our (softball) clinic a couple of years. I know that spark was lit just by coming in contact with Kayla and hearing about our successes."
The story, after all, has a happy ending.