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Prep Softball Insider: Short-handed Vikings hoping to dig out of hole

Geneva's McKenna Schimmel slides into second base during their home game against Oswego last month.
Geneva's McKenna Schimmel slides into second base during their home game against Oswego last month.

Geneva’s slow start to the season is a little deceptive. At 3-7, the Vikings are not where coach Greg Dierks wanted his team to be. But, factoring in the loss of top pitcher Natalie Erbe with an elbow injury and a recent tough schedule and it is easy to see why Geneva is four games under .500. 

Dierks, who guided the Vikings to an 18-18 mark in 2012, is now relying on junior Haley Orwig and freshman Emily Plucinski to replace the ailing Erbe. 

Dierks wouldn’t go into specifics of what is wrong with Erbe’s elbow, only mentioning that the senior would be out for "weeks."

“It started with a little elbow problem that she had before and it just seemed to get a little better and then it got a little worse and now it’s on the little worse side,” Dierks said. “She’s going to have an extended time where she’s not throwing. We’re going to have to use other options right now while she’s out.”

The loss of Erbe made Geneva’s recent stretch of games all the more tough. The Vikings lost to UEC Valley leader South Elgin 5-2 when they left 10 runners on base and out-hit the Storm on the afternoon, 11-6. 

The Vikings also lost to surging Burlington Central and reigning 3A champ Glenbard South, 12-4. The loss of Erbe coupled with a lack of timely hits has left Geneva with a lot of work to do.

“Our conference plays good softball for the most part and our opening stretch through the other side of the conference has been tough,” Dierks said. “We have two more to get through on the other side and then hopefully we can get ourselves going in the right direction as we start our division play. We have had a few tough non-conference games mixed in there as well.”

The one constant on the year for Geneva has been its ability to hit. Through Monday’s loss to Glenbard South, the Vikings are collectively hitting .316 with Plocinski (.444), Kirsten Searcy (.410), Anna Geary (.382) and Bridget Weitzel (.382) leading a formidable top of the order. As evidenced by its .445 on-base percentage, Geneva is having no trouble clogging the bases, either.

“The South Elgin game is part of a recent trend where we just haven’t come up with a big hits with two outs,” Dierks said. “A couple of times we’ve had people make really solid contact with two outs and someone has made a nice defensive play on the other side. You just have to keep putting yourself in those positions and approach it mentally if you’re the kid at bat to have a productive at-bat.”

Family affair

Wheaton Academy is off to a solid start under first-year coach Paul Gagliano. Gagliano inherited a Warriors program that returned his daughter, shortstop Marissa, who has made a verbal commitment to Radford University in Virginia. 

The junior has been on fire ever since she put on a Warrior uniform, reaching base in all 56 games played until Rosary senior Cara Smoczynski retired Gagliano three times Monday in the Royals' 6-1 win. In all, Gagliano has hit safely in 48 of 57 games, featuring a repertoire of bunts and slaps from the left side that allow her to maximize her speed. 

Besides coaching his daughter on the high school level for the first time, Paul Gagliano is at the helm of a Wheaton Academy program on the rise as a completely renovated field was unveiled Monday in the Warriors' home opener. 

“The new field has been in the works for the last year-and-a-half – we feel good about it,” Gagliano said. “We’re excited about the school being able to provide this.”

Marissa Gagliano plays on the highly regarded Beverly Bandits during the summer.

“It’s really excited to be coaching her again. I coached her for many years growing up in travel programs,” Paul Gagliano said. “I stepped back a couple of years ago to coach my younger daughter so she plays for the Beverly Bandits now.”

In the Groove

Tess Hupe, St. Charles East, Jr., OF

What she did: Hupe has been one of the catalysts during East’s recent seven-game winning streak. The junior has several game-winning hits on the season and went 4 for 5 against Lake Park in East’s 14-2 drubbing of the Lancers.  

Brooke Gaylord, Burlington Central, Jr., P

What she did: Gaylord is right in the middle of the Rockets’ hot start, owning an 8-1 pitching record. The lefty tossed a complete game in Burlington Central’s 6-2 win over Geneva while going 3 for 3 at the plate with a home run and a double. 


St. Charles East is for real. After an uneven start, the Saints have won seven in a row. During the winning streak, East’s pitching has been especially strong, shutting out Metea Valley while holding Naperville North and Bartlett to one run each. The crowning achievement for East last week was a 14-2 thrashing of highly regarded Lake Park. 

What We’ll Learn In the Week Ahead

How good Burlington Central is. The Rockets are off to an 11-1 start thanks to new-found ace Brooke Gaylord, who is 8-1 in the circle. BC plays a home-and-home set with Harvard mid-week before traveling to St. Charles North on Saturday. Even a split with the North Stars, who boast a tough top of the lineup, would be another sign that the Rockets are for real. 

Coach Sly Sez

Sly wonders if it’s ever too early to start thinking about potential playoff matchups – particularly with the St. Charles schools. The two teams meet for the first time next week in what has always been a heated rivalry.

Sly hasn’t forgotten the North Stars’ eight-inning, 7-6 win in regionals last year. Regional seeds and assignments have yet to be announced, but it seems inevitable that the two squads will run into each other at the North Regional again this year. 

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