Softball: Willowbrook's Dooley knows how to overcome adversity
Caroline Dooley received a special treat last spring, when her favorite baseball player -- former White Sox slugger Paul Konerko -- made a YouTube video for the Willowbrook softball team with words of encouragement during a lost season.
But Dooley is not one to need a pep talk.
As much as any girl in the Willowbrook program, Dooley is a role model for remaining positive when faced with adversity.
Willowbrook's senior pitcher lost much of her season on the mound as a sophomore with an arm injury in 2019, then lost her junior year to the coronavirus pandemic. This young season, she's down to her third catcher after injuries sidelined senior starter Annemarie Knudtson and Willowbrook's backup.
Through it all, Dooley meets the challenge to lead her team.
"Right now, our current situation, a lot of pitchers would not want to risk their records, would not be up to the challenge," Willowbrook coach Rachel Karos said. "She is stepping up to the challenge to be that leader."
Since she was last on the mound full-time for her high school team her freshman year, Dooley switched travel teams from the Chicago Cheetahs to the Wasco Diamonds, which she said helped her grow as a pitcher. Dooley does strength training twice a week with Ben Chantos of B3 Human Performance at T's Academy in Lombard. Dooley, the only girl who works with Chantos, does dead lifting, squatting, and building the right muscles for pitching and agility.
Dooley was an all-conference pitcher as a freshman with 156 strikeouts, and hit .402 with 27 runs batted in at the plate. She hit more than she pitched her sophomore year, batting .449 with 17 RBIs and 20 runs scored.
Dooley made a sensational return to the high school mound last week, striking out 12 in no-hitting Morton in Willowbrook's season opener.
"My speed has got much faster and my power has got much better since my freshman year," said Dooley, who will play collegiately at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa. "I guess my confidence is the biggest thing. Coming into this season, I hadn't pitched or played for Willowbrook in so long it felt like, but in my mind I was ready to dominate. Senior year, gotta go out with a bang."
A message that Konerko relayed to Willowbrook's players was that if they give to the game, it will give back to them. Karos can tell that ideal resonates with a girl like Dooley that truly loves the game, who Karos could see one coaching one day.
"She is not just a softball player until the game is over," Karos said. "She is working out to get stronger, faster and better. She seems really thankful to be out there and doesn't take a single moment for granted. After losing the season last year and not getting the opportunity to play, she took advantage of that time to continue to get better. She is not going to take a single pitch or game off, regardless of the outcome."
That determination has been put to the test in the early going this spring.
Knudtson, moving from second base to catcher this season, sprained her ankle during a scrimmage against Willowbrook's JV team. Karos said she hopes she can return next week.
Dooley said it's been a learning experience this spring with some bumps along the way between errors and passed balls behind her, but she's just having fun being back in the circle.
"I'm not going to lie, it has been rough, but you have to keep your cool. It's high school ball and we are there to have fun," Dooley said. "It helps to have a positive mindset. Knowing I'm a captain I have to stay positive, stay strong and be a role model."
Dooley said that communication is the biggest key in the pitcher/catcher relationship, with every catcher bringing their own quality.
"With these younger girls, it's my job to communicate what I throw, where the ball is going," Dooley said. "When there's fielding errors, you just have to walk off the mound, take a deep breath, tell the fielders how many outs there are. The biggest thing is to give them confidence."