Kaneland senior Paige Kuefler’s Twitter handle encapsulates her softball approach.
Each at-bat or inning behind the plate offers the Knights’ senior catcher the opportunity to @TurnThePaige.
Kuefler even shows reluctance to rest for too long on the achievements that helped her boost Kaneland to the first state trophy in school history.
“In my book, I can always do better. There’s never a stopping point,” she said. “You can always keep going.”
Kuefler, the Kane County Chronicle Softball Player of the Year, ended her final prep season with a .456 batting average, seven home runs and 39 RBIs for the Class 3A third-place Knights.
Each of those figures ranked second on the team to junior third baseman Meg Cohrs, but the Knights hardly question Kuefler as tops in the intangible leadership categories.
As Kaneland stormed through an unbeaten Northern Illinois Big 12 East season and outscored its first five postseason opponents, 40-5, there was Kuefler, stabilizing the lineup, stout senior right-hander Angie Morrow and the entire operation.
“Everyone looks up to Paige so much,” Knights junior center fielder Rachel Goress said. “She’s like one of the coaches, almost. Just like a team coach. She always helps us. In the offseason, when we’re not allowed to have our coaches work with us during the winter stuff, she’s always got us and (is) leading and stuff. She’s definitely an awesome leader. She’s going to do amazing in college.”
Kuefler will head to Lindenwood University, an NAIA school in downstate Belleville, as a catcher in the fall.
Her softball career actually started in the corresponding battery spot. As a house league pitcher, Kuefler quickly learned she’d rather visit the circle on mound conferences than become a permanent resident.
It’s difficult to imagine watching Kuefler now, but nerves had occasion to set in.
“I always joke that when she was in 10U, she tried pitching, and she did just fine until somebody got on base,” said Kuefler’s dad, Mike, a Knights assistant who also coaches his daughter for the Kane County XPlosion travel program and as a catching instructor. “Then it got to the point of, ‘That’s it. You’re getting behind the plate.’ A little bit of pitching and we jumped her behind the plate. Then that’s it. She ran with it.”
Morrow emerged as a top-notch running mate upon transferring from Burlington Central to Kaneland before the 2013-14 school year.
She conversed and collaborated with Kuefler from the start, a precursor to two solid seasons together. As a senior, the Wisconsin-bound Morrow finished 18-3 with 1.18 ERA and 174 strikeouts over 21 starts and 136 innings. In the postseason, she boasted a 0.76 ERA with four shutouts in seven starts.
Both players, now good friends, credit the other for her 2015 successes.
“She’s an unbelievable catcher, and she has such a great attitude about everything, and we work so well together,” Morrow said. “So I’m going to miss her.”
About 10 days before the season started, Kuefler faced the potential prospect of missing at least part of her high school swan song.
An early March car accident in which her vehicle was T-boned left Kuefler concussed and thankful for her life, but she ultimately didn’t miss a game, crediting a favorable schedule and her resolve.
“After everything had gotten better, I knew that everything was going to be OK,” Kuefler said. “I only had a concussion and a little scratch on my back, which was very very awesome compared to what could have happened if It were two feet closer. … I”m an athlete. I love the game of softball. I’m never, ever going to quit the game I love no matter what happens.”
Knights coach Peter Goff called Kuefler “incredibly tough, both mentally and physically.”
The latter part of that equation manifested itself as Kuefler took aim from the No. 3 spot in the batting order. Her offensive contributions included a .500 average, two home runs and 10 RBIs in eight conference games.
Players called Kaneland’s run to the league title a catalyst for the Knights’ landmark postseason run. The team’s first state tournament trip since 2000 ended with Kaneland rebounding from a 2-1 semifinal loss to Marengo with a 7-1 victory against Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin in the third-place game.
“I can’t believe how far we’ve gotten, and I’m so glad for all our teammates,” Kuefler said. “And especially our fans. I love Kaneland. There’s no place I’d rather be.”