State title team's roots grow much deeper than star players

EAST PEORIA – The name Madison Rankin might not be all that familiar to people outside of the Glenbard South dugout.

But to the Raiders’ softball team, she is the perfect illustration of what the program is all about.

One of four seniors on the 2013 roster, Rankin didn’t receive the headlines nor the playing time of the other three. But she was just as much a part of the state championship team as standouts Jane Trzaska, Steph Chitkowski and Hannah Taylor.

“Our senior leadership was unbelievable,” Glenbard South coach Julie Fonda said. “Madison didn’t play a lot but she was next to me the entire [championship] game going over each of Marquette’s hitters. That shows heart and love for her teammates and love for this program.

“Everybody talks about Jane, Steph and Hannah but if we didn’t have Madison, we are not in this spot.”

Terms like “close-knit” and “family” are frequently thrown around in the sports world, but the Raiders back up such talk with one common theme bringing them all together.

“The love of the game,” said junior first baseman Danielle Scarpiniti. “Each and every person on the team loves playing the game and that helps us win.”

Need further proof about the attitude that permeates throughout the program?

How about the fact that six of the seven graduated players from the 2012 title team made the trek to East Peoria on Saturday (the seventh had to work) and cheered on the Raiders while wearing their jerseys from a year ago.

“It’s the best feeling ever,” said Dani Chitkowski, Stephanie’s older sister and a member of the 2012 squad, who started 35 games this spring as a freshman for Syracuse University. “They were so young [this year]. Me and my class, we watched them grow up. It was great to see them do it on their own.”

Having those familiar faces in the crowd wasn’t lost on the players.

“That tells you about the support staff we had,” said senior third baseman Hannah Taylor. “They came back and cheered us on and it was awesome to celebrate again with them.”

Fostering that family atmosphere is Fonda and assistant coaches Kris Morton and Kirsten Beckford.

One look at the embraces between the coaches and players during the award ceremony hammers home the point of how tight the bonds are.

“It’s the best coaching staff I’ve ever had,” pitcher Steph Chitkowski said. “They make us feel like a family. Coach Fonda, Morty and Beckford, if we don’t have all three, we don’t make it here.”