Marissa Gagliano appreciates variety, a big reason she became the rare middle-schooler to support a move across the country.
The recent Wheaton Academy graduate grew up in Florida but endorsed the move to suburban Chicago in the middle of sixth grade to accommodate a job transfer for her father, Paul.
"I was kind of pushing the move for some reason," Gagliano said. "I don't know why now, but I'm the kind of person, I just like change. I grew up in Florida so I wanted snow and to see different seasons, so I was excited about that."
Gagliano, a South Elgin resident who lives within the St. Charles North school district, didn't mind more of the same when it came to softball. It was her opponents that grew tired of seeing Gagliano on base incessantly.
Gagliano is the Kane County Chronicle Softball Player of the Year after a senior season in which her on-base percentage swelled to .723. She batted .623 while igniting the top of the Warriors' order with her blazing speed out of the left-handed hitters' batter's box.
Against several opponents, Gagliano's biggest test was avoiding complacency and overconfidence.
"Sometimes that was hard, actually," Gagliano said. "But then you have to look at it, every team you play, every person you're [up against], you're equal to them. The score starts out zero to zero. ... You may have the better team or more skill as a person rather than that other person, but in that case you just use it as practice and learn from it because you can learn from every at-bat, every inning and every out, so you take that and learn from that for the future."
Gagliano's monster season, though, was not simply about feasting on inferior competition.
"She actually played better against better pitching," said Warriors coach Paul Gagliano, Marissa's father. "She was very successful against Montini and St. Francis and some of the bigger schools in [the Suburban Christian Conference], and our nonconference games, we played a very tough nonconference schedule, a lot of 4A schools and better 3A schools. The better the pitching, the more she rose to the challenge."
While defenders seldom solved Gagliano's combination of bunts, slaps and occasional full cuts, her ability to steal bases made her combined 27 walks and hit by pitches equally problematic for the opposition. Gagliano stole 24 bases in 25 tries, with the one caught stealing coming in a regional semifinal loss to Rosary in which the Royals guessed right on a pitch-out.
"A little bit toward the beginning of the season, I would get a little bent out of shape," Gagliano said of teams' reluctance to pitch to her. "I would be like 'Oh, man I want to hit,' I want to kind of deserve to get on base and work toward it … but as the season went on, I learned if they want to give me a free base, they can go ahead because I'll take what they give me and try to to use it. So it wasn't bad. As the season went on, I learned to appreciate it, actually."
Defensively, the strong-armed Gagliano played a sparkling shortstop, making only three errors in 124 attempts for the 14-11 Warriros.
Gagliano plays center field for travel season, during which she's been teammates with Alyssa Buddle through both the Wasco Diamonds and their current travel program, the Beverly Bandits. Buddle and Gagliano are close friends but Buddle lauded Gagliano's competitive focus, saying the two seldom exchange words during games, even when they're next to each other in the dugout.
Buddle also marveled at Gagliano's successful shift from a right-handed hitter to a lefty part-way through high school so Gagliano could beat out more infield hits.
"I compliment her on that so much," Buddle said. "It's so hard to switch and be successful, especially on the level we play now on travel and everything. As a right-handed hitter, I couldn't imagine switching over."
A four-year varsity standout for the Warriors, Gagliano said she made a relatively late decision to attend Wheaton Academy heading into high school after finishing her middle school days at Harvest Christian in Elgin.
"A friend of ours showed me Wheaton Academy, and I grew up going to a Christian school, and so I really liked that part," Gagliano said. "I knew they had a softball program at Wheaton Academy, and although it wasn't up to the standards of St. Charles North, I knew I could be a person that could potentially grow it and also keep going to a Christian school like I grew up and I was comfortable with."
A summer of intensive softball with the Bandits awaits Gagliano, who then will be Radford-bound to follow through on a verbal commitment she made as a sophomore.
"She stayed loyal all the way through," Paul Gagliano said. "The head coach for Radford, Mickey Dean, who recruited her originally left Radford last year and went to James Madison, and he asked her to come to James Madison with him, and she stayed loyal to the school and loyal to the Radford team. One of Mickey Dean's assistants became the head coach [at Radford] and she knew her and had a couple friends on the team, and she never wavered."
Just as moving up from Florida didn't faze Gagliano, neither does relocating to Virginia. As for the softball side of the equation, she's eager to be pushed.
"I'm ready to move on," she said. "I think the four years of Wheaton Academy and with travel definitely has prepared me for Radford and Division I. I feel pretty confident going into college. I'm ready for a change and ready for the next level."