As an eighth-grader playing for the Bo Jackson Blast travel softball team in 2018, Kassy Stefanski slid awkwardly into second base during an indoor winter tournament at Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports in Hilliard, breaking her left ankle.
The injury required surgery, about six months of physical therapy and nearly a year for Stefanski, a sophomore pitcher for Centennial, to feel comfortable playing on it again.
“That was a difficult thing to get through, because it was a few months of off time and getting back into it and retraining my brain to trust myself again,” she said.
“It probably took her a full year to get back to who she was with rehab and everything,” her mother, Lori Stefanski, said.
Nonetheless, Kassy Stefanski persevered. Heading into her freshman year, she was determined to recover the strength she lost in her left foot – her plant foot – ahead of her first season on the softball team.
“I made sure to do all the exercises that (the physical therapist) had given me to make sure I could get back to normal,” she said. “At first it was just normal walking ... but then I started to ramp it up to make sure that, because my left leg is my landing leg, I was trying to make sure I was ramping up the exercises to keep that in shape to land on that better.”
Her freshman season, one in which the Stars went 16-10 overall and 13-1 in the City League-North Division to share the title with Whetstone, Stefanski was dominant.
She hit a team-best .442 with three home runs, 10 doubles and 26 RBI. In the circle, she had a 1.10 ERA in 83 innings with 149 strikeouts and an 8-6 record.
“As a freshman when she came in, it wasn’t unknown – I kind of had an idea what she was going to bring to the table,” Centennial coach Malik Dean said. “But as the season went on, she got better and better and stronger and stronger.”
Stefanski didn’t have an opportunity to improve on her freshman numbers with this season canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. But Dean said he expects big things from her the next two years.
“Going forward, as long as she stays healthy, I can see in practice that she’s going to be something else,” Dean said. “She’ll be a difference maker, and I’m sure with confidence, she’ll be over and above most of the competition we play.”
Getting to this point has taken a lot of hard work and dedication, Stefanski said.
“I practice all throughout the year,” she said. “I take breaks here and there, but I try not to take too long of a break at one time so that I can stay together and not forget any of the things I have learned in the past. I try to do drills every single day, at least just a little bit, just to stay together so I don’t forget anything.”
Pitching coach Jenn Newman has played a large role in that. Before the pandemic, Stefanki would travel once a week to Toledo to see her.
“She helps me a lot with pitching, and she’s done so much since I’ve gone to her that it’s been really cool to see my growth,” said Stefanski, who consistently throws around 58 mph but wants to consistently hit 60.
“That’s a really good speed,” she said. “Not a lot of people throw that speed and it’d be awesome to be able to do that.”
She also hopes to help the Stars capture the overall City championship in her junior season. Whetstone earned the opportunity to represent the City-North in last season’s City final when it defeated Centennial 11-8 in a playoff game.
The Braves went on to defeat Eastmoor Academy 8-7 for the championship.
“I want to make sure that I’m consistently up on my speed so it’ll be even more difficult for the other teams to hit the ball and I’ll be able to help my team,” Stefanski said.
“And I hope we can beat Whetstone in the City championship next year and take back that title that they stole from us last year.”