By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Before the high school softball season began two weeks ago, there was some apprehension about the fortunes of the Kearny High School squad.
After all, the Kardinals had a new pitcher in freshman Carolynne Rivera and one can never fully anticipate what a freshman can produce right away.
However, senior catcher Kristen Stankus did her best to alleviate all fears.
“I put the extra time in to better myself,” Stankus said. “I also became more focused. We were lucky, because Carolynne and I hit it off right away. I listen to her, but we voice our opinions to each other.”
Kearny head softball coach Jim Pickel appreciates the efforts of Stankus.
“Kristen is doing a great job with Carolynne,” Pickel said. “She’s become more vocal. In the past, she let her actions speak for themselves, because she wasn’t really a ‘rah-rah’ type. But she’s become more of a leader this year. She has the mindset of knowing where everyone should be on the field and that’s a big plus.”
Stankus was always a catcher growing up, but when she arrived at Kearny High, she had to play other positions, like right field and first base.
“Kristen can actually play any position,” Pickel said. “But she’s more comfortable at catcher. It’s actually a good thing to have on the team, someone who is versatile.”
“When I first got to the varsity, I was just happy to play anywhere,” Stankus said. “It wasn’t too hard getting used to being a catcher. I actually like it.”
Pickel feels that Stankus has become a better backstop.
“She’s used to it now, so her defense has really improved,” Pickel said. “She’s blocking balls more and not letting any get past her. Her arm is about 100 times better. The other day, she took a ball off the backstop and threw the runner out at second.”
Stankus believes that participating in bowling during the winter months actually helped her throwing arm.
“I feel stronger now and that all comes from bowling,” Stankus said. “Bowling also helped me with my focus and helped with my arm strength.”
Stankus has also enjoyed a fine start at the plate, leading the Kardinals in batting with a .500 average with a double, a triple, six runs scored and seven RBI.
Stankus drove in the gamewinning run in a 4-3 win over Union City last week in the bottom of the seventh inning.
More importantly, the Kardinals are off to a surprising 7-0 start, thanks in part to the play of the senior leader.
For her efforts, Stankus has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. She is the first honoree in the spring scholastic sports season.
Stankus believes that her experience has paid off in major dividends for the undefeated Kards.
“I was really looking forward to this season,” Stankus said. “I wanted to be able to go out with a bang. I think because I’ve been on varsity for three years, I am used to it now and I am seeing the ball well.”
Pickel likes what Stankus contributes on the base paths as well.
“She’s an excellent base runner,” Pickel said. “Most teams ask for a courtesy runner for their catcher, but Kristen is a very smart base runner. She runs well.”
Pickel also loves Stankus’ personality.
“She’s always saying hello to the umpire and to the opponents before every game,” Pickel said. “She definitely loves having fun. I don’t know if there are many who want to make friends with the umpires the way Kristen does.”
So it has been an excellent start to the softball season, both for the Kardinals and Stankus.
“When we started off the season, I didn’t think we’d get this far,” Stankus said. “But we’re all really working well together. We’re all for each other.”
It helps that two of Stankus’ teammates live in the same household.
That’s because Kristen is one of a set of triplets on the Kearny softball team, the youngest of the three sisters (Nicole and Jennifer are the others) who were born minutes apart. The Stankus triplets are certainly not identical, because one might not even know they were even sisters by looks, never mind a set of triplets. Just three minutes separate the three, meaning that mom Christine certainly had her work cut out for her when the triplets were born.
“People are surprised that we are triplets,” Stankus said. “It’s a pleasure for me to have my two sisters with me. It is a big help that they’re there. It’s been very helpful to have them push me along. We do have our moments, but we get along pretty well.”
All three will head in different directions in the fall. Kristen is headed to Fairleigh Dickinson University to study accounting, while Nicole is going to New Jersey City University and Jennifer is off to Hudson County Community College.
“We will all be in different places for college,” Kristen Stankus said.
Right now, they’re all in the same place _ playing for the undefeated Kearny softball team.
“It’s been a great start,” Stankus said. “I just hope we can keep it going.”
As long as Kristen Stankus is in charge behind the plate and at the plate, chances are that the Kardinals will do quite well.