Season marked by improvement, Rivera’s broken thumb
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
If you had arrived late to the softball game between Brentwood High School and Metro on Wednesday you might have thought Brentwood was winning.
Eagles players smiled a lot and were quick to laugh off mistakes. The dugout made a lot of noise. Head coach Kelly Javier and assistant Vicki Rees kept up a steady chatter of encouragement and guidance.
“Way to stop that ball, Jill!” Javier yelled to the catcher, Jill Yancey, for corralling a pitch in the dirt. “You’re awesome, J!” she said to shortstop Julianna Nikodym for scooping a grounder. “You’re a wall!”
Even Metro, 12-5, enjoyed Javier’s often humorous commentary. “Isn’t she hilarious?” one Panther said to a teammate. “She’s great.”
Based on Brentwood players’ positive mojo, late-arriving fans might not have realized that the Eagles were about to lose 16-0 to end their season in the first round of the Class 2 District 3 tournament at Jim Edmonds Park in the Grove. And the Eagles certainly didn’t act as if they’d won only one game this season — and that one, against Cleveland NJROTC, didn’t even count because the umpires were no-shows.
‘Get your brave on’
Javier has never gauged the success of her teams by number of wins. Many of her players have not played softball before. Also, it’s hard to fill a roster at a Class 2 school with two other girls sports in the fall. So she measures success by how many personal breakthroughs her players have. This season’s theme was “Get your brave on.”
“My goal is for the kids, when they’re in their 30s, to go to a family picnic and say, ‘Yeah, mom, I’ll play,’” said Javier. “Our kids are brave and courageous and they show that by stepping up to pitch and playing positions they’ve never played before — just to get out there they get their brave on. So many people wouldn’t even do that and it’s why our team continues.”
For instance, there’s senior first baseman Darya Tajfiroozeh.
“She showed up at the field and said, ‘Jav, I’m ready to try this, I’ve looked on some Youtube videos.’ So I found a rag ball because I was so afraid to throw a regular ball to her. Now she can catch bullets.”
Then there’s senior right fielder Charity Wallace.
“She came by to save the day when we needed another player,” said Javier. “She has shown a lot of improvement.”
Nor did freshman Haley Winning come out for the sport initially.
“We were on our way as a team to go drag her out of her house because she lives close to the park,” said Javier. “As we arrived she was coming out of the house and we had a little celebration right there, that she joined us.”
Brentwood’s pitching staff had scant experience after relying on Allison and Sean Durham last year, but four individuals stepped forward to fill the need: juniors Abby Lawrence, Molly Mills, Megan Shipley and Sarah Thomas.
“We’ve had pitching by committee,” said Javier. “Somebody had to learn how to do it and the kids stepped up.”
The inexperienced players weren’t the only ones out of their comfort zones. Senior Julianna Nikodym is an skilled infielder but had never played catcher or pitcher before this season. She told Javier that both positions were on her “bucket list” so the coach gave her a shot at both. She faced several Metro batters on Wednesday.
Said Nikodym, “My sister [Kate] had to pitch her senior year and she always talked about how much she hated it, so I was expecting to hate it. But I didn’t hate it, it was fun. It was fun when I threw strikes.”
Rivera injures thumb
A big setback for the team was when power hitter Sophia Rivera broke her thumb in a game with University City on Sept. 12. It was fortunate that the injured left thumb is not on Rivera’s throwing hand, as she’s the two-time defending state champion in the shot put and discus throw.
Javier said the University City coach had mistakenly instructed his players not to slide. So when a baserunner approached Rivera, who had the ball, at third base, she came in high.
“The girl ran into her and caught her body onto Sophia’s glove and broke her thumb,” Javier explained. “ The moment it happened I saw the look on Sophia’s face and then I saw she grabbed her left hand, and thank goodness it was her left hand, because otherwise I would be driving to Mexico or Canada and you would never see me again. We know there’s a risk in everything you do, but really, softball doesn’t have that many risks.”
Rivera’s cast was removed on Oct. 9.
As much fun as the Eagles had in the game with Metro, there were tears afterward, especially from the three seniors playing in their last high school game: Nikodym, Tajfiroozeh and Wallace.
“It’s our last game so it meant a lot,” said Nikodym. It’s the last time we’ll be with these people on a team. Softball is not like any other sport because we’re such a group of friends, we’re like a family. We won only one game this year . . .”
“But we don’t really care,” Tajfiroozeh interjected.”
“Yeah, we don’t really care,” Nikodym said. “I think we’ve had more fun than any other team.”
After the Metro game, with the season over, Javier and Rees huddled the team in the outfield for a meeting.
“We always end the season on a happy note so we went around and everybody shared a happy memory,” said Javier. “They talked about Haley’s catch and Julianna’s catch. It’s so hard because I fall in love with the kids after all these years. You see all the improvement and growth. Coach Vicki Rees and I have probably laughed more this season than any other team we’ve had.”
Brentwood 2014 Softball Roster
Julianna Nikodym, second base
Darya Tajfiroozeh, first base
Charity Wallace, right field
Abby Lawrence, pitcher
Molly Mills, shortstop
Sophia Rivera, third base
Megan Shipley, pitcher
Sarah Thomas, left field
Jill Yancey, catcher
Sophia Breitmeyer, center field
Anna Grace Conway, right field
Haley Winning, center field
All photos by Steve Bowman from Oct. 8 game vs. Metro