Softball: Hubbard smiling, excelling at Wheaton North
Ellie Hubbard's favorite basketball moment at Wheaton North is also coincidentally what put her on Wisconsin softball's radar.
Yes, it's true.
It's one of many fun anecdotes about the Falcons' hard-hitting senior shortstop who never met a sport she didn't love to play, or a moment in life she couldn't smile about.
It was Hubbard's sophomore year when she made three free throws in the final seconds of regulation of a crosstown game with Wheaton Warrenville South to send the game in overtime, the Falcons coming back from 17 down to win in overtime. And Hubbard did it fighting a bad case of stomach flu that limited her at practice.
"Sarah Topps chucked the ball to me at halfcourt, I was supposed to pass the ball, I got to shoot it, threw it up, fouled from behind," recalled Hubbard, who is playing softball collegiately at Wisconsin. "It was Friday night, stands were packed. It was so much pressure. Each shot was like a swish, but I was so nervous. My legs were shaking, even though you can't see it on the video."
That video circulated online, and caught the attention of Wisconsin softball coach Yvette Healy. She's ironically also the sister-in-law of WW South athletic director and boys basketball coach Mike Healy and already had Hubbard on a distant radar.
The rest, yes, is history.
"Coaches at Wisconsin saw it, thought this kid looks good under pressure," Hubbard said. "They called [Mike] Healy, said they wanted to know more about Ellie.
"I had stomach flu that game, was throwing up the day before, tried to go to practice, sitting out most of it, but it's a crosstown rivalry, you know, got to play."
That's just Hubbard, who helped lead the Falcons' basketball team to a share of a conference title in March and now is a big part of Wheaton North's fast 7-3 start this spring on the softball diamond. Hubbard is hitting .545 with a .677 on-base percentage with three homers, five doubles and 19 runs batted in. She's half of a dynamic left side of the infield. Third baseman Lauren Vaughn, a Syracuse commit, has hit five homers.
Hubbard, Wheaton North's only senior, had a grand slam and seven RBIs against Benet, and a six-RBI game against West Chicago. An all-conference player in both her previous seasons, the lefty-hitting Hubbard has the ability to spray the ball to all fields.
"She's really patient at the plate, she has a great swing and she swings with power that very few girls that I have seen have at the plate," said Wheaton North coach Zach Peterselli, in his fourth year as head coach, ninth in the program. "She also has the ability to take the power the opposite way. A lot of girls try to pitch her outside and she has some nice plate discipline and power to back it up."
Hubbard's pull to sports was natural. He grandfather played baseball and football at Columbia University, her grandmother played basketball at Wheaton College and her dad played at Taylor University.
Besides basketball and softball, Ellie did soccer for six years, stopping in middle school and also played volleyball.
"Biggest regret, not playing volleyball in high school," she said. "I thought it would be too hard with travel softball in the fall. I knew in high school I wanted to focus on softball, and I still had basketball."
If that's her biggest regret, one of Hubbard's best softball memories is winning Northern Nationals in extra innings while playing with the Naperville Diamonds travel program. Hubbard's line out sacrifice fly led to Kayla Shymkewich's walk-off single.
"Hypest moment of my life; there's a picture about it on the USA Softball page," she said. "Easily the best game I've played in, ever."
Hubbard started travel with the Wheaton Wildcats, then moved on to the Naperville Diamonds and eventually the Chicago Cheetahs. She took hitting lessons twice a week in Rosemont with Eugene Lenti, DePaul's softball coach for 35 years now an assistant at Auburn, who helped get Hubbard get introduced to Yvette Healy.
"Great guy, loved him, said he loved my swing," Hubbard said. "When I was going through the recruiting process he would call people, he called coach Healy and put in the good word for me. That helped me out a lot, too, helped me get recruited."
So did hitting three home runs at the Dave Betcher's Lets Play for U fast-pitch event.
"I knew I had some schools interested but midnight September 1 junior year, that's when Division I coaches started texting me," Hubbard said. "That's when it hit me, that this might actually happen."
Hubbard plans to go into elementary teaching. A future as a teacher and coach would be her perfect life, a dream.
Despite growing up dyslexic, she carries a 4.04 GPA and loves to challenge herself with as many Advanced Placement classes as she can, currently three.
With a month left in high school, Hubbard isn't putting too much pressure on herself for the rest of the season. She's still kicking herself about a deep fly over the fence that would have been a game-winning three-run homer against WW South Wednesday curl foul at the last second, but the sun always comes out tomorrow for Hubbard.
"I just want to have fun, make a lot of memories that hopefully last for a long time," Hubbard said. "I just like having fun."