Sports

There’s just no quit in Spartan shortstop

Amanda Szarzynski during pre-season warmups. - Review file photo
Amanda Szarzynski during pre-season warmups.
— image credit: Review file photo

Amanda Szarzynski works to bring younger players along.

Brittany Richardson is struggling.

The freshman outfielder is trying to get a hit at practice, but she can’t quite get it right. Her teammates and her coaches shout advice, but to no avail. Finally, she steps away to let someone else hit, frustrated with her approach at the plate.

That’s when Amanda Szarzynski steps in.

“Keep your head up,” she tells Richardson. “You’re pulling your head when you swing.”

Szarzynski works with her younger teammate for several minutes, watching every nuance of her swing, getting her to keep her head down and follow through while offering encouragement at the same time.

That sums up how the senior co-captain has become a mentor to her teammates this season. Much like those who assisted Szarzynski, the three-year varsity starter wants to be the one who inspires those who will come after her to be that helping hand to others who need it.

“When I leave, my goal is to make sure it clicks for some of these girls,” she said. “I love working with them all.”

Softball isn’t just part of Szarzynski’s life; it’s been her life since she was “itty-bitty.” Growing up in New Hampshire, she tried other sports, but quickly found her calling on the diamond.

“I like the intensity of the game. It makes you want to focus more,”she said. “Another thing I love is that you don’t know what to expect. I find it more exhilarating to not know what’s coming. With softball, you have a set position, but other than that, you go where the ball goes.”

There was a time when she was almost done with the sport before she really started, struggling to learn the game as a youngster. Rather than working with her, her coaches at that time chose to work with those who were more talented.

“It was frustrating for me to go out there and struggle,” she said. “I wanted to quit.”

But her friends and her parents told her to stick with it, that her play would get better with practice. One day, it all came together.

“It was at a game when I got a hit and got on base,” she said. “The next time, I would hit it harder and get on base. I just kept hitting it harder and making the plays in the field. Before, it felt awkward, but after that, it just felt right.”

She didn’t look back.

In 1999, her family moved to Bainbridge Island and Szarzynski had to get used to a different program. The leagues weren’t as developed as those in New Hampshire, and she played with a travel team to stay competitive.

Szarzynski started with an all-star team, and it was there when she first met Liz McCloskey, a veteran of the Spartan program.

“She had just graduated and took an assistant coaching position with us,” Szarzynski said. “I didn’t really like her back then because she was in charge of making us warm up, so she would make us run.”

McCloskey, in her first year as the Spartans’ head coach, remembers Szar­zynski and others ignoring her at times because she was the “mean person.”

But she is impressed with how Szarzynski has grown as a player and a person over the years, and is happy she can be around for the end of her high school softball career.

“She has a lot of heart,” McCloskey said. “She works hard every day and every day at practice she says, ‘Can I stay after?’ She continues to want to improve her play for this team and to help them succeed and that shows a lot.”

Assistant coach Katie Leigh credits Szarzynski with giving input to the coaching staff when it’s needed.

“She’s really involved in everything that goes on with this team,” Leight said. “She wants to better anything that’s not perfect. She’s always thinking about this team, and the girls feel really comfortable talking to her with anything on or off the field.”

Szarzynski credits both coaches with improving her play.

“I love (McCloskey) – she’s so much fun,” Szarzynski said. “She works with us and she’s strict when she needs to be. She really knows what she’s doing, and Katie does too.

“They have a lot of faith in us, and they tell us that every day: ‘You can pull through. We have confidence, we have faith in you.’”

Another person who helped Szarzynski was Logan Moore, last year’s Spartan shortstop and league MVP.

It was from her that Szarzynski learned not only how to be comfortable playing on the field and dealing with criticism from coaches, but how to be a leader on and off it as well.

“I used to play with her and she would coach me and tell me to relax, because I would get down on myself at third (base) when I made a bad throw, and she would help me with my hitting,” she said. “She was my idol, and I wanted to be like her this year by doing the best I can filling in her shoes (at shortstop) and to be the captain like she was, to coach these girls and let them know that you can do this no matter what.”

Szarzynski is carrying on what Moore taught her and sharing the knowledge with the younger players, and they have responded.

“She likes to make practice really fun,” sophomore Stephanie Wagner said. “She’s always willing to help the other girls who don’t get to play as much, and she has a great way of letting us know what we need to work on.”

Said junior Marci Morford, “She’s willing to stay after practice every day and work on her own game. It sets such a good example for us to work on our game.”

Szarzynski has big plans after graduation. She’ll be attending the University of Idaho this fall, and while she’s studying for a business degree with a minor in interior design, she’ll play intramurals and try to get a softball program started at the school.

She also wants to come back next year and help McCloskey coach. Eventually, she wants to be coach of her own team and start her own business.

There is much she wants to accomplish, but she knows the lessons learned from her own struggles will give her the power to help herself and others through life.

“It makes you better,” Szarzynski said. “It makes you a stronger person and when you see it happening (to someone else), you can help that person out. You can say, ‘I was there. This is what helped me through that.’”

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