WARRIORS ATHLETE OF WEEK: Stats don’t measure Smolke’s contributions
She’s one of the unsung leaders of an unbeaten Brainerd Warriors softball team.
Senior Jenni Smolke makes many contributions, not only with her bat. She’s a skilled fielder at first base and one of the team’s leaders.
Warriors coach Mike Zauhar recognizes Smolke’s contributions, not only those that can be measured statistically.
“We would have been absolutely lost without her, last year in our state tournament run, and the first part of this year, just because of her defensive abilities,” Zauhar said. “She had two errors the entire year last year.
“She’s also a great stick. She was third on the team in batting last year behind (Della) Gramer and (Ashley) Tibbetts and she led us in RBIs.”
Smolke, the team’s defensive player of the year in 2010, works on fielding as often as possible.
“We work on defense a lot during practice,” she said. “We take a lot of grounders that the coaches hit to us.
“I used to play second base until we didn’t have a first baseman. Coach thought they should try me over there and we stuck with it.”
With flame-throwers like Nikki Anderson and Karlie Manton on the mound, if opposing batters make contact the ball is usually hit to the right side of the infield.
“With outstanding pitchers you need an outstanding glove on the right side,” Zauhar said. “When you’ve got confidence in your first baseman you can just worry about fielding and chucking it over there.
“Anything in the vicinity of the bag Jenni will grab. She’s saved our tail on short hops, digging the ball out of the dirt. On errant throws she comes off the bag to get the throw and comes back to tag the runner out.”
Smolke is a captain with Manton, Carlie Sweet, Ashley Tibbetts and Shalene Cole.
“We’re more like a whole team coming together,” Smolke said. “We don’t see people as captains. We’re all pretty good leaders on the team.”
Zauhar said Smolke is a “tremendous leader.”
“Anything we ask her to do she doesn’t blink an eye and says, ‘What can I do, coach,’” Zauhar said. “She’s a kid that’s been doing everything under the sun forever, and never gotten any recognition, other than being all-conference last year.
“From a coaching standpoint, you know who’s valuable to the team, and others are as well, but you like to reward everything that’s right about her, and she’s first and foremost on my list.”
The Warriors are 3-0 this season, outscoring the opposition by a combined 34-0, in less than ideal conditions — cold, rain and wind — as they attempt to defend conference and section championships.
“We’re we still on our game pretty well,” Smolke said. “We all play together as a team. We’re not giving up. We’re trying to reach our goals for the season and we’re sticking with it.”
Brainerd finished 21-4 last season after getting shutout by Burnsville and Prior Lake at the state tournament.
“We have a lot of girls back from our state tournament team,” Smolke said. “It helps a lot that we all have that experience. We all want to make it back there.”
Other notable efforts:
• Ashley Tibbetts, softball, went 3-for-5 with a home run, triple and four RBIs against Sartell.
• Nikki Anderson, softball, struck out 15 in a no-hitter against Sartell and pitched a perfect game against Apollo with eight strikeouts.
• Bruce London and Blake Thiesse, baseball, each had three hits against Apollo.
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.