By Lucas Rains
NORTON SHORES – In high school sports, effective leadership can drive good teams to be great teams.
Willeke and the Sailors are about to wrap up an outstanding regular season. They clinched the O-K Black Conference championship last week with a 9-1 record, and are 21-8 overall.
They will head into next week’s postseason tournament as a favorite to win a fifth straight district title and another berth in regional competition.
Willeke does a lot of damage with her bat. Hitting in the two-hole in the Sailor lineup, she has a sizzling .533 average with eight doubles, four triples and 38 RBIs.
Mona Shores head coach Jason Crago credits Willeke’s softball IQ for her success at the plate.
“She’s just been a solid rock at the top of our order,” Crago said. “She has a tremendous eye at the plate and has a way of getting rid of tough pitches. She has an in-and-out swing, so she takes almost everything to center and right. She does a good job of hitting only pitches she can handle.”
Willeke, the team’s second baseman, says the coaching she has received over the years has helped her become a consistent hitter.
“Growing up, I had a really good coach – Tom Galloway was his name – he helped me a lot,” Willeke said. “And Coach Crago has helped me the past few years with the fundamentals. Both of them have just done a good job making sure my swing doesn’t change at all.”
Of course leadership goes beyond statistical performance, which Willeke has demonstrated very well.
“She’s a quiet leader for us,” Crago said. “She’s not real vocal, but she leads us in different ways. She’s always positive and never gets phased by adversity. I’m totally impressed by her. She’s a great, great kid.”
Willeke, now in her third year on the varsity, says she remembers her first couple seasons with the Sailors, when direction from older girls was important to her.
She uses that as motivation to provide leadership for the current team, which has only one senior.
“Being a captain is really important to me,” Willeke said. “Especially when I was a freshman, looking up to the seniors, I know what that’s like. I just want to keep a positive attitude at all times.”
That attitude came in handy early in the season, when the Sailors were not playing like a team that was headed for a conference title.
“We started pretty rough this year,” Willeke said. “I think it was because we were not as close as teammates as we are now. We got along better and started to pick each other up later in the season. It just shows what you can accomplish when you can come together as a team.”
Mona Shores has been on a tear lately, and a potent offense has played a big role. Several Sailors have provided a big boost at the plate.
Desi Parker, who is also the team’s primary pitcher, is batting .411 with 23 RBI on the season. Freshman Taylor Dew recently broke the Sailors’ single season home run record with eight so far this season. Dew is hitting .462 with a team-high 47 RBIs.
Kayla Savacool, the Sailor’s only senior, is hitting .450 with 19 RBIs and one home run.
Willeke and the Sailors have a lot of motivation heading into the district tournament.
“The last few years we’ve won districts and then didn’t do so well in regionals,” Willeke said. “So our first goal is just to make it there. Then we just have to work hard to keep the offense and defense tight.
“We want to make it the best season possible for our one senior (Savacool).”
Mona Shores will finish the regular season with a game against Hudsonville today, Spring Lake on Wednesday and Montague on Friday.
The Sailors open district play next Tuesday against Grand Rapids Union.