DOWNERS GROVE – High school is a learning experience for nearly every student that walks the halls.
Katie Polaski got her education in the classroom and on the softball field.
The recent Downers Grove North graduate was a four-year starter for the Trojans, during which time she learned plenty.
She learned what it takes to compete at a high level. She found out the gap between being a freshman on varsity may seem big at first, but in the end the age difference hardly matters. And she understands now, maybe better than ever, that success in softball is as much about wins and losses as it is about sharing experiences with teammates.
"It was definitely an honor to be on varsity all four years," said Polaski, the Suburban Life Media 2017 softball Player of the Year.
"I worked hard and I feel like I earned it, and it was so much fun all four years."
Polaski enjoyed her time suiting up for the Trojans, and her coaches likewise enjoyed seeing her in the Trojans' signature purple. And why not? A defensive wiz in the middle infield, she was also a stalwart at the top of the order, a tone-setter for an offense that produced at a high lever throughout her career.
A career .400-plus hitter, Polaski saved her best for her final two seasons. She batted .527 this season after hitting .538 last spring, during which time the Trojans won two of the three regional titles they claimed in Polaski's career. In addition to hitting for average, she added some pop with her bat, launching 10 extra base hits this season and driving in 30 runs to go with the 19 runs she scored herself.
Yet the way she took a leadership role on a team that had seven freshmen and sophomores – and just five seniors – might have accounted for her finest work.
"She added some power to her repertoire these last few years," DGN head coach Eric Landschoot said. "Her outstanding offensive and defensive skills were only outdone by her incredible leadership qualities both on and off the field."
When Polaski first started with the Trojans, eventual 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year Dale Ryndak was North's senior ace pitcher.
"Being a freshman on varsity taught me a lot," Polaski said. "I'm a freshman starting at second base and Dale Ryndak is pitching. It almost makes you play better because they expect you to be able to handle it.
"I think playing with Dale as a freshman taught me how to be a leader."
When it came time to suit up for her senior season, Polaski recalled the feeling of being a young varsity player and tried to make it a smooth transition for North's latest crop of youngsters.
"As as freshman I looked up to the seniors, and they were always there to help me," Polaski said. "It seems like a huge age difference when you're a freshman on varsity, but as a senior you realize it's not that big a difference.
"I hope they look up to me as a role model. I always wanted to make sure we picked each other up and never got down on each other. I always stressed communication and I hope that made an impact on them."
One of the biggest lessons Polaski learned playing with DGN is to trust her teammates. There may be individual stats, but softball is not an individual sport. Success depends on each player giving their best effort. That knowledge can only be a benefit as she moves on to continue her career at Loyola University in Chicago, which she said was the perfect fit for her.
"It's so relieving to know I have four more years," Polaski said. "I'm going to learn so much there. I'm going to be a freshman again playing with the seniors."
If her prep career is any indication, it will be a smooth transition.
"Her charisma combined with her second-to-none work ethic will undoubtedly make her a success," Landschoot said, "both on the softball field and beyond."
Benet: Allie Goettsch, jr.
Downers Grove North: Estelle Czech, fr.; Katie Polaski, sr.; Savannah Rodriguez, jr.; Zoe Varsbergs, sr.
Downers Grove South: Lindsey Herrmann, jr.; Randi McKay, soph.
Fenwick: Natalie Cairo, sr.; Alyssa Stramaglia, soph.
Glenbard East: Tori Tyler, jr.
Glenbard South: Mady Carli, jr.; Daniella Little, soph.
Glenbard West: Katherine Porter, sr.
Hinsdale Central: Lilja Carden, jr.
Hinsdale South: Madison Kern, jr.
IC Catholic: Kayla Faber-Cournane, soph.; Kaitlyn Falduto, sr.; Josie Lytton, jr.
Lemont: Jade Mardjetko, sr.; Julia Orozco, sr.; Dani Stecyna, jr.
Lisle: Anna Palicka, sr.
Lyons Township: Lauren Engels, sr.; Sapphire Munoz, sr.; Alex Rich, sr.
Montini: Naomi Alonzo, sr.; Bri Clifton, jr.; Nikki Cuchran, jr.
Morton: Mellanie Gonzalez, soph.
Nazareth: Gloria Corona, sr.; Krystal Levitske, sr.; CJ Mardirosian, sr.; Devyn Zuro, sr.
Riverside Brookfield: Nora Dachota, jr.; Kailyn Ngo, soph.; Cameron Shaw, sr.
St. Francis: Carlee Clark, soph.; Shelby Winkelman, jr.
Timothy Christian: Liv Schuringa, jr.
Westmont: Kiera Aldridge, sr.; Alex Mendoza, jr.
Wheaton Academy: Madison Ebeling, jr.; Meghan Gagliano, sr.
Wheaton North: Alleigha Burau, sr.; Jaime Smith, sr.
Wheaton Warrenville South: Kaitlyn Bresingham, soph.; Sydne Shattuck, sr.
Willowbrook: Jiana Funteas, jr.
York: Madison Collins, jr.; Katherine Karnatz, soph.; Kyra Kroll, jr.