DeSales Roundup: Kendall Gonya’s leadership anchors Stallions softball team

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
DeSales senior catcher Kendall Gonya plans to use her softball leadership skills in a different way in college, as a coxswain for the Michigan State women’s rowing team.

After three seasons as the starting catcher for the DeSales softball team and almost a decade playing that position, Kendall Gonya will leave the sport behind when she heads to college this fall.

She’s still going to be in a leadership role, as a coxswain for the Michigan State women’s rowing team.

It was not the future she foresaw until the past several months, when an opportunity for her to compete in rowing was coupled with scholarship opportunities toward her major of material science and engineering.

“I had a long recruiting process with softball. For a long time, I wanted to be a college catcher, but I’m 5-(foot-)2. I had some options for softball and throughout that and COVID, I was also given this new opportunity with rowing,” said Gonya, who occasionally has practiced and competed with the Westerville Crew club team, the bulk of whose season overlaps with softball.

“I’ll be the leader of the boat. I’ll be able to control the energy of the boat – almost the exact same role I have here. That was my favorite part about softball. Catching and defense are my favorite things and I could do the same thing in the rowing world.”

For now, Gonya is trying to finish her prep career on a high note. Batting cleanup, she had a .551 average to help the Stallions to records of 7-8 overall before playing Johnstown on April 22 and 1-0 in the CCL entering an April 23 game against Hartley.

Coach Rick Conti, a longtime assistant who took over the head-coaching job last fall, said Gonya “checks all the boxes.”

“She is just very smart and very alert as to what’s going on. She’s our team leader,” Conti said. “She is our ‘take charge’ person in the huddle. She’s ‘rah, rah, rah, let’s go.’ She has the know-how and the smarts to make that call wherever the ball is going. Kendall has to read all that based on what’s going on in the game.”

Middle infielders, including shortstop and leadoff hitter Jessica Melvin, relay Gonya’s calls to the outfield.

“Kendall is the mom of the team,” said Melvin, the team’s top hitter through 16 games with a .625 average. “She’s always had our back, even when most of our team now was on (junior varsity) and she was on varsity. She’s always been an outlet for us and always supported us in everything we do. Being able to play with her this year has been amazing. She really keeps us all together and calm.”

Gonya said she immediately took to catching upon starting softball in fourth grade. She played for DeSales’ feeder program, the Stampede, for three years before moving on to the Ohio Lasers organization.

“The minute I put the gear on, I knew that was the position for me,” Gonya said. “I love being able to control the energy on the field and be the leader and see everything in front of me. I love being able to work with my pitcher and create the energy.”

Connor Huzicka throws the ball back to the infield after teammate Christian Hopp attempted to make a diving catch earlier this season. Through 14 games, Huzicka was batting .370 with three home runs and 19 RBI.

Baseball team

rounding into form

After starting 0-5 and 1-7, the baseball team won four of its next five games and its CCL opener, roughly following the timeline coach Tom Neubert desired in terms of the team’s maturation.

“Things are falling into place. The lineup is still more fluid than I’d like; we’ve dealt with a lot of injuries on top of that, but there is a good core of about 12 guys who are in and out of the lineup daily and some other guys who are just pitching for us,” said Neubert, whose team was 5-8-1 overall and 1-0 in the CCL before playing Watterson on April 23. “We’re seeing good pitching day in and day out and the level of competition we’ve been playing has been extremely high. In the beginning, we really weren’t quite ready to handle that level yet as young as we are and as inexperienced as we are, but now it’s coming around.”

The Stallions’ April 20 home game against Dublin Coffman was a 14-all tie through seven innings before being called because of darkness.

Aiden Cannon had a team-leading .470 batting average through 14 games with 16 hits and eight RBI. Connor Huzicka had a team-high 17 hits, including two home runs in a 21-2 win at Ready to open CCL play April 19, and was batting .370 with each of the team’s three homers as well as 19 RBI.

Nathan Hickey was batting .313 with 10 hits.

Matthew Stewart was 2-2 with 17 strikeouts and nine walks in 18 1/3 innings. According to Neubert, Niko Kreuzer, Devin McInerney, Drew Smith and Cedric Stewart have been other key contributors to the pitching staff.

“The biggest thing is not taking any steps backward,” Neubert said. “We have to constantly keep moving forward and improving on the product we’re putting on the field.”

Urcheck taking over

volleyball program

After eight seasons as an assistant in the perennially successful girls volleyball program, Carli Urcheck has taken the next step in her coaching career.

Urcheck was named the team’s new head coach April 14, succeeding Brenden Pence.

Pence went 73-23 in four seasons, a run that included three Division I district championships and the state title in 2019. He resigned Dec. 4 as he and wife Logan are expecting their second child.

“I have always seen myself as the workhorse and the assistant,” Urcheck said. “It’s been a role I have known, feel confident in and handled well, so when (Pence) approached me about considering taking over, I openly considered it, had many conversations with people I have coached for in the past and received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback.

“I knew this time around I was ready for this challenge. I couldn’t be more excited.”

Urcheck played basketball and volleyball at Geneva, where her parents, Norm and Candy, were an assistant principal and guidance counselor, respectively. Norm Urcheck is a member of the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame and coached boys basketball at Cortland Maplewood.

DeSales went 10-8 overall and 2-3 in the CCL last season, winning its ninth district title in 10 years before falling to Olentangy Orange 25-21, 25-9, 25-16 in a regional semifinal.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave