Kim Tatro has been coaching long enough to know a good thing when she sees one.
The Lawrence University softball coach knew she had a talented group of incoming players, but two of the newest Vikings have impressed Tatro and put up some stellar numbers. Shortstop Amanda Jaskolski and catcher Sam Belletini are leading the Vikings in hitting and helping Lawrence put together another strong season.
“We knew what we were getting with Jazz,” said Tatro, referring to Jaskolski by her nickname. “She is vey gifted athletically and has been a huge asset to our program. She knows so much about the game, and the experience she brings has been invaluable. We knew Sam had the physical tools but were unsure how quickly she would adjust to the college game. We expect so much out of the catching position and Sam gets better every single day.”
Jaskolski, a native of nearby Shawano, Wis., is a junior who transferred to Lawrence after playing two years at Darton State College in Georgia. She earned the starting job at shortstop and has provided a power surge at the plate. Jaskolski is hitting a team-high .438 with eight doubles, one triple, four home runs and 23 runs batted in. With her .781 slugging percentage, she has put together a gaudy 1.281 OPS.
“I think it’s gone a little better than I expected,” said Jaskolski, who ranks in the top 10 nationally in RBIs per game. “(The team)¬†showed me the ropes of Lawrence. They have their own little community here. Having a team to help me do that has been great.¬†We all just kind of clicked right away and made our own little bond within the softball team.”
Belletini is a first-year player from Gurnee, Ill., and has nailed down the starting job behind the plate. Tatro, a star catcher in her playing days, expects her catchers to lead and take charge.
“(Tatro) definitely commands that leadership role from the catcher. It’s been a big adjustment,” Belletini said. “When¬†I started practice inside I was way quiet, and I didn’t take that leadership. Once I got to know the team, Alex (Chiodo) encouraged me and that helped a lot.”
Speak softly and carry a big stick seems to be Belletini’s motto. She is hitting .417 with seven doubles, a triple and 15 RBIs. Not bad for someone who wasn’t going to play at the collegiate level.
Lawrence pitcher Jessica Demski was Belletini’s prep teammate at Warren Township High School, and convinced her to visit Lawrence. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I like it a lot. I’m glad I decided to come here,” Belletini said. “I love playing softball. I think I would have regretted not playing.”
With the influx of newcomers, including Rheya Upadhyaya and Marisa Thackston, mixing with the veteran team, the Vikings have put together a 12-8 mark. This year’s team has great versatility to go along with a powerful offense.
“We are strong top to bottom,” Tatro said. “I said this early on, we have 16 players and all have a legitimate opportunity to start. When practice is that competitive every day, it brings out the best in everyone. As a staff, we have a lot of confidence in one through 16 on our team.”
Both Jaskolski and Belletini are looking for the team to make a run at another appearance in the four-team Midwest Conference Tournament. With the offense clicking, the Vikings have a shot at returning to the league tourney after finishing second last season.