Sabrina Rabin wins plenty of plaudits for her stone-faced focus as St. Charles North's fleet leadoff hitter and pitching ace.
Her path to softball stardom began with a different kind of approach.
Before Rabin emerged as a standout talent, before she was named the Kane County Chronicle's 2013 Softball Player of the Year, she had to drop in on North Stars coach Tom Poulin to tell him something.
Rabin was ready to be the next leader of a program about to graduate several of them.
Poulin remembers the exchange fondly: Rabin, then a freshman, was gathering her things in the dugout after North's nail-biting loss to Moline in the 4A state championship game in 2011. An impressive cast of college-bound seniors – including shutdown right-hander Amanda Ciran – had played its final game together, and while Rabin wasn't looking past the invaluable tutelage that group had shared, she still couldn't help thinking ahead about her potential.
"She wasn't saying it egotistically," Poulin said. "She'd never do something like that. She was just telling me what her goals were, and I had no doubt she would work to achieve those goals."
Rabin batted a team-best .534 and stole 35 bases in 37 attempts as a junior, igniting an attack that helped the Upstate Eight Conference River Division champion North Stars win a league title for the fifth straight spring. That included winning both meetings against eventual 4A state runners-up St. Charles East.
The program could see Rabin's offensive and fielding prowess coming. Although Rabin pitched in a handful of games as a freshman, she made more of an impression as a budding center fielder, a role for which Northwestern already has successfully recruited her.
Her stats from the circle complete the impressive ensemble. Rabin finished 18-4 with a 1.49 ERA while completing 18 of her starts and firing six shutouts.
"I like pitching also. I like kind of being a leader out there and taking control," Rabin said. "So that's something that I was open to."
Jill Waldron, Rabin's Batavia-based personal pitching coach, has worked with Rabin since Rabin was 9. Sessions early in the offseason focus on speed and spinning the ball. The focus shifts to hitting spots and perfecting movement pitches as the high school season gets closer.
Waldron naturally does not sell short the time Rabin devotes to their sessions, nor her involvement – she often brings younger brother Erik, a North sophomore-to-be, as her catcher.
Still, it's the things that happen away from their time together that awe Waldron most. Rabin keeps a regular regimen with personal and strength trainers. Entering the spring, she competed with the North indoor girls track team and turned in a runner-up finish in the 55-meter dash (7.44 seconds) and a fourth-place run in the 200 (26.66) at the UEC indoor meet.
"She's not a big kid, but she's strong," Waldron said, "and that's why she throws the ball hard. She also dedicates herself 12 months out of the year, which is why she's successful in everything she does as it pertains to softball."
Rabin struck out 121 batters in 141 innings, embracing an increased workload after sharing time with senior Shannon Caliri in 2012. As a sophomore, Rabin had 10 victories and a 2.20 ERA, and was intent on bringing her spin and command up to speed with her velocity this offseason.
Now in her second travel season with the Illinois Chill, Rabin usually plays center field for 18U Gold, pitching about once a week. It's just enough to keep her sharp and motivated on the heels of North's season-ending, upset loss to South Elgin in a 4A regional final last month.
"I've always done it since I was young, so taking a little break from [pitching] doesn't really affect me that much," Rabin said. "But I still have a mentality. It's a completely different mentality just because it's two different positions, but I mean, I don't really have a problem with it.
"Center field is kind of like the captain of the outfield, and there is a leadership mentality with both. But pitching is more about concentration and muscle memory, and center field is playing on reaction."
Wherever Rabin winds up in Northwestern's lineup – Waldron thinks the Wildcats wouldn't be reaching to try her at pitcher – is not for her to say.
That's one or two steps ahead, and Rabin dares not go there yet, despite what her baserunning skills might suggest.
The next goal is simple, and partially familiar. It ends with another downstate dugout conversation with Poulin, only this time, North is on the other side of the final score.